For those who want to feel old, consider this: today marks the 20th anniversary of Madonna's Number One Hit, "Like A Prayer" - in the sense that it stayed at #1 until Easter, on 26th March. The album, of the same title, is considered by many to be one of the greatest pop albums of all time, and the song itself - despite or because of its wedding of religiosity and carnality - is sometimes considered Madonna's finest.
Personally, I prefer "Dress You Up". Her claim that "life is a mystery / everyone must stand alone" is at once religious and nihilistic. The cover of the album is, itself, a striking example of this. Madonna is famous for her anti/Christian puns and dress sense - and in some ways matches Donne or Leonard Cohen, in that department. She also favours simile. "Like A Virgin", surely, forms the basis for this later song. Her "down on my knees/ I want to take you there" it should be said was substantially borrowed from "Tainted Love".
Is Madonna ironic? Hard to say - she is very blatant, and obviously a materialist, pragmatist, and capitalist. Her 80s and 90s excesses (this song the bridge) are somewhat unfashionable now. Still, she remains, 20 years on, a superb entertainer (and dubious moralist) - and a user of paradox. In some ways, Madonna is an heir to Wilde - the use of masks, and outrageous statement, and sexual motifs concealed barely by overwrought style. Wilde's "The Decay of Lying" from 1889 - 120 years ago - perhaps tells us what we need to know of Madonna's art: Art never expresses anything but itself .