Prince is notorious for shunning the media, refusing to do interviews and being reclusive. This past year, however, he has been showing up at some very mainstream spots: "Saturday Night Live," "American Idol," and this Friday he will perform on "Good Morning America."
What is going on?
Music industry experts generally agree that since he splashed onto the music scene in the 1980s, Prince's catchy melodies and ability to parse androgyny with hypersexuality, have made him an icon. According to Billboard magazine editor-in-chief Tamara Conniff, who scored a much sought-after interview with the singer, he can do whatever he wants.
Although Prince performed the song "Satisfied" from his new album "3121" on "American Idol," he refused to meet with any of the contestants or participate in onstage banter following his set -- raising the ire of judge Simon Cowell.
"He'll do it on his terms, and 'American Idol' wanted him on so they're willing to deal with Prince and do what he wants to do," Conniff said. "You cannot convince Prince of anything -- I think he just woke up one day and decided: 'Yeah, I want to do some TV.' Like anyone, he likes being relevant."
Prince's "3121" debuted at No. 1, and during its first week sold 183,000 copies, even though it is not getting played on the radio. Conniff attributes the sales to loyal fans and to the people who are curious to hear the album after the "American Idol" and "Saturday Night Live" performances.
When Prince became embroiled in a legal battle with his record label, Warner, in 1994, he became increasingly inaccessible to the media. He also made music that was so experimental it pushed him to the margins of the industry. Prince drove himself into further isolation with the 2001 ode to his new Jehovah's Witness faith, "Rainbow Children," and the all-instrumental "N.E.W.S.," released in 2003.
Some industry experts think Prince is making a concerted effort to re-enter public consciousness and forcing himself to take gigs from which he would usually recoil.
"Nowadays, he has been trying to be more relevant," said Village Voice music editor Rob Harvilla. "He does the kind of stuff that it's pretty clear that it's not his idea. He's stopped short of pandering. If he made a record that was like southern hip-hop with a lot of rappers on it, that would be more embarrassing. If he did a killer summer tour of entirely "Purple Rain," it would be insane, but he won't stoop to that level."
Greg Tinjerina, 28, grew up listening to Prince and rediscovered Prince's music while in college, when the innuendo and eroticism were no longer lost on him. When he entertained people, he said he put on his Prince mixes because "the music was cool, it had a good rhythm ... it seemed to always be a crowd pleaser."
"There was a boldness to the songs back in the day," said Tinjerina, of New York City. "Now it's more of a nostalgia thing from the good old days."
The 1980s was a decade characterized by big sounds, big clothes, big hair and big personalities. It was the perfect time for an artist like Prince, now 48, who wrote songs that pushed the boundaries of pop.