In 1989, Madonna starred in a Pepsi commercial that never saw the light of day – until now. The star shared the commercial on Instagram, saying that 34 years after it was canceled, Pepsi was finally revealing the spot.
Madonna said that before the commercial could premiere, her “Like a Prayer” music video came out – and proved controversial.
“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,” she wrote on Instagram. “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,” she wrote. “Artists are here to disturb the peace.”
“Like A Prayer” was Madonna’s fourth album, featuring hits like “Express Yourself” and “Cherish.” The music video for the titular single featured actor Leon Robinson, who is Black, playing a saint-like figure in a church.
In the video, Madonna witnesses a White woman get killed by White men, but the Black man she is in a relationship with is arrested for the murder. Madonna hides in a church, where she meets the saint and kisses him.
Many condemned the video, which also employed several religious symbols, such as a crucifix.
The Vatican even urged a boycott of her tour. “I am aware that the Vatican and certain communities are accusing my show of being sinful and blasphemous, that they are trying to keep people from seeing it,” Madonna said at the time, according to Entertainment Tonight. “I think I’m offending certain groups, but I think that people who really understand what I’m doing aren’t offended by it.”
Pepsi famously nixed its ad featuring the song before it premiered. “It may go down as one the most expensive advertising blunders ever,” Entertainment Tonight host John Tesh reported at the time.
Despite the backlash, Madonna continued to push the envelope. And Pepsi continued to feature stars in its ads. The brand, celebrating its 125th anniversary, has been sharing those star-studded commercials on social media, including spots with Tina Turner, Ray Charles, Robert Palmer and Britney Spears. And of course, Madonna.
The never-before-seen ad was also shared by Pepsi on Instagram. It shows Madonna singing “Like A Prayer,” in front of a neon Pepsi sign, and holding a can of the soda.
Both Madonna’s and Pepsi’s sharing of the ad was praised and questioned by commenters. “AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!” Andy Cohen commented.
“This song changed my life,” wrote Diplo.
On Pepsi’s post, several commenters said the brand should apologize to the singer. “Alright, are they going to make up for the global boycott they had against her?” one person wrote. “Nearly 10 years of injustice in awards and advertising deals? What makes me feel at ease is knowing she’s always been right and, in fact, ‘ahead of her time and a thousand years ahead of yours.”
“After such a long time??? Don’t you think you should apologise for the way you treated her?!?” another wrote.
“The Queen deserves this and an apology,” another commented.
CBS News has reached out to a representative for Pepsi and is awaiting response.
Madonna had a lot to say about Pepsi’s decision to re-release her once-controversial commercial more than 34 years after it was yanked from the airwaves.
A 52-second, edited version of the 1989 ad ran during Tuesday’s MTV Video Music Awards as part of Pepsi’s star-studded 125th anniversary campaign. In it, Madonna joins a troupe of dancers on a city street and in a ’50s-style diner as her then-new single “Like a Prayer” is played.
“Go ahead,” she teases viewers. “Make a wish.”
By 2023 standards, the commercial is incredibly tame. Still, those familiar with the backlash it once ignited were surprised to see it resurface ― including the Queen of Pop herself, who offered a cheeky reaction on social media Wednesday.
Watch Madonna’s 1989 Pepsi commercial below.
“34 years ago I made a commercial with Pepsi to celebrate the release of my song Like a Prayer,” she wrote on Instagram. “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.”
After thanking Pepsi for “finally realizing the genius of our collaboration,” Madonna ended her note with a James Baldwin quote: “Artists are here to disturb the peace.”
Of course, the pop diva didn’t stop there, and later shared a photo of herself sipping from a can of Coca-Cola ― Pepsi’s biggest rival ― to her Instagram story with the caption: “Also good!”
The original commercial was part of a $5 million sponsorship deal that Pepsi had signed with Madonna ahead of the March 1989 release of her “Like a Prayer” album.
When the soda giant agreed to the deal, however, they hadn’t seen the music video for “Like a Prayer.” Groundbreaking for its time, the video shows Madonna witnessing a Black man getting convicted for an assault he didn’t commit. Her character takes refuge inside a church, where she kisses a Black saint who resembles the wrongfully arrested man before experiencing stigmata and dancing in a field of burning crosses.
Watch the “Like a Prayer” video below.
The “Like a Prayer” video was condemned by a number of Christian groups, including the Vatican, shortly after its MTV premiere. Though Pepsi’s commercial didn’t feature any of the video’s religious imagery, the company responded to the uproar by terminating its deal with Madonna and scrapping her ad after airing it just twice.
True to form, Madonna had the last laugh. Not only did she keep the $5 million from the campaign, but “Like a Prayer” became a global smash and remains one of her most beloved songs to this day.
Madonna has never been one to hold back. Over the course of her four-decade-long career, she’s delivered pop perfection, and she’s ruffled some feathers along the way.
In 1989, Madonna released “Like A Prayer,” the lead single and title track from her fourth studio album. While the song remains one of her signature hits, its accompanying video was the subject of controversy at the time of its release.
The video features Madonna seeking refuge in a church after witnessing an assault and murder, and kissing a statue of a saint that turns into a human man. There was also a Madonna Pepsi commercial that aired a few times on television at the time, but Pepsi quickly pulled the ad amid backlash surrounding the music video.
The commercial finally aired again last night (September 12) during the MTV Video Music Awards, as part of Pepsi’s new campaign, “celebrating 40 years of disrupting the status quo.”
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
After the awards ceremony, Madonna took to Twitter to thank Pepsi for sharing the commercial again, despite keeping it in the vault for 34 years.
“34 years ago I made a commercial with Pepsi to celebrate the release of my song ‘Like a Prayer,’ said Madonna. “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. [smiling emoji] Artists are here to disturb the peace.”
You can see the clip above.
Madonna is a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.