It is no hidden secret that Prince liked to keep his cards close to his chest; it’s one of the main major reasons he established himself as the most fascinating pop star on the planet. Those cards remained hidden up his sleeve throughout his iconic career. Rather than conceding every intrinsic detail of his life made available for public consumption, Prince worked on his privacy, a factor which meant that there was always an air of mystique that loomed over him. The Purple One never allowed the media to get too close and often carried himself in a manner that made him an enigma.
However, there were a select group of people he was open to, and there were some contemporary pop artists like Ed Sheeran and Katy Perry that he held no love in his heart for. The musician rarely allowed us into his real life, which he protected at all costs. He would still keep the persona alive behind closed doors and only on the very rarest occasions would he put that on hold. That said, following his death, his friends opened up about Prince and provided a fascinating glimpse into who Prince Rogers Nelson was behind the comfortable facade as well as his thoughts on contemporary pop music.
During Prince’s heyday, pop music was exciting and thrilling. He helped make it this weird and wonderful place, which was the most vibrant place in the musical world. The Purple One’s music had a great authenticity: killer riffs, catchy pop-friendly hooks that were both technically phenomenal and accessible to the mainstream. Before his death, the state of modern pop music was beige rather than the bold purple he had once painted it. While occasionally you get eccentric, colourful characters with the tunes to boot, it’s safe to say that it’s become easier to blend into the background and be inoffensive in every sense.
According to The Beautiful Ones, a memoir co-written by Prince and Dan Piepenbring, a 33-year-old writer handpicked by The Purple One before his death in 2016, Prince wrote a note about his disdain of modern pop, lamenting: “We need to tell them that they keep trying to ram Katy Perry and Ed Sheeran down our throats and we don’t like it no matter how many times they play it.”
Piepenbring seemingly agreed with Prince, telling the BBC: “To be honest I was so much in agreement with him on that subject that there didn’t seem to be any more to say about it at the time. More than a grudge with a few artists in particular, what he was bemoaning was a culture that simply doesn’t allow artists to colour outside the lines.”
Speaking about how he collated the letters to form the book, Piepenbring revealed: “The sheer quantity of paper was surprising… In one room you’d find something from 1979, and within arm’s reach there’d be something from 2002.”
On the other hand, in the press run for 2015 record Hit n Run Phase One, he spoke poetically about his love for Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, dotingly stating to Medium: “He just has something to say. It’s pure. And with Thundercat on the album? Come on. You’re not taking ‘Alright’ off my playlist.” Prince also revealed that he was a fan of Kanye West’s ‘Gold Digger,’ which samples Ray Charles’ iconic track ‘I Got A Woman’. “The way he made something new with that sample was perfect,” Prince said.
The Purple One truly cared about music and real artistry. He wanted the music to either make him feel something visceral and profound or stand for something. Whilst Ed Sheeran and Katy Perry’s music isn’t divisive, it’s designed for commercial radio and for people to pay half attention to in the car. When Prince was at the top of his game, pop music was a controversial beast and seeing it turn into a pool of vanilla didn’t sit right with him one bit. His criticisms weren’t personal attacks on these two popstars, but, an attack on what they represented or more aptly what they didn’t represent.