THE VIDEO LEGACY OF PRINCE - TEXT LUKE BATHER
The passing of time, the inevitability of death and the iconification of artists occasionally coalesce like a motherfucker. This seems to have happened a bunch this year. You’ve all seen it happen, you or someone you know has probably said something along the line of “Jesus Christ 2016, enough already!” because you feel just about helpless and atheist enough to shout into the finite void of the calendar year. It’s good that you can use social media to express that you feel something. My friend told me he saw a woman crying in the street about half an hour after news broke that Prince had died. That’s pretty intense. There must be a legacy here to explore, especially from an artist so distinctly and astoundingly visual.
that opening shot to ‘When Doves Cry’ with Prince in the bathtub is straight-up 80s visual decadence at its best
Well, er, sort of. Yes, there absolutely is a legacy of Prince’s to explore! But it’s very difficult to do so. Billboard points out in a great article that Prince’s relationship with music videos was difficult to say the least - firing directors before the first take, refusing to speak to producers through anybody but his assistant and retaining a megalomaniacal level of creative control. Yet his videos, for the most part, were pretty underwhelming. Don’t get me wrong, Prince was never underwhelming IN them - but there’s only so many times you can fill a room with smoke and have Prince perform in an interesting costume before you can be accused of treating videos as an afterthought. Although credit where credit is due, that opening shot to 'When Doves Cry' with Prince in the bathtub is straight-up 80s visual decadence at its best. The achievement of Prince’s videos was less of a creative pushing of the boundaries than it was a social victory - MTV was infamously whitewashed during the 80s and so any person of colour getting onto the channel was a huge deal in and of itself.
To make matters slightly more difficult, Prince’s war against the Internet makes it very difficult to actually pick out the diamonds in the rough from his visual legacy - removing all of his music from most streaming services last year is just part of the story. Until a couple of months ago there was a strange dispute over a video of Prince covering Radiohead’s Creep at Coachella in 2008. It had been removed from the internet at the request of Prince’s legal team, only to have Thom Yorke counter by saying that it wasn’t Prince’s right to do that because it wasn’t his song in the first place. Anyway, the grip was loosened and the video is back up in all it’s low-quality glory:
I suppose all this kind of adds to the mythos of Prince. He declared the Internet to be over, because he was over the Internet. He didn’t need it like it needed him and by removing his visual footprint from it, he brought back a feeling that’s almost lost now in the days of YouTube, Vevo, Vimeo and Live Streaming - the feeling that you JUST HAD TO BE THERE. You HAD to catch it on MTV in 1982 and wonder who the hell this majestic little alien was and why he was about to party like it was 1999. Since that video embargo was loosened (and especially in the few days since his death) videos have been cropping up sporadically on YouTube (and with a little more success on Daily Motion). Maybe we’ll see that legacy seep back into the digital realm now that his career has a start and an end. For the time being though, maybe just stick on Purple Rain. It won an Oscar after all.