Here’s our ultimate guide to everyone’s favourite flounced-shirt-wearing, symbol-bearing guitar-playing cultural superstar
I can still remember the first time I heard Prince's music. I was riding in my Dad's beat-up car, top down (okay, so the sun roof was open), blasting 'The Most Beautiful Girl In The World' through the speakers. I was struck – Prince was singing the song just for me, of course, with my braces and teenage monobrow. With the recent news that Prince is currently in the process of writing a memoir (working title: The Beautiful Ones) our thoughts have turned increasingly to the cultural icon’s legacy. In the spirit of always being yourself, changing your name whenever you feel like it, and doing whatever is necessary to get out of a recording contract that isn’t working for you, here’s the Da-zed guide to Prince.
A IS FOR ANDROGYNOUS
Prince is an androgynous cultural icon, a man whose love for heels, eyeliner and lace didn’t dissuade his legion of screaming female fans (and more than a few male fans also). Prince took his style from the New Romantics, but made it his own, challenging rigid notions of masculinity and paving the way for a generation of subsequent artists to explore different gendered styles of dress.
B IS FOR BLACK BAG
For Prince’s tenth studio album Lovesexy, he posed as Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, naked against a floral backdrop. The outrage was such that some record stores refused to stock the album (remember the days of buying physical CDs?) while others protected Prince’s modesty with a black bag.
C IS FOR CROP TOP
The cover of 1986 album Parade features a midriff-bearing, eyeliner-wearing Prince voguing for the camera. Who says crop tops are just for the girls?
D IS FOR DARLING NIKKI
‘Darling Nikki’ is the song that spawned a thousand teenage boys wearing ‘Parental Advisory: Explicit Content” logo tees. After one mother heard her 12-year-old daughter listening to ‘Darling Nikki’ (which references masturbation) she founded a pressure group that eventually led to the use of ‘Parental Advisory’ stickers being used on album covers.
E IS FOR EPILEPSY
Prince has spoken publicly about being born with epilepsy, saying his parents struggled to deal with his seizures as a child.
F IS FOR FORMERLY KNOWN AS
Prince has changed his name more often than your typical post-Soviet state. In 1993 Prince changed his stage name to a symbol, which was expressed as a combination of the male and female signs (a neat marriage of Prince’s predilection for melodrama and androgyny). The music press began to refer to Prince as “The Artist Formerly Known As Prince (TAFKAP)” or even just “The Artist”. Things got even more confusing when he subsequently changed his name back to Prince, leading some to dub him “The Artist Formerly Known as 'The Artist Formerly Known as Prince'". How meta.
G IS FOR GAY MARRIAGE
Prince has a complicated relationship with gay rights. Although some celebrate him as a gay icon, the star alienated many when he described gay marriage as not “right” in a 2008 New Yorker interview. “"God came to earth and saw people sticking it wherever and doing it with whatever, and he just cleared it all out…He was, like, 'Enough.’” Prince subsequently denied that the quote was correct, although the New Yorker stood by their reporting.
H IS FOR HIGH HEELS
Prince has been a life-long fan of wearing heels, perhaps due to the fact he’s a diminutive 5’2 in height. Some have speculated that his love of heels may be the reason that Prince needs hip surgery (which he reportedly has refused on the grounds that his Jehovah’s Witness faith won’t allow blood transfusions).
I IS FOR INTERNET
Even the most cursory Prince fan will know that the megastar has some serious issues with the World Wide Web. He’s banned YouTube and iTunes from using his music (although he recently relented and made his back catalogue available for streaming on Tidal). In 2010, Prince told a journalist, “The internet's completely over.” He subsequently clarified his comments, saying that the Internet “was over for anyone who wants to get paid”, before going on to add, “tell me a musician who’s got rich off digital sales. Apple’s doing pretty good though, right?” Despite this, Prince does have an online presence, with a Twitter and the amazingly-named Princestagram, which teaches you that even Prince is partial to a meme or two.
J IS FOR JOURNALISTS
Prince is notorious for being a difficult interview subject. He’s been known to make journalists dance in return for him answering their questions, which sounds like my worst nightmare to be honest. In a Guardian interview from 2015, Prince required music critic Alex Petridis to sit at his feet when asking him questions: if he didn’t like the question being asked, he’d “strike up with the theme from The Twilight Zone and shake his head.”
K IS FOR KISS
Kiss is Prince’s 1986 uber-hit, a timeless track that’s still in heavy rotation on dance-floors around the world twenty years after its first release.
L IS FOR LAWYERS
Ever tried watching Prince videos on YouTube? Well, you won’t find any. The artist is notoriously against unauthorized versions of his songs or performances appearing online, and has been known to lawyers up against copyright infringements: once banning an NHS dentist from covering Purple Rain on a cover album. Because no one, big or small, dentist or not, gets to use Prince’s material without his say-so.
