On Thursday, in the heartbreaking aftermath that followed the news of Prince's death at his Paisley Park Studios complex, one thing became abundantly clear on the internet: people love him. The majority of social media tributes to Prince were focused on his rare talent, unparalleled showmanship, and endless back catalogue of flawless songs. Prince defied gender, he defied sexual norms, and his brazen sensuality was always on display, so, in the past decade, why have there been allegations that Prince took an anti-gay stance?
Let's begin with a deeply troubling interview Prince gave in 2008 to Claire Hoffman of The New Yorker. He talks about a glossy book of photographs and poetry that he'd just released (21 Nights) and then gets straight into talking about his religious awakening in 2001 when he became a Jehovah's Witness. Whilst talking about "the problem of interpretation" when it comes to the Bible and how it can divide people of the same faith, he starts, according to Hoffman, to talk about his own interpretation of it:
When asked about his perspective on social issues — gay marriage, abortion — Prince tapped his Bible and said, “God came to earth and saw people sticking it wherever and doing it with whatever, and he just cleared it all out. He was, like, ‘Enough.’
When the article was released, Prince was reported as being furious with how he was portrayed; a source close to the singer reportedly told the gossip blogger Perez Hilton that Prince had actually been misquoted.
Suffice to say the New Yorker article was received with great confusion, horror, and anger by fans who couldn't connect these statements with a man who they so revered for his sexual persona and progressive musical output. This was a man, after all, who once performed in assless pants and let a man grind up on top of him on stage during a stupendous performance of "Get Off" at the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards.
Though fans were eager to forget about the incident, controversy sadly continued to follow when in 2013, Prince's alleged anti-gay stance renewed itself in the form of some potentially homophobic lyrics. The song, "Da Bourgeoisie," in which Prince scalds an ex-lover for leaving him for someone else is notable for some lyrics that appear to portray complete disgust at the idea that this particular lady friend has left him not for a man, but for another woman:
Yesterday I saw you kickin’ it with another girlYou was all wrapped up around her waistLast time I checked, you said you left the dirty worldWell it appears that wasn’t the caseHey, I see you undercover like the CIASnatching little wigs from another bouquet – that’s FrenchI guess a man’s only good for a rainy dayMaybe your just another bearded lady at the cabaretI wish I never kissed your (spits in disgust) ughDoesn’t replace the memory
Prince and his team never responded to the allegations, making the lyrics even more of an enigma. We'll never know with absolute certainty whether the claim that Prince had come to believe that homosexuality was wrong are completely true, or even the whole story.
Despite it all, Prince was undoubtedly a gay icon, and a rare and powerful one at that. Spencer Kornhaber at The Atlantic writes:
... Whatever his later beliefs were, they pretty clearly don’t undo the earlier impact he had in widening popular notions about sex and gender, nor the fact that he made lots of people who weren’t heterosexual feel better about themselves.
Prince dismantled definitions — of music, of art, of capitalism, of gender, and of love — and preached a stunning message in his music that everyone deserves the right to equality, peace, and love, and to exist free of archaic and restrictive boundaries.
To think that he may have allegedly harbored a change of heart on such matters and became anti-gay doesn't erase his monumental legacy. Whatever the truth is, it only matters now what our own personal truth is regarding the vital puzzle piece Prince contributed that helped fit together our modern understanding of, well, understanding.