Have you ever looked at your favorite scary movie from a feminist perspective?
Feminism and the music of sexually charged pop stars don't always mix. Most popular male musicians follow the tired narrative of ‘arrogant douche who uses female fans to sell concert tickets while simultaneously holding an attitude that women have nothing else to offer than their bodies.’ Do we really have to compromise our values just to get our collective swerve on to sexy man jams?
Enter the one and only purple funkmaster and solver of all your sexy music needs, Prince. Yes, the same Prince that laid the smackdown on Apollonia Kotero in Purple Rain (that was fiction people!) is actually a pretty good example of how powerful men can be feminists. For the following reasons, I believe Prince walks the walk when it comes to being a man and an artist while also being a proponent of feminist values.
1. He expresses his femininity without hangups.
Prince is a style maverick who doesn’t give a crap about gendered clothing or appearing “manly.” His ruffled, romantic blouses may have come to define his look (and sparked a killer Dave Chapelle bit) but his gender bending sartorial choices started well before the mid 1980s. When he made his debut in the 1970s, long silky perms and skintight pants were the norm but Prince was never one to follow trends. He continued to let his feminine side shine through the decades in his ever-evolving brazen style.
I tend to favor his early 1980’s looks in the Dirty Mind and Controversy album eras. This was his grittier punk phase that consisted of a lot of tiny underwear, leather jackets, bandanas, and heeled boots. When you think of Prince writhing on the floor, pantless, wearing a full face of makeup and screaming “sexuality, let your body be free!” you can almost hear the terrified gasps of sexually stifled bros everywhere.
In 1998 he even wrote his own femme-male anthem, "Prettyman," as an ode to his androgynous style and the ladies that love it. His fragrance, “3121” named after his 2006 album, is a genderless fragrance that smells like lavender and what I can only guess would be the scent of Prince’s lingerie drawer. He knows that “men’s” style can run the gamut between smartly tailored suits and full on see through black lace ensembles. He wears it all with a quiet yet rebellious confidence that makes me wonder why men’s fashion has yet to embrace femininity as fully as Prince has for decades.
2. He’s a longstanding equal opportunity funk-leader.
Prince takes his music seriously. His backing band has gone through a lot of changes from his early days, to his height with Wendy and Lisa in The Revolution, to the late 80’s and early 90’s with The New Power Generation, to today with fully female band, 3rdeyegirl. Throughout it all, one thing hasn’t changed; Prince doesn’t give musicians the time of day if they can’t match his skill and his funky sensibilities. The female musicians, singers, and dancers Prince has worked with on his albums have all had great success and recognition on their own.
Can we start by talking about Sheila E.? Before her time with Prince she was already a skilled percussionist working with the likes of Lionel Richie, Marvin Gaye and Herbie Hancock. She can act, sing, and write her own music on top of all of that. Her sick skills on drums made songs like “U Got the Look” dance classics and paved the way for her solo career. She “don’t need a man’s touch” after all.
I can’t leave out the musical duo Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman that were responsible for the music in songs like “Computer Blue” and “America” among many other contributions to Prince songs throughout the mid 1980’s. Although their experience in The Revolution was rocky at times, they definitely left their mark on Prince’s overall style (not to mention their impact on sexy femme lesbians rocking asymmetrical haircuts). Just watch some of Wendy’s guitar solos in Purple Rain and you’ll see how bad ass these ladies were.
In his 2014 dual album release, Prince recruited a trio of female musicians for his newest backing band, 3rdeyegirl. The group consists of Canadian guitarist Donna Grantis, American drummer Hannah Welton, and Danish bassist and former New Power Generation member, Ida Kristine Nielsen. The rocking funk album Plectrumelectrum highlights how the group’s collective skill can still stand out amongst Prince’s legendary guitar prowess. Along with these original tracks, 3rdeyegirl has covered much of his back catalogue proving they have the chops to keep up with Wendy, Lisa, Sheila E. and other female rock goddesses of Prince’s past.
Bottom line is, female musicians aren’t a novelty to Prince, they’re an integral part of his musical catalogue.
3. He's a vegan who supports animal welfare.
Long before the hype of vegan diets, Prince ditched animal products and decided to write a song about it. From his little-talked-about 1998 album, The Truth, (if you haven’t heard it, listen to it, it’s acoustic, raw, and true to its name with truth bombs a-plenty) the song "Animal Kingdom" gives some pretty solid reasons why Prince has chosen to forgo animal consumption. Prince sings, “No member of the animal kingdom nurses past maturity/No member of the animal kingdom ever did a thing to me.”
