Conference Postponed due to COVID-19. Rescheduled for Minnesota, June 2021.
While Prince is frequently remembered for his ostentatious stage persona and the overt sexuality of his lyrics, his evolution into a contemporary Don Juan figure did not take place overnight. As the lyrical content of early albums such as ‘For You’ (1978) demonstrate, his initial foray into the world of celebrity was one in which the concept of sex, sensuality and love was broached quite tentatively. My discussion examines the evolution of Prince’s persona as romantic lover. I focus on his first five studio releases, with a view towards the metamorphosis of Prince’s appearance, as expressed through album artwork and music video performativity of this period. Lyrical content and sound will also be discussion points, as will the language Prince used to describe himself during interviews of this era.
Despite recent academic interest in Prince and his enduring impact on music, film and popular culture, the visual element of his performance persona, specifically in relation to album artwork, remains relatively untouched by scholarship. As such, my discussion presents a new avenue through which we might consider the romantic narrative which Prince constructed throughout his image as performer. It is in the first years of his career that the shift from shy sentimentality to fully-realized sexual liberation is most apparent and thus, discussing these albums and their visual content allows for a more robust consideration of Prince and his performance style to occur.