The purple Prince of pop-rock, for a time known only by an enigmatic symbol, is dead. Fans worldwide are reeling, both at the surprise as well as wondering “why” and “how” … two questions that, as of this writing, remain unanswered.
Prince was one of the most influential brands in music. A perennial chart-topper in the 80s and 90s, many critics and millions of fans rate his 1984 “Purple Rain” album one of the best of all time from any artist. At 13 times platinum, it’s hard to argue. To his legion of fans – many of whom are platinum selling artists in their own right – Prince was more than a singer-songwriter, he was THE artists, a force of nature.
In the past few days since his death, he’s been called his generation’s Elvis, among others. But the reality is, Prince had an incomparable brand. The man who wrote the smash hit Nothing Compares 2 U lived that out with every track, every lyric and every concert. Just ask any of his fans … and ask anyone who loves other styles of music. They like Prince too, even if they don’t know it.
Some remember his biggest hits from Purple Rain. Some remember the Tim Burton Batman soundtrack, and others recall the Quinton Tarver cover of “When Doves Cry” from Romeo and Juliet. However people connect with the Purple One, they remember. And, that, friends, is what we need to focus on. Why people know and love Prince’s brand, and why, even when they couldn’t pronounce it, they couldn’t stop talking about it.
First, he connected. Generation after generation connected with Prince because he kept connecting with them. He didn’t give people what they wanted, no soggy pop tracks or syrupy teen-bob hooks. He created art and people loved him for it.
Prince didn’t recreate the wheel. He just shifted it just enough to make it signature. He crafted funk-rock and hip-pop concoctions that crossed genres and audiences. He brought people together and gave them an experience they would carry with them. More than anything else, he understood the power of communal experience, and more than anything else, Prince delivered that for his fans.
All the great performers understand how to work a crowd, but Prince knew how to send them home with more than a t-shirt. He sent them home with memories, with ear-worms that immediately sprung to mind when they heard his name – and when they heard of his death. He mirrored culture, and he created culture, but, more than anything else – he knew how to connect.