Enigmatic musician Prince has had a long-standing hate affair with the Internet, and particularly with YouTube. If you’ve ever searched the democratic site for Prince videos, you’ll find yourself sadly lacking results. Once in a while a clip neither the artist nor his publishing companies can claim ownership to (and demand it be removed) appears, such as his performances on Jimmy Kimmel and George Lopez late night shows. And every so often, an illegal video (you know—the slideshows people create using copyrighted music recordings and photos they’ve not procured the rights to publish or share) pops up and instantly receives hundreds of thousands of hits before it’s (rightfully) taken down.
With even pirated material and talk show clips getting so much fan attention, why the well-known anti-establishment (the “establishment” being ruthless record labels and the music industry “machine”) has not more actively embraced more democratic fan-centric 21st Century media formats as a way to communicate and market to audiences is bewildering. No official Facebook page page exists for Prince. He only recently started a Twitter account, which is rarely and prosaically updated. You won’t find an official YouTube or Vevo channel filled with his dozens of memorable music videos. You cannot even purchase videos for viewing enjoyment on iTunes. He regularly denies magazine and news wire photography requests for his concerts, governing how he’s viewed in the press. Prince has even gone so far as to shut down other creative artists with complete “fair use” rights to create their own homages and parodies of the Prince personae (see NME article for one recent example), further stifling his presence in the world of social media.
So… Much to everyone’s surprise Prince’s label Purple Music released an official music video for his latest single on YouTube this week for the song Rock and Roll Love Affair. With so much absence of the Purple One on the Internet, one could safely assume people would be clamoring to see what he’s finally chosen to share. So far the video has only been viewed about 150,000 times—a fairly low count for an artist of his magnitude. With no social media push, no press releases, and few die-hard fans excitedly sharing the link, Prince has missed the mark with this, his emerging YouTube video/single/media effort.
The video set is a spare shabby chic decorated sound stage. The video is simple, nostalgic, and filled with hazy, warm-toned close-ups of Prince’s ageless face. In the background his band—including current protégé Andy Allo—can be seen rehearsing and performing. A few randomly placed lean and lovely groupie types glam up the mellow, vintage feeling scene. The video is not visually noteworthy. The song is a watered down boy-meets-girl version of the funky, fiery Prince epics Prince fans relished in decades past.
Overall, neither the song nor the video push the envelops of innovation, taste, sex appeal, or the distinctly unique style Prince was once known for. Prince needs to take a risk and step outside his own self-made machine to bust through the static of new media. Perhaps he could hire contemporary, fresh talent to collaborate on his next (video) releases, hire someone to set the social media world ablaze with more engaging posts, maybe even release a few (gasp!) free songs for the public to create their own videos to his songs. While die-hard fans are surely pleased Prince has released anything at all for consumption, millions more are not feverishly responding the way they once did to his videos and hit singles in the 80’s and 90’s.
With such a tight lock down and unyielding control of his image in media realms, has Prince become his own worst enemy? Does the lack of excitement and response to this new song and video underscore fans’ fading interest in his music or the art of “old school” style music videos? Does the lackluster release serve as a sign of the times, the end of Prince’s purple reign?