The Internet will never forget what Prince said behind its back in 2010 — that The Internet is “completely over” — but that doesn’t mean he’s as anti-web as even he may think. His music may be hard to come by for free online, but Prince’s desire for mainstream hits that reach audiences immediately after recording can only be facilitated by the web. Moreover, he’s apparently been paying attention to online memes and using them as inspiration for more than just the greatest single art of all time.
In a new story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the paper’s Jon Bream chronicles his late-night adventures at Paisley Park, beginning when Prince summoned him spontaneously to hear new music. Naturally, Bream dropped what he was doing — covering a Bruno Mars concert — to hear one of Prince’s two new albums: it was a previously unreported solo effort, not the Purple One’s heavily-teased LP with backing band 3rdEyeGirl, Plectrum Electrum. This solo album includes a song called “This Could Be Us,” which was inspired by the #ThisCouldBeUsButYouPlayin meme — specifically, the above entry picturing Prince and Apollonia riding a motorcycle in Purple Rain.
Prince himself was not at this listening session, but he was on speakerphone, and Bream caught a couple great quotes that would seem practically pro-web to someone unacquainted with Prince’s rocky history with the Internet:
– “Every No. 1 song, every Top 10 song, every song in the Top 40 is at least six months old. We should be able to make music and put it out now.”
– “Time is money.” (In regards to the urgency of releasing an “aggressive” rap song he made with British pop starlet Rita Ora.)
– “I don’t need to be on the radio. I’ve been on the radio all my life.”
In this Star Tribune piece, Prince laments the lack of urgency shown by his new (and former) label, Warner Bros. After all, he spent much of 2013 building a mysterious slow burn digitally with the 3rdEyeGirl Twitter and YouTube accounts, both of which seemed at first like unofficial leaks that somehow avoided Prince’s magical copyright-breaking Internet senses, or total forgeries. Turns out it was Prince’s people teasing new material and finally seeing the advantages of having some live footage of Prince hits on YouTube. It’s proven to be a smart strategy that successfully navigated today’s socially-driven hype cycle: I haven’t seen millennials this excited about a Prince album, well, ever.
To recap, Prince was an early digital adopter. In 1998, he offered one of the very first online pre-orders of any album ever, with his collection Crystal Ball. From there, Prince launched his NPG Music Club, a monthly digital subscription by which he and his New Power Generation associates would host radio shows and release exclusive music, including Prince’s 2003 album, N.E.W.S. After five years, Prince shut down the NPG Music Club in 2006. He won a Lifetime Achievement Webby Award for it.
By ’00s, however, he was giving away physical copies of his albums in British tabloids (first in 2007 with the world’s worst newspaper, The Daily Mail, and then three years later with The Daily Mirror) just to spite the Internet, not to mention suing Facebook users over digital bootlegs (a lawsuit he dropped earlier this year after the files were taken down). “The Internet’s like MTV,” he said in 2010. “At one time MTV was hip and suddenly it became outdated. Anyway, all these computers and digital gadgets are no good.”
But as much as the music industry had its business models dismantled by the web, it remains an adapt-or-die landscape. The last year and a half has shown that Prince is willing to interact online again, so long as it’s on his own terms. To Prince, I urge: let’s go crazy. With the tools of the web circa 2014, I can’t even imagine what wild app he’d come up with if he did.