“Like A Prayer” changed my world.
I was born in 1980, so by the time I was in elementary school and able to recognize music, Madonna had already infiltrated the soundtrack of my life. Her first two albums Madonna (1983) and Like A Virgin (1984) had songs that were ingrained in my mind, but hadn’t really stood out as something unique against the landscape of Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, Debbie Gibson, and Tiffany.
And then, in 1989, the music video for “Like A Prayer” was released and it was riddled with controversy with its religious themes mixed with blatant interracial sexuality. The main reason that the song was even on my radar was because my mom and her friends were offended by the video. The rebel in me immediately knew that if my mom was offended by something, I had to love it.
And I did.
I bought the cassette of the Like A Prayer album with my allowance money, and became infatuated with it. Songs like “Express Yourself” and “Cherish” became early favorites.
Shortly after Like A Prayer was released, HBO aired The Blonde Ambition Tour. This was EVERYTHING. For a ten year old gay kid, seeing Madonna flanked by shirtless male dancers was a fantasy I didn’t even know I had come true. Hearing her imperfect live vocals mixed with not quite elegant choreography, I knew she was an Icon. A legend. Even when my mom made me leave the room when Madonna simulated a masturbatory sequence during “Like A Virgin,” I knew I was forever marked.
So yes, like most gay men of my generation, I became obsessed with Madonna. I watched every video. Bought every album. Watched every movie. I followed closely every fashion reinvention. I grew into adulthood as her music transitioned from 80’s pop to introspective ballads back to fun dance music.
But why? Why Madonna?
As a kid growing up knowing that there was something “different” about me, but not being able to have the words for it as well as knowing that whatever it was, it was best that I keep it a secret, I was drawn towards someone who was unabashedly herself. Someone who spoke her mind and reveled in her sexuality rather than hiding from it. Madonna represented a freedom that I thought I could never achieve.
Madonna has made a career out of reinventing her style all while remaining unquestionably herself. From pop princess to catholic girl gone wild to ethereal goddess to cowgirl to dominatrix to geisha girl to disco queen to mother to everything in between, she’s always been Madonna.
And she’s always been an inspiration to me to try and be my most authentic self. Even now, when she isn’t as “popular” as she once was, and people want to age her out of relevance, she remains an absolute force of nature. She’s not going anywhere. She endures. And she continues to inspire. And for that, I will always be grateful.