During the 2023 MTV Video Music Awards earlier this week, Pepsi shared a shelved commercial they made with Madonna in 1989.
It was an epic moment for the now 65-year-old singer. Although the ad itself was never problematic, it was scrapped 34 years ago after Madonna refused to censor scenes in her “Like a Prayer” music video. MTV first aired “Like a Prayer” the day after the Pepsi commercial launched, and the music video proved immediately controversial.
The music video shows Madonna kissing a Black patron saint, played by Leon Robinson. Robinson represents the patron saint of racial harmony and justice, Saint Martin de Porres. The music video also includes a scene of Madonna dancing in front of a field of burning crosses.
At the time, the imagery upset the Vatican and other religious leaders. The backlash from the “Like a Prayer” video pressured Pepsi into ditching the $5 million deal with the singer, especially when she dug in her heels and refused to censor the it.
Now, over three decades later, Pepsi decided to re-release the commercial as part of its 125th anniversary celebration. The company is airing archival commercials, such as this one with Madonna, to promote their 125-day-long anniversary celebrations.
In the commercial, a young Madonna sits in an armchair sipping a Pepsi while she watches scenes from the music video. If you missed the VMAs, you can watch the commercial on Pepsi’s YouTube channel below:
After the VMAS, Madonna took to social media to discuss that experience, and why it was so important for her to maintain her artistic integrity.
“34 years ago I made a commercial with Pepsi to celebrate the release of my song Like a Prayer,” she wrote. “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 @pepsifor finally realizing the genius of our collaboration. Artists are here to disturb the peace.”
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… pic.twitter.com/zHBaBtGP9v
— Madonna (@Madonna) September 13, 2023
Pepsi is also re-airing other throwback commercials, like its 2001 ad with Britney Spears and a 1986 ad with Tina Turner.
You can watch the original, uncensored “Like a Prayer” video in full below on Madonna’s YouTube:
Ah, how times have changed!
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