Today, April 21st, marks five years since the earth lost The Purple One, and suddenly, the colours of the world looked worryingly less kaleidoscopic in an instant. Prince lit up the world with his vivid artistry, a creative who possessed more flair in one finger than most musicians have in their entire bodies.
However, it wasn’t just his wild and unrelenting musical achievements that made Prince realise his deity status. What Prince represented through the way in which he carried himself is just as pivotal in his legacy as his albums. Before Prince, music was a macho business, one in which it was encouraged to act as traditionally masculine as physically possible at all costs. In contrast, The Purple One left all the gender norms at the door and dressed however he pleased without caring for a moment about any potential backlash.
Prince expressed himself through clothing like no other, wearing women’s clothing on-stage and pushing boundaries with a fearless spirit. He would often wear a pair of high heels, along with an ostentatious outfit that suited his equally flamboyant personality sizably more than the standard rock ‘n’ roll uniform of a white t-shirt, jeans, and a black leather jacket ever could.
Speaking to Musician in 1983, Prince commented about his feminine sensibilities and fired shots at traditional tropes. “It’s attractive for me,” The Purple One admitted. “I mean, I would like to be a more loving person, and be able to deal with other people’s problems a little bit better. Men are really closed and cold together, I think. They don’t like to cry, in other words. And I think that’s wrong, because that’s not true.”
Even before Prince became a superstar, his aesthetic made him stand out from the crowd, and once he started churning hits, he began playing into it increasingly. Prince knew that he could anger all the right people simply by dressing a certain way, and on 1984’s ‘I Would Die 4 U’, he provocatively sang: “I’m not a woman, I’m not a man/ I am something that you’ll never understand.”
It took courage to be as proud about being unashamedly true to himself, staying strong throughout the torrent of hate thrown in his direction. It should have played out like a dream when he supported The Rolling Stones in 1981, but, sadly, the majority crowd were already on Prince’s back before he had even played a note due to his androgynous outfit made up of a see-through jacket, thigh-high boots and black bikini briefs.
Prince, aware of some unrest in the audience, even tried to please the crowd by playing more rock-style material. However, amidst the anger, the audience began to hurl racist and homophobic slurs at him and the band. The verbal abuse then progressed to the hurling of bottles and anything else that was in their vicinity which they deemed fit to throw.
While this incident would have made a weaker man than Prince decide to scale back their outfits — The Purple One refused to let the bastards win, and it only provided him with the ammunition to ramp up his act and be even more extravagant.
It wasn’t just knuckle-headed audience members who had it out for him, either. Remarkably, fellow musicians such as Rick James were disgusted with Prince’s pioneering spirit. “He’s a mentally disturbed young man,” James once lamented. “He’s out-to-lunch. You can’t take his music seriously. He sings songs about oral sex and incest.”
Yes, the same Rick James who once kidnapped a woman for a week, forced her to take crack cocaine and perform sexual acts, attempted to take the moral high ground because he dressed more conservatively.
Following Prince’s death in 2016, an entire generation of artists spoke about how The Purple One not just inspired them as an artist, but as a human. Frank Ocean mourned: “He made me feel comfortable with how I identify sexually simply by his display of freedom from and irreverence for the archaic idea of gender conformity.”
It’s not just Frank Ocean in the popular musical landscape that continues to keep Prince’s gender-defying legacy. Harry Styles embraces the shunning of masculine tropes in a similar vein to Prince, and Yungblud often performs in a dress, like when he played the main stage of Reading Festival in 2019. If it weren’t for Prince breaking down these barriers, then pop would be a lot less purple.