By now, the entire world has been hit with the news that Prince, one of the most artistically influential and commercially successful innovators of popular music, has died suddenly at age 57. The impact of his death is hard to fathom and truly calculate. When David Bowie died earlier this year, Carrie Brownstein tweeted that it felt like something elemental was gone, like a whole color. This is strikingly similar. It’s hard to gather oneself to comprehend such news, which only makes us that much more keenly aware of our own mortality.
Following Bowie’s passing, it seems like we’ve lost two of popular music’s great chameleons. While Bowie tried on different personas, Prince was just as adept at shape-shifting, defying boundaries of race, genre, gender, sexuality, and decorum. “I just can’t believe all the things people say,” he sang in “Controversy.” “Am I black or white? Am I straight or gay?”
He was Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, Sly Stone, George Clinton, Stevie Wonder, Bowie, and Mick Jagger rolled into one pint-sized genius. He combined soul, funk, bubblegum pop, blues, rock, and even metal into something that was a new genre unto itself.
He was just Prince. For many musicians, and particular for those of color in America, he presented an expansive idea of what was possible in music. He was a musical auteur, a sublime vocalist, songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist who demanded perfection from himself and others. Not only did you have a musician who shattered every conceivable boundary, you had an artist who was in total control of his many gifts; who fought so hard for control that he turned his name into an unpronounceable symbol; who became an Oscar-winning movie star in a film based on his life story (1984’s Purple Rain); who, like Bowie, made it safer for men to explore their femininity. He was slippery: Just when you thought you had a handle on him, he’d wriggle his way from your grasp and head in a new direction.
Most of Prince’s music isn’t easy to find on the Internet. You won’t stumble upon many of his songs or iconic music videos on YouTube or streaming services, as he was famously suspicious of new media. It speaks to Prince’s influence that his music will live on without such digital ubiquity. It lives on in the many artists who have cribbed his moves, from Frank Ocean (read his tribute) to Muse, MGMT to Daft Punk, Janelle Monáe to Goldfrapp. And it lives on in the indelible images that have been etched into our memories from decades of Prince’s flamboyant, brilliant work.Read More