While veganism and feminism aren’t synonymous, it’s still pretty awesome to hear Prince get passionate about animal rights and not just animalistic sex.
4. He sings about his sexuality sans sexism.
In more recent years Prince has, as he says “put his ass away,” but in his youth, sex, sexual tension, and smokin’ hot ladies were his favorite songwriting subjects. While most male artists today focus on this topic in excess, it’s not quite the same as how Prince approaches it. Prince was sex-positive before most of us had a word for it, and that scared a lot of prudes and proponents of puritanical rules about sexuality. At the height of this popularity he was faced with a censorship battle with activist Tipper Gore, who was set on holding Prince responsible for her 11-year-old daughter hearing the song “Darling Nikki.”
Tipper got her way by forcing parental advisory labels onto albums with “unsavory” content in 1985, but that didn’t deter Prince in the least. Somehow, in the song, his mention of female masturbation and a woman initiating casual sex made it on par with the gross objectifying lyrics of womanizing hair metal bands of the same era.
Even today, it’s pretty sad that Beyonce can devote a song like “Blow” to both giving and receiving oral sex but it’s doubtful her husband would ever do the same. Because somehow giving pleasure to your lady makes you less of a man? Prince sure doesn’t feel that way. I can’t think of another male artist with as many mentions of going down without being on the receiving end. Sex isn’t a power trip where the woman gets degraded and kicked out after (unless that was the specific arrangement) according to Prince. He makes damn sure his lady gets off. Prince will take you to a movie, buy you dinner, and doesn’t expect anything but maybe a good old fashioned finger-bang afterward. That is, only if you’re into it (hear the song “Jack U Off” for reference.) One listen to “If I Was Your Girlfriend” and you’ll see there’s nothing Prince won’t do to foster a connection with his lover.
Many Prince songs might be dismissed as smut but their importance can’t be ignored. It may be easier for society to swallow (no pun intended) male sexuality in art, but when it is coming from a black, androgynous man with a penchant for powerful women it still pushes boundaries closer towards a more sex-positive world.
5. Joni Mitchell is a huge inspiration and role model to him.
Prince, like... really loves Joni Mitchell. While I get it’s not necessarily inherently feminist to idolize women, Prince does it with Joni Mitchell in the best fanboy type of way imaginable. Mitchell was quoted in NY Magazine recounting the story of seeing a 15-year-old, wide eyed Prince, front row, at one of her early shows in Minneapolis. The raw songwriting talent of Mitchell definitely rubbed off on young Prince as well as her incredible skill on stringed instruments of all varieties.
Prince shouts out to Joni in his songs, “Ballad of Dorothy Parker” and “When We’re Dancing Close and Slow.” Prince also covered “A Case of You” (or “A Case of U” in true Prince fashion) in live shows from 1983 until 2002 when he recorded the cover in tribute to Queen Joni. Prince is known for his stoic and sometimes aloof attitude around people so it’s fun to imagine him getting giddy over someone and especially when that someone is the shy but powerful Joni Effing Mitchell.
6. He uplifts and collaborates with current female artists in a non-gross way.
Prince is sometimes unfairly thought of as an “80’s artist” or simply “a legend”, which secretly means most people are familiar with his hits and little else. What his fans know is that even at 56, Prince hasn’t taken a break from creating music. He’s anything but a stuffy old man, although he did say once that the internet was a “fad” and is decidedly anti-social media (many would say he’s anti-social in general.) Even still, he keeps his ear out for new music and art and is always willing to work with younger artists in a reciprocal kind of way. He appeared on a song on Janelle Monae’s newest album, and his cameo on “New Girl” last year and musical collaboration with Zooey Deschanel on screen was totally sincere.
He’s not just down with working with legendary ladies like Chaka Khan and his past band members, but he regularly invites budding artists to perform and record at Paisley Park Studios in Minneapolis, many of whom turn out to be female.
You can blame keeping other male artists at a distance on male ego if you want, though Kendrick Lamar was recently rumored to be hanging with The Purple One, but I like to think Prince sees talent without gender bias. After Lianne La Havas slayed critics with her 2012 release, Prince invited the British singer to collaborate on several songs on his new album. FKA Twigs also held a secret performance at Paisley Park this past November which hopefully means Prince will continue to host surprise shows at his personal performance space.
Next time you’re picking out your playlist when you’re getting ready for a night out, try a little Prince in the mix. You can be sure to get all of the sexy with none of the sexism.