Prince and Michael Jackson were fierce rivals. They were both extravagant showmen who dazzled in the limelight, but that’s where the comparisons between the two men ended. Both artists were polar opposites in almost every sense, and a collaboration between the two would have been a surreal clashing of somewhat mysterious characters.
It makes perfect sense for Jackson to want to collaborate with The Purple One; who wouldn’t want to work with him? The artist had become the talk of the town following his debut record and the 1980s seemed destined to be coloured purple. But why didn’t Prince want to collaborate with Jackson who, at the time, was considered one of the greatest living pop stars.
Prince was firmly his own man, and even though everybody could tell that ‘Bad’ was destined to be a global hit, its cheesy narrative didn’t sit right with the singer who couldn’t bring himself to lose credibility by joining Jackson on the track.
Despite Jackson’s best efforts, he never managed to win over Prince. First, in 1985, when he cultivated the world’s biggest artists together to fight the AIDS crisis that was crippling Africa, Jackson wrote ‘We Are The World’ and featured almost every recognised musician on the planet — apart from Prince. Of course, Prince didn’t believe that the cause wasn’t a worthwhile one… he just despised the song.
Two years later, Jackson was the most famous man on the planet, and he could get almost everything he wanted at the click of a finger. However, the respect of Prince was still something that went amiss. Quincy Jones was the broker between the two men, but Jackson didn’t manage to persuade Prince to appear on his now-iconic track. While His Royal Badness was well aware that the track would be a success, he simply didn’t fancy it.
“We invited [Prince] out to Michael’s house to sing on ‘Bad’, and he was very intelligent about it,” Jones explained in 2017. “Prince was always competing with Michael. So I told Michael, ‘you sit there and Prince sits there, so it won’t look like we’re ganging up on him to do the record’. It was a beautiful meeting, a funny meeting, and [Prince] said ‘you don’t need me on this, it’s going to be a number one anyway’ – which it was.”
Jones’ version of events is romantic, yet, confidantes to Prince have given a different reason for his refusal, and it’s a brutal one. “[Prince] felt like the song was horrible,” the Revolution’s Wendy Melvoin said in Alan Light’s book, Let’s Go Crazy: Prince and the Making of Purple Rain. “And he didn’t want to be around ‘all those muthafuckas’,” she added.
A decade after the track’s release, The Prince of Funk spoke to Chris Rock about the scenario, and Melvoin’s stance about him suggesting the song was ‘horrible’ seems to add up. “That Wesley Snipes character? That would have been me. Now you run that video in your mind,” Prince told the comedian. “The first line of that song is ‘your butt is mine.’ Now I’m saying, ‘Who’s gonna sing that to whom? Cuz you sure ain’t singing it to me, and I sure ain’t singing it to you.’ So right there, we got a problem.”
The rivalry between the two men wasn’t anything personal; it was strictly professional. Both artists were fiercely competitive and constantly looked to get the upper hand on each other creatively. ‘Bad’ went on to sell 35 million records, Jackson got another international hit, and Prince kept his integrity intact — everybody was a winner.