Madonna recently made waves for posting an Instagram photo of her teenage son posing with bottles of gin and vodka. And 25 years ago, she was stirring controversy over another beverage: Pepsi.
In January 1989, the pop provocateur inked a $5 million endorsement deal with the soft-drink brand. On March 2, 1989, Madonna debuted “Like a Prayer,” the title track of her fourth studio album, in a two-minute television commercial called “Make a Wish.” The flashback-fueled spot saw her watching a black-and-white home movie of her 8th birthday, and interspersed footage of the young girl with shots of adult Madonna dancing in the street and in a church with a gospel choir.
The fairly innocuous ad aired during NBC’s The Cosby Show, and it seemed unlikely to offend anyone. But when Madonna premiered the actual music video for “Like a Prayer” on MTV the following day, viewers were singing a different tune.
The video’s imagery, which included burning crosses, stigmata and the seduction of a saint, drew the ire of religious groups and customers, who assumed it was part of the Pepsi ad.
“When you’ve got an ad that confuses people or concerns people, it just makes sense that that ad goes away,” Tod MacKenzie, a spokesman for Pepsico Inc., told the New York Times.
And go away, it did. Though the commercial was canceled, “Like a Prayer” spent three weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart that spring, and Madonna reportedly kept the $5 million fee.
The once-incendiary hit went on to become one of the most celebrated songs in Madonna’s canon, and it was even featured in her 2012 Super Bowl halftime performance – no small feat in the post-Nipplegate era. But one thing that hasn’t changed is the Material Girl’s earning power: According to Forbes, Madonna was the highest paid musician of 2013.
Watch the banned Pepsi commercial above, and the “Like a Prayer” music video below.