Nicholas Fonseca from Entertainment Weekly stated that Like a Prayer is “an official turning point” of Madonna’s career, which earned her “a long-awaited, substantive dose of critical acclaim.” Mark Savage from BBC noted that the album’s release “marks the moment when critics first begin to describe Madonna as an artist, rather than a mere pop singer.” Glen Levy from Time stated: “Madonna has always been a keen student of pop-culture history, and her creative powers were probably at their peak in the late 1980s on the album Like a Prayer.” Hadley Freeman from The Guardian felt that Like a Prayer shaped “pop stars, pop music, music videos, love, sex and the 80s were and should be.” Like a Prayer “defiantly grabbed Christian language and imagery”, according to Jon Pareles of The New York Times.
According to the list of “All-TIME 100 Albums” by Time magazine’s critics, Like a Prayer is one of the 100 greatest and most influential musical compilations since 1954. In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine named it the 237th greatest album of all time. Apart from that the album was also featured in the “Women Who Rock” list made in 2012, at number 18. Like a Prayer is also featured in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. In 2006, Q magazine placed the album at number 14 in its list of “40 Best Albums of the ’80s”. In 2005, a poll of half million people on British television network Channel 4 placed Like a Prayer at number eight on list of “The 100 Greatest Albums in Music History”. In 2012, Slant Magazine listed the album at number 20 on its list of “Best Albums of the 1980s”, saying: “By the late ’80s, Madonna was already one of the biggest pop stars of all time, but with Like a Prayer, she became one of the most important.”
Following the success of Like a Prayer, Madonna was named as the “Artist of the Decade” by many newspaper and magazine polls. MTV Networks honored her the special trophy for “Artist of the Decade: Mega Artist” based on a polls by MTV viewers. The honor eventually led to a rivalry between Madonna and Michael Jackson. Biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli documented that Jackson telephoned his attorney John Braca to complain that Madonna did not deserve such an honor. He said, “See, it makes me look bad. I’m the artist of the decade. Did she outsell Thriller?” In response to his client’s agitation, Branca suggested that they approach MTV with the idea of a fictional award they could give to Jackson. They decided to name it as Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Artist of the Decade Award. Jackson liked the introduction of the award, and commented, “That’ll sure teach that heifer”, referring to Madonna.
Author John Semonche explained in his book Censoring sex that with True Blue and Like a Prayer, Madonna pushed the envelope of what could be shown on television, which resulted in increase of her popularity. Madonna tried to experiment with different forms and styles with the videos and in the process constructed a new set of image and identity. The lead single from the album, “Like a Prayer”, was featured in a television advertisement for soft drink manufacturer Pepsi, as a part of Madonna’s endorsement deal with the company. The video “set a media circus in motion, stirring up just those issues of sexuality and religiosity that Madonna wanted to bring up.” In response to the controversial music video, the Vatican condemned the video. Critics accused it of sacrilege and heresy. Religious groups sought to ban the commercial and boycott Pepsi products. Pepsi revoked the commercial and canceled her sponsorship contract. However, she was allowed to retain her fee of five million dollars. Madonna commented, “Art should be controversial, and that’s all there is to it.” It was said that the video for “Like a Prayer” could be “read as an indictment of a white male patriarchal Christianity in the name of what has happened to ‘white’ women and to Black men.” The iconic images have “proven to be some of the most striking, unforgettable images in music video history and serve only to further the clip’s condemnation of racial profiling and religious guilt.”