This is the moment Madonna peaked as a pop star and mass media manipulator. First, the manipulation. In the title track’s video, Madonna kisses a saint, shows off some self-induced stigmata and dances in a field of burning crosses. Caving in to protests from religious groups, Pepsi pulled out of a Madonna sponsorship deal (she held on to a $5 million payday) and the whole episode generated enough publicity to ensure the album’s debut at No. 1. Brilliant. As it happens, so was the record. “Like a Prayer” was a genuinely soulful first single and “Express Yourself” merged Madonna’s dance sensibility with her strongest feminist message. Stephen Bray, Patrick Leonard and Prince (yes, that Prince) rescued the few middling tracks with production that elevated Madonna’s voice out of its early bubble gum phase and into something resembling a real instrument.
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