Prince: Why, five years after his death, the Purple One still reigns

 Adam Behr, Newcastle University

It seems strangely characteristic of Prince that, despite passing away five years ago, it can feel as if he never left. Apart from the sheer volume of his hits on radio playlists and streaming platforms, his performances are a staple of the flow of social media content that conflates past and present.

There’s some irony in that what is probably his most widely circulated performance – close to 100 million views on one YouTube channel alone – is on someone else’s song, where he steals the show with a barnstorming guitar solo on The Beatles’ While My Guitar Gently Weeps at an all-star tribute to George Harrison. But the moment also perfectly encapsulates why he still seems present all these years after his death, and decades since his dominance of the upper reaches of the charts.

From his sudden appearance halfway through the song, to throwing his guitar in the air and marching off-stage imperiously at its conclusion, it’s a crystallisation of technical mastery, showmanship, supreme confidence (bordering on arrogance) and humour. Pulling grimaces, falling backwards into the security staff, he simultaneously parodies the trope of the “rock guitar hero” while providing a textbook example of it in action – antithesis and apotheosis in one.

Reinventing the music game

This capacity for seemingly winning the game while refusing to play by the rules is what has allowed his persona, as well as his music, to remain salient. For despite his jaw-dropping technique and stagecraft during acts like the Harrison tribute and his 2007 Superbowl Performance, his legacy retains an air of mystery.

This is partly a factor of his musical range, as well as his distinctiveness. From the outset, Prince was an exceptional multi-instrumentalist, capable of recording entire albums himself, and a hard taskmaster. Indeed, aged 20, on his first album he played 27 instruments and clashed with experienced production crew, his creative choices sending the album three times over its budget. His individualism was reflected in a musical output that synthesised the gamut of popular forms – funk, soul, R&B, pop – and at the height of MTV’s power he crashed into mainstream rock on his own terms.

Memorial for the artist Prince with newspaper cuttings from the day of his death, flowers and a sign that says 'RIP Prince'
Memorial for Prince outside the First Avenue nightclub in Minneapolis, where scenes from his semi-autobiographical film, Purple Rain, were filmed. ZUMA Press Inc/Alamy

A part of his enigma, though, also resides in his prodigious talent and remarkable work rate. Few artists have matched his ability to produce such a constant stream of releases over the course of his career (Bob Dylan is a possible exception). But what marks Prince out is that the material he made public was the tip of the iceberg. He recorded constantly, taking on all-night recording sessions after gigs, and using mini-studios installed on his tour buses. The 37 studio albums he released in his lifetime are a fraction of his work, the contents of his famed “vault” running to “thousands” of unreleased songs, according to his archivist Michael Howe, including complete albums and finished videos.

Still in control

This is the context for the forthcoming release of Prince’s Welcome 2 America album in July, originally recorded in 2010-11 and the first fully realised studio album to come out after his death. Posthumous releases are, of course, nothing new. From Buddy Holly, through Hendrix to Kurt Cobain, they’re a staple of the recording industry. There’s a wide range of types, and quality, of such releases – from works in progress finished off by collaborators to rough-and-ready demos. What distinguishes the prospect of “new” studio work from Prince is his emphasis on control over his output, and frequent capacity for shelving finished pieces. The work will be his own vision, undiluted by latter-day production decisions or guesswork.

The title track, Welcome 2 America, is redolent of his blend of smooth funk, angular jazz, pop vocals and a spoken word track that looks askance at his surroundings. With echoes of his 1987 state of society address, Sign ‘O’ The Times, it takes swipes at disposable, online culture:

information overload
Welcome 2 America
Distracted by the features of the iPhone
Go to school to become a celebrity
truth is a new minority.

Ten years on, his concerns resonate in an era of anxiety over the effects of the web on political culture.

Indeed, for all that his legacy circulates online, Prince himself was chary of the internet and had a variable and fractious relationship with it, alternatively providing exclusive online releases and withdrawing his output from Spotify (until 2017, when his music became available on most streaming services). This was all part of his lengthy battle to retain control over his music. The same struggle that saw him temporarily change his name to an unpronounceable glyph and inscribe “Slave” on his face in protest at his treatment by his label Warner in the early 1990s.

Ultimately, his steadfast refusal to compromise – even if it meant that there were some erratic releases and an awkward relationship with industry during his lifetime – lends the vast body of work in his vault an unusual authority. As well as the sense that he wasn’t finished, it’s also clear that we haven’t heard the last of him yet.The Conversation

Adam Behr, Lecturer in Popular and Contemporary Music, Newcastle University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


What Does Colour Sound Like?


Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky and how his paintings were influenced by music. Kandinsky had synesthesia, which meant that when he heard sounds, he saw colour and when he saw colour, he heard music.


XX2P Publishing

 We are pleased to announce that as well as publishing our blog xx2p.com plans to publish pamphlets and zines based around the arts. So if you have any suggestions for possible publications please let us know.

Our first publication is a pamphlet entitled, What is Art? written by multimedia artist Paul Garrard. It tries to answer the age old question, and if nothing else it will give you food for thought. The pamphlet is free and available as a download.

Download it here


Why your social media habit is probably not an addiction – new research


Social media apps are useful sources of information. They help us catch up with the activities of friends, news, current affairs, government COVID updates and the latest happenings in celebrity and sport.

But during the pandemic, you may have felt you spend too much time on social media. On occasion you may have seen the phrase “social media detox” posted by users who want to stop their social media use entirely for a period of time, presumably because they feel that it’s become excessive.

With concerns about the frequency of social media use, particularly among young people, allied with language such as “detox”, it’s no surprise researchers who work in the field of addictions have started to assess whether social media engagement might be an activity which could cross a threshold from frequent use to addictive behaviour.

In our new study, we investigated whether people who use social media a lot display one key aspect of addiction – something called an attentional bias.

Attentional bias

Addictive behaviours for both chemical substances (such as alcohol) and non-chemical substances (such as gambling) give rise to similar symptoms and behaviours. One of the most prominent of these addictive characteristics is an “attentional bias” to addiction related objects, images, and paraphernalia. Those addicted to smoking, for example, are more likely to have their attention captured by cigarettes and other smoking related stimuli.

In our new research, led by University of Strathclyde student Katie Thomson, we sought to assess whether this kind of attentional bias was evident in social media users. We presented 100 participants with mock iPhone displays, and asked them to detect a target app (Siri or camera) as quickly and as accurately as they could, while trying hard to ignore the other apps in the display.

A drawing of three smartphone displays, showing the three conditions used in the experiment. From left to right, a screen with distractor apps but no social media, a screen with social media apps, and a screen with social media apps with notifications.
Drawings showing the three conditions in the experiment, which used the real app icons. K. Thomson et al., Author provided

On some of the experimental trials, the “distractor apps” were not social media apps at all. In others, one of the distractors was the social media app icon of one of the main platforms – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat. In another condition, we overlaid these social media distractors with the red notification symbol.

The purpose of this was to assess whether users who reported the greatest level of use and engagement with social media were more likely to have their attention captured by the social media distractor apps – with or without notifications – compared to those who displayed more typical levels of use. This would have demonstrated an attentional bias to social media related stimuli.

Read more: Too much social media can be harmful, but it's not addictive like drugs


However, our findings didn’t support the presence of an attentional bias – a key characteristic of addictive behaviour. We did not find, for example, that those who checked and posted on Facebook ten times a day were any more likely to have their attention captured by the Facebook distractor app – with notifications or not – than someone who only posted and checked their Facebook account once a week.

Research on the effects of social media on users’ health and behaviour is still relatively new. But our study provides some evidence to support the side of the debate which suggests that we must be careful not to “over-pathologise” social media use.

There are now several studies which have argued that there may be no, or at best a weak, link between individual differences in social media use and users’ levels of depression and anxiety, for example. In addition, there are studies which also show the positive aspects of social media use such as enhancing feelings of social connection and wellbeing.

Our new research adds to the current debate by supporting the view that frequent social media use may not, at present, fit neatly into traditional addiction frameworks.The Conversation

David James Robertson, Lecturer in Psychology, University of Strathclyde ; Simon Hunter, Professor of Applied Psychology, Glasgow Caledonian University, and Stephen Butler, Researcher in Cognitive Neuroscience, University of Strathclyde

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


2021 CLiFF submissions NOW OPEN

"The Canadian Labour International Film Festival (CLIFF) is looking for submissions from filmmakers around the world. For over a decade CLIFF has organized not only a multi-day festival in Toronto that celebrates workers, work, unions and the filmmakers’ art, but hundreds of large and small community events across Canada. Last year the festival moved online and opened itself up to viewers from around the world.

This year is CLIFF’s 13th season. And the second year that we will be awarding the LabourStart Prize for international solidarity to one or more films shown at CLIFF. LabourStart is pleased to be associated with CLIFF and we’re doing our part to make 2021 its best year yet.

So if you are or know of a filmmaker who has produced a film with a focus on work, workers or trade unionism, please consider submitting a film to CLIFF."

More information about CLIFF and online submission guidelines and instructions can be found HERE.

Courtesy ofLabourStart


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