During the February 22, 1989 telecast of the Grammy Awards, Pepsi premiered a thirty-second spot that featured a new song by Madonna, “Like a Prayer.” It was the first time a major artist’s new single was used in a television commercial prior to being released to radio or record stores.
The following week, a two-minute version of the commercial aired during The Cosby Show, at the time a highly-rated program starring America’s favorite dad, Bill Cosby. The ad, part of a $5 million endorsement deal Pepsi struck with Madonna that also included tour sponsorship, featured Madonna dancing in the street, in a school hallway, and in a church.
The song’s music video premiered the following day on MTV. In the video, Madonna witnesses the murder of a white girl by white supremacists. A black man gets arrested for the killing. Madonna seeks refuge in a church, where she has a dream that includes stigmata on her hands, kissing a black saint, and dancing in front of burning crosses.
The Vatican and other religions organizations condemned the video and threatened a protest against Pepsi products. Pepsi dropped its sponsorship of Madonna, never again aired the television spot, and let Madonna keep the $5 million they paid her.
“Like a Prayer” became Madonna’s seventh #1 pop hit in the United States. It also topped the charts in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, Sweden, Japan, Italy, Spain, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, New Zealand, Belgium, and Switzerland.
“Like a Prayer” won the Viewers Choice award at the 1989 MTV Music Video Awards, a program that incidentally was sponsored by Pepsi. In her speech, Madonna said “I would really like to thank Pepsi for causing so much controversy.”
Tunes du Jour’s playlist this Throwback Thursday spotlights the year 1989, and kicks off with Madonna’s “Like a Prayer.”
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