Prince wasn’t a political songwriter. Instead, he ordinarily preferred his material to address antics in the bedroom rather than the state of the nation — but that wasn’t always the case.
In 1981, ‘The Purple One’ broke free from his mould and released the politically defiant track ‘Ronnie Talk To Russia’. As the meaning behind the song was so dramatically different to anything previously expected from Prince, it meant most listeners missed the message, choosing instead to become lost in the funk.
The song arrived amid the Cold War, and there remained a genuine fear that the world was on the brink of catastrophe. Given the seemingly perilous situation, iconic entertainers such as Prince, who would usually stay away from diplomatic themes within the songwriting process, felt compelled to use their voice.
There are contrasting reports on how politically engaged Prince became during his life, even more so when attempting to decipher exactly where his opinion rested on the political spectrum. The musician allegedly donated to a Republican senator’s re-election campaign in his home state of Minnesota in 1990. However, on the other hand, Prince performed a secret show at the White House in 2015 for Democratic President Barack Obama.
Seemingly, Prince did have an interest in political issues, as his alleged aid of both major political parties suggests. However, in 2009, he revealed that he abstained from voting in elections due to his faith.
“I’m one of the Jehovah’s Witnesses,” he explained. “And we’ve never voted. That’s not to say I don’t think. President Obama is a very smart individual and he seems like he means well. Prophecy is what we all have to go by now”.
Meanwhile, his mentee, Shelby J, later told The Independent: “People say Prince wasn’t political. Yes he was! Not always, but he was very aware of what was happening in the world, and in his country. His motto was love for one another, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t talk about things that are wrong”.
Shelby’s comments in regards to Prince knowing “what was happening in the world” is supported by his anti-Cold War anthem, material in which he pleads with President Reagan to stop the tension with Russia. On the track, he sings: “Ronnie, talk to Russia before it’s too late, Before they blow up the world, You go to the zoo, but you can’t feed guerrillas, Can’t feed guerrillas, Left-wing guerrillas, You can go to the zoo, but don’t feed guerrillas, Who want to blow up the world”.
On ‘Ronnie Talk To Russia’, the singer was uncharacteristically politically direct as he pleaded with Reagan to reconsider his stance and stop the conflict before tragedy struck. The song remains an anomaly in his back catalogue, failing to provide any definitive answers about the politics of Prince or what his deep-held beliefs were beyond the Cold War. Similarly to every other facet of his personal life, as with Prince’s music, it remained impossible to pin ‘His Royal Badness’ down.