2. Madonna, “Like a Prayer”
Floating atop a Latin rhythm and funky synth bass, with a gospel choir providing the ethereal harmony, Madonna’s voice on “Like a Prayer” isn’t just confident, it’s downright heavenly. Supported by a chorus of angels in D minor, 1989’s “Like a Prayer” was the moment when Madonna went from being the voice of America’s teenagers to the worldwide high priestess of pop.
The song was Madonna’s great leap forward, and our first encounter with her unsettled Catholic soul, as opposed to her unbridled blond ambition. She sabotaged the wholesome Pepsi ad that premiered the song with a music video that featured her dancing in front of a row of burning crosses, seducing a black saint and receiving the stigmata. The Pope and Roman Catholics around the world denounced Madonna, Pepsi pulled the ad, and in the process, “Like a Prayer” became the most controversial video in the history of MTV. In one profoundly appealing and utterly danceable swoop, Madonna had orchestrated pop music’s greatest awakening.