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Why Madonna's Pepsi Commercial Was Banned From TV In 1989

Almost from the very beginning of her career, Madonna has stirred up controversy through her music and subsequent music videos. Whether it was from the overt sexuality of her 1984 hit "Like a Virgin" or the trials of a pregnant teen girl in the 1986 tune "Papa Don't Preach," an outcry of some sort seemed to follow Madonna's every move.

Perhaps one of Madonna's biggest controversies emerged in 1989 with the music video for her hit song "Like a Prayer." According to Billboard, Pepsi collaborated with Madonna on a TV spot, which was part of a $5 million deal to help promote her "Like a Prayer" album. However, Pepsi pulled the innocuous 30-second ad when the full, official music video for "Like a Prayer" — which depicts scenes of murder, racial injustice, burning crosses, and an interracial kiss — was released. Now, nearly three and a half decades later, Madonna and Pepsi brought the banned commercial back to the spotlight when it aired during the 2023 MTV Video Music Awards on September 12.

In Madonna's September 13 Instagram post that features the ad, the singer wrote, "34 years ago I made a commercial with Pepsi to celebrate the release of my song Like a Prayer. The commercial was immediately canceled when I refused to change any scenes in the video where I was kissing a black saint or burning crosses. So began my illustrious career as an artist refusing to compromise my artistic integrity. Thank you @pepsi for finally realizing the genius of our collaboration. Artists are here to disturb the peace."

Protests followed the release of the Like a Prayer music video

The "Like a Prayer" video shows a white woman being fatally stabbed by a gang of white assailants, but when a nearby Black man (Leon Robinson) arrives to help the victim, he is accused of the murder and jailed by police. Because of the content of the video — which also includes burning crosses and Madonna kissing the accused, who is also depicted as a saint in a church — Pepsi pulled the ad from television. Controversy over the provocative video erupted the day it was released, which included protests by the Vatican. In addition to the burning crosses and the depiction of the saint transforming from a statue into a living, breathing man to kiss Madonna, the singer is wearing a crucifix necklace.

Perhaps someday Madonna will be able to tell more of her side of the story if she ever directs her own biopic. In January 2023, word surfaced that the Madonna biopic starring Julia Garner wasn't happening after all, six months after the "Ozark" star was cast to star as the singer.

For now, fans can at least see a comedic version of the singer on film in the movie parody "Weird: The Al Yankovic Story," starring Daniel Radcliffe as "Weird Al" Yankovic. In an exclusive interview with Looper, Evan Rachel Wood revealed how she reacted to the offer of playing Madonna in "Weird." Wood said, "I got excited and slightly nervous because I thought, 'I know this is a parody, but I still want it to be good.' You still have a lot of pressure on your shoulders when you're playing Madonna — maybe not as much [as] if you're in a biopic, but I still took it very seriously."