Delicate & Destructive: An Essay on Prince
The bummer about Prince is pop music is rarely made by musicians; one song, one voice, one vision, and one intent. It’s mostly created for attractive, well coached teenagers who work with a committee to build and propagate their brand. Their brand is an act of prestige and posturing to create a product that can easily fit into a homogenized lifestyle. Pop music is just one facet of their brand. So making pop music an artform that functions to mimic ghosts of human inflections; musical caricatures of consumer incentives to keep consuming. Literal adverts disguised as culture.
Prince worked in that forum, and by anyone’s measurements of effective art, did it well. If you looked at Prince as a non-person, just a cultural vehicle for challenging content, a dialogue creator, he’s an ace in the hole; eye closed. Now factor he’s a man. He’s got a mom and pop and he shits, eats, pisses, and dies like the rest of us. You have a true human dynamo.
Sadly, if someone like Prince came up in your local scene, he or she would probably be ostracized for caring about musicianship and guitar work, for playing over the top solos, for creating original content, or for dressing and acting pretentious. Mediocrity and complacency is a long time tradition in most scenes. Innovation is blackballed and buried beneath the comfort of carbon-copy mime acts with musical instruments in their hands. It takes a miracle to break through the glassceiling most communities create for their artists; usually created by other artists. So who knows when we’ll have another musician of his caliber who can be so delicate, destructive, and empowering.
That being said, here’s the real truth in his presence. It’s hard to be a human being, it’s hard to be a man, and it’s hard to be an artist. We live between the projections of absolutism in our masculinity, and the baggage of those projections; all the while living an intense interior life that has nothing to do with either. That goes for all variations of femininity and masculinity. Artists like him could levitate above that kind of discordant coexistence of expectation, social constructs, and sexual darwinism we have to adhere. Prince pulled back the curtain; at least enough for us to have a peak in a musical format.
If you want to change the world, you don’t start a hardcore band or grindcore band or some other fringe contrarian musical act screaming at a crowd of like-minded peers who look similar, act similar, and stem from similar nature/nurture environments. If you want to create change in the world, you create pop music. You create art that’s functional. Through its functionality, it changes the way strangers view their lives and the lives of others. Your art’s ability to start a dialogue is the measurement of how effective it is.
Look how many people are talkin’ about Prince right now, and what are we talking about when we talk about Prince. That’s great art.