M IS FOR MAIL ON SUNDAY
Bizarrely, Prince chose to give away copies of his Planet Earth album with right-wing tabloid The Mail on Sunday. The music press scratched its head, HMV (remember them?) was pissed off, Prince stuck another middle finger up at The Man (meaning the music industry).
N IS FOR NEW GIRL
When you’re a global superstar, and a fan of hit TV show New Girl, featuring Zooey Deschanel, what do you do? Reach out for a cameo spot, of course. The star’s turn in the post-Super Bowl episode drew more than 25 million viewers, who tuned in to see him playing ping-pong and singing a duet with Deschanel.
O IS FOR ORANGE JUICE
A man of simple tastes, Prince’s favourite meal is spaghetti washed down with a glass of OJ.
P IS FOR PURPLE
The titular colour of mega-hit Purple Rain, and accompanying movie, Prince is partial to a bit of purple, which makes sense – it is the colour of royalty, after all. Journalists report that the interior of his 55,000 square foot Paisley Park complex in downtown Minneapolis is decorated in every iteration of the colour purple: orchid, eggplant, amethyst, grape soda. Hardcore Prince fans take their cue from their master, calling themselves the Purple Collective.
Q IS FOR QUEEN BEY
For every Prince, there’s a Queen – and in this case it’s Queen Bey. Prince slayed with Beyoncé at the 2004 Grammy Awards, describing her as a ‘huge talent’, before revealing that he gave her a piece of unlikely career advice – recommending that she learn to play the piano.
R IS FOR RUFFLES
Early Prince was partial to a frill or flounce or ruffled shirt or two, particularly during his Byronic-influenced Purple Rain period.
S IS FOR SLAVE
In 1995 Prince turned up at the Brit Awards with the word ‘slave’ written across his face in protest at his record company Warner Bros, who were refusing to let him out of his contract. In so doing, he inspired a generation of frustrated musicians to dream of artistic freedom. In an interview with Rolling Stone a year later, Prince said, “People think I’m a crazy fool for writing ‘slave’ on my face. But if I can’t do what I want to do, what am I? When you stop a man from dreaming, he becomes a slave. That’s where I was. I don’t own Prince’s music. If you don’t own your masters, your master owns you.”
T IS FOR TICKETS
Despite being one of the biggest recording artists in the world, Prince isn’t about to screw his fans on price. For a 2014 tour with new band 3rd Eye Girl, Prince announced that he’d be charging just £10 a ticket. He’s also been known to play back-to-back sets at tiny capacity venues like London’s Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, clearing out the audience to allow the second tranche of fans queuing outside the opportunity to watch their idol play.
U IS FOR UNPRONOUNCEABLE SYMBOL
When you’re one of the biggest artists in the world, you’re not going to let a small thing like changing your name to an unpronounceable symbol get in your way. For the sake of convenience, it became known as “Love Symbol”, which also became the name of Prince’s fourteenth studio album. Mega-fans got the Prince symbol tattooed on them, the rest of the world wondered how you get to be so cool you can transcend normal language and be identified only by an unpronounceable symbol.
V IS FOR VEGAN
Prince turned vegan in the 90s, way before it became fashionable, and was voted “World’s Sexiest Vegetarian” in a 2006 PETA poll.
W IS FOR WARNER BROS
Prince and Warner Bros are the Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton of the music industry: on again, off again, on again. Desperate to get out of his contract with the behemoth in 1994, Prince began pushing out a huge amount of content as a way of freeing himself from his obligations to Warner Bros. After changing his name to a symbol and describing himself as a ‘slave’, Prince got out of his contract in 1996, and in so doing provoked international debate about the way the major label system worked. Like all the best (weekend) lovers, Prince and Warner kissed and made up 18 years later, in 2014, although some suggested Prince returned to the Warner fold to regain control over his lucrative back catalogue (even the most unpredictable lovers make decisions based on financial considerations sometimes).
X IS FOR XPECTATION
Xpectation is Prince’s twenty-sixth studio album, but you won’t be able to buy a physical copy of it –it was released to members of Prince’s online music fan club NPG Music Club with no formal artwork, only two weeks after the singer had put out a live album.
Y IS FOR YELLOW CLOUD GUITAR
A talented polymath when it comes to playing all manner of musical instruments, Prince is best known for his guitar playing (although don’t compare him to Jimi Hendrix – he hates that). His Yellow Cloud Guitar hangs on the wall at the Smithsonian, and Prince can be seen playing the guitar in his ‘Gett Off’ video (which you won't find on YouTube, obviously).
Z IS FOR ZZZZZ
Prince is legendary for his work ethic, sometimes staying awake for days on end during the recording of We Are The World. If you’re going to be one of the biggest artists in the world, you need to sweat – meaning sometimes there’s no time for sleep, something Prince knows all too well.