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Remembering when Prince evaded a potential ban from 'SNL'

Saturday Night Live is a cultural juggernaut, producing a string of now-iconic moments over its 47 series and 927 episodes. Since its beginnings in 1975, the Lorne Michaels-created show has been a bastion of American comedy and music. However, it has also been known to be a proponent of censorship, not afraid to ban guests for overstepping the mark in fear of offending their well-meaning and often God-fearing audience. 

From The Replacements to Sinead O’Connor to System of a Down, many of our favourite musicians have fallen foul of the head honchos at SNL. Often this is to do with swearing, and for a late-night show, this is pretty astounding. Although the list of stars being banned from SNL is endless, there is one iconic musician who managed to dodge a ban for what appeared to be slipping an F-bomb.  

The musician in question was perhaps the most iconoclastic musician of all time, Prince, and it came during his debut performance on SNL on February 21st, 1981. At this point in time, aged only 22, Prince was not the superstar we all know and love today, and ‘Purple Rain’ was still three years away from release. 

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This didn’t phase Prince, however, and he was about to seize his opportunity to become a household name. The artist performed ‘Partyup’ from 1980’s Dirty Mind, but when lost in his performance, it seemed to the show’s executives as if he let out a profanity, and ever since, it has split opinions. About a minute into the show, Prince appeared to have sung the unchanged lyric, “Fightin’ war is such a fuckin’ bore.” 

In the book Saturday Night: A Backstage History of Saturday Night Live, SNL writer Neil Levy and censor Bill Clotworthy looked back on the moment. Reportedly, Levy asked Cothworthy, “Did he say ‘fuckin’?”, as they sat in the control room monitoring the performance.

Not wanting to make a fuss, Clotworthy replied, “Nah, he said ‘friggin'”, meaning that if Prince did actually drop the F-bomb, he got away with it. Luckily for him, the performance and the rest of the show carried on uninterrupted, and by the end of the show, he had just secured himself thousands of new fans.

Interestingly, this wasn’t the only time that the F-bomb was dropped in that episode. Right before the end credits rolled, legendary cast member Charles Rocket made a parody of the most sensationalised topic of the day, the ‘Who Shot J.R.?’ episode of Dallas. Rocket, who played the victim of a gunshot, was asked by Dallas star and the host of that episode Charlene Tilton how he was feeling. “It’s the first time I’ve ever been shot in my life… “I’d like to know who the fuck did it”, he quipped.

It seems as if there was something in the air that night. As for Prince’s performance, we’ll let you make your mind up on whether he swore or not, and it’s a hard one to call. 

Listen to Prince perform ‘Partyup’ on SNL below. 

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