Of Madonna’s Like A Prayer

From my childhood, one of the songs I sort of knew word for word was Madonna’s Like Prayer. The song has been on my mind ever since @Melindrea mentioned the opening lines on a Twitter post of Throwback Music.

Life is a mystery. Everyone must stand alone. I hear you call my name, and it feels like … home

To get the earworm out I decided to look up the song and play it again…

Note: I had never seen the video before in my life, I am guessing thanks to our censorship board I only knew the song from radio and of course we had no internet until more recently in my life, so I missed out on the ensuing controversy.

31 years after its release I am looking up the song, looking at the lyrics, looking at video and years of missed out controversy have caught up with me…. what in the… was this song about, also whats up with the burning crosses?

Like A Prayer – Madonna

Like A Prayer was released in March 1989 as the titular lead single for Madonna’s fourth studio album Like A Prayer. Rolling Stone has this song listed among The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

30 years ago today I released Like a Prayer and made a video that caused so much controversy because I kissed a black saint and danced in front of burning crosses” —Madonna; 3 March 2019

What inspired the song?

It was a complex time in Madonna’s life she had just turned 30, her marriage was over and she hadn’t released any new music the past year after having enjoyed a meteoritic rise, she was crashing and needed something different, provocative and yet speak from a personal part of her mind.

Madonna had a Catholic upbringing which she said in a 1989 Rolling Stone interview was something that would burden you with gulit…

“Once you’re a Catholic, you’re always a Catholic — in terms of your feelings of guilt and remorse and whether you’ve sinned or not. Sometimes I’m wracked with guilt when I needn’t be, and that, to me, is left over from my Catholic upbringing. Because in Catholicism you are born a sinner and you are a sinner all of your life. No matter how you try to get away from it, the sin is within you all the time.”

Inspiration for the track also came from the Catholic belief of transubstantiation, the change of essence by which the bread and wine offered in the sacrifice of the sacrament during the Mass, become, in reality, the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

Madonna wrote the song in three hours and described it as a song about a passionate young girl “so in love with God that it is almost as though He were the male figure in her life.”

The liturgical context of the song was altered such that the lyrics had a dual-natured symbolism seemingly about sexual innuendo and religion on the surface yet with different levels of meaning meant to provoke the listener.

For example in the first verse ‘When you call my name, It’s like a little prayer, I’m down on my knees, I wanna take you there’ could refer to someone performing oral sex…

Part of the song could also have been in reference to the failed relationship with her husband ‘Just like a muse to me you are my mystery..

The producers wanted her to change some of the lyrics but Madonna refused.

For the video Madonna continued to push the provocative envelope with references to Kuklux Clan, wrongful arrest and steamy church scenes…

Fun Fact: The gospel vocals are by The Andraé Crouch Choir which also did backing vocals for Micheal Jackson’s Man In The Mirror

So what is Like A Prayer song is really about?

Its about sex, racism, police brutality, injustice, oppression, religion, bigotry, guilt and of course designed to be controversial and shock you to your core, have you scratching your head asking yourself what have I just been made witness to…

Scholars and academics have tried to find interpretation of the music video and its story line finding interesting references in every frame of the video, the halo lighting around Madonna, the falling from the sky….

Like A Prayer Controversy

Madonna Kissed by Black Saint

Religious groups worldwide including the Vatican, protested the video, saying that it showed blasphemous use of Christian imagery. Pope John Paul II encouraged fans to boycott the artist in Italy.

People called for boycotting of Pepsi after she had performed in a Pepsi commercial. Pepsi tried to explain the differences between their advert and Madonna’s artistic opinions but they eventually relented and cancelled the advert campaign although let Madonna keep her fee.

Anybody who wanted to take offence got offended by this track and in the video, for instance, the black saint was widely misinterpreted as being a black Jesus, even though the part was inspired by Martin de Porres, the patron saint of mixed-race people and all those seeking interracial harmony.

Wouldnt put it past them to have been intentionally ambiguous and let people stew in their misconceptions…

 Martin de Porres Black Saint mistaken for Black Jesus in Like A Prayer video
Leon Robinson mistaken for a Black Jesus

According to Madonna “art should be controversial, and that’s all there is to it


I would hear your thought on this track….

~B

19 Comments

  1. I remember the song and video. Madonna created the controversy to keep her name in the media, which helped sell millions of copies of the album. The more she was banned the more the public wanted to see her. A marketing genius. The first time saw the video I scratched my head…Huh?? I still do, but love the song.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Marketing Genius indeed generate controversy to keep your name in the lights…
      And through in enough of your internal conflict to show you are human and get empathy.. Perfect 👌
      I have always loved the song first watched the video a few weeks ago… Well in light with some of the boundaries being pushed by those seeking fame it seems fairly tame now but I can see how in the late 80s this would have caused a riot..
      Yep still love the song
      ~B

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Maybe age has mellowed her or maybe she’s out over there looking at the new generation of artists trying to be provocative and controversial thinking young me would have eaten you all up for breakfast but carry on
      ~B

      Liked by 2 people

  2. That’s the best song for me from Madonna & usually bump it when I am in my old school moods. Just like you, I was perplexed by the video. Her genius creativity surely keeps one going back to the video all the time. Trying to wrap your head around what the heck she was up to and meant. A murder scene at the beginning, a pained Madonna, a black ‘Jesus’ and a choir. Interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I will agree with you this song definitely is all kinds of one the best pieces of music and that video has so pregnant with so much meaning no wonder it give birth to so much controversy
      it themes seem to touch on everything one could write a paper on the interpretation of the song and video
      thanks
      ~B

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I had never watched that video until just now, I’m still trying to figure out what just happened. I had never tried to find the meaning before.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Justin
      hmmm Hozier, I happen to like take me to church even though its depths scares me a lil bit, its about religion and sin, sex and sexuality… its almost similar to like a prayer in some ways I would not be surprised to find the Hozier was inspired or influenced by Madonna
      Fun fact I know at some point it was the highest chart topper with the word church in it…
      Of the top of my head I am not familiar with the other song you mention though I suspect if I played it I would realise I know it ha
      ~B

      Like

      1. “I heard there was a secret chord that David played and it pleased the Lord, but you don’t really care for music, do ya?”
        That’s the opening line. Its lyrics make me think there’s something too deep for me to guess without an expert at shredding songs.

        Like

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