Just like a prayer, Madonna’s music will take your there

Evergreen multimedia editor Alex McCollum explores Madonna’s catalog; artist creates empowering, controversial imagery with music, videos, art



Madonna influened Evergreen multimedia editor growing up.

ALEX MCCOLLUM, Multimedia editor

When I first heard the Evergreen would be producing a Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll edition, the first artist I thought of was Madonna.

Madonna came in and out of my life without me noticing her much until I watched the “Vogue” music video when I was in middle school. Nearly a decade later, “Vogue” is my favorite song of Madonna’s, and it continues to inspire me to dance and let go of my feelings when I am down.

The whole song is enamoring, from the way it layers at the beginning with different instruments, to the lyrics, the house beats, strings, chorus and bridge.

She sings, “Get up on the dance floor,” and the listener feels like it is a command they must heed.

But the music video is what really captivated me. I remember slowing it down to half-speed on YouTube, learning the choreography by mirroring it then reteaching it to myself unmirrored.

The music video also convinced my 13-year-old self to delve into her other works from the 1980s through the 2010s. I had songs like “Express Yourself,”  “Like a Prayer,” “Open Your Heart” and “Living for Love” on constant repeat. They are songs about self-expression, self-love empowerment and freedom, which were all feelings and qualities I felt I lacked in middle school, and she slowly helped coax them out of me.

Not only does she make music that people connect with, but since the beginning of her career, Madonna has incorporated political and social issues, especially regarding sex, into her art.

Her 1986 hit “Papa Don’t Preach,” drew controversy at its release. The song is a dramatic, string-heavy pop anthem with stomping drums. She sings about struggling to tell her father she is pregnant, and that she plans on keeping the baby.

Pepsi pulled an advertisement from the air featuring the gospel-tinged and innuendo-filled “Like a Prayer” because viewers mistook it for the music video. In the music video, a Black man is framed for a crime and imprisoned. Later, he is depicted as a saint and Madonna kisses him.

In her 1991 “Truth or Dare” tour documentary, police threatened to arrest her in Toronto, Ontario for simulating sex in public while performing “Like a Virgin.” She featured gay dancers in the documentary and surrounded herself with gay culture at a time when that could have killed her career.

She stood up for the queer community and advocated for HIV/AIDS research and prevention when it was still a misunderstood disease. In 1992, she released “In This Life,” a song about two of her close friends who died of AIDS.

Aside from the sex, politics and social issues, Madonna has an incredibly vast, genre-spanning catalog.

I think her 1998 album “Ray of Light” is her most cohesive and introspective to date. She worked with a small handful of producers and created this weird mix of electronica, acid rock and pop.

Most of the songs deal with major life milestones, like becoming a mother. She also further explores the death of her own mother, failed relationships and discovering new religions that fit her better. “Mer Girl” is an absolutely devastating poem about grief.

Her 2003 album “American Life” took the longest to grow on me. I have read some people refer to it as “folktronica,” which I think is an accurate way to describe the mix of acoustic guitar and heavily-autotuned electronic production (e.g., “I’m so Stupid” and “Hollywood”).

This album deals more with motherhood, marriage, love and identity. It is also filled with a lot of political overtones and undertones, as a reaction to 9/11 and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

2005’s “Confessions on a Dance Floor” saw her glorious return to dance music. These songs were much more poppy than her previous several albums, in lyrics and production. Disco was a major influence on this album, and it shows most on “Sorry,” “Hung Up,” and “Future Lovers.” The album also heavily features Stuart Price, a producer who worked on Dua Lipa’s “Future Nostalgia” album.

My sister used to say all of Madonna’s music sounds the same, but that is just not true. I believe there is something for everyone in her catalog. She started off her career with a classic 1980s synth album and from there continued to experiment with many different genres. Her lyrics can be empowering and get the listener up on their feet, or they can cut you open like a knife.

I think a lot of the moves Madonna made throughout most of her career are lost on a lot of people my age. Singing songs about sex, interacting with the gay community and using music videos for political statements are not things that get artists canceled nowadays, but when she came on the scene, they very well could have.