Today the pop music scene is characterized by rap and hip-hop artists who outdo even Prince's infamous nods to eroticism. Syrupy sweet singers like Aaron Carter or Hillary Duff are hugely popular with preteens. It's an industry, Conniff says, that is stretched thin by the sheer number of artists out there and the influx of technology, which has caused album sales to plummet.
In today's "weird music climate," according to Conniff, it's difficult for one intriguing personality to capture a vast audience's attention like Prince, Madonna and Michael Jackson did in the 80s.
But Jonathan Nice of Prince's hometown, Minneapolis, said people should appreciate Prince for his versatility, not just the music he made 20 years ago.
"A lot of people appreciate the new music because we all know that he's got this vault full of new music, so everyone's excited when he releases [something new]," said Nice, 30, who founded a Web site for Prince fans, www.princefams.com.
"You got some people -- I think it's a minority, though -- that are still stuck in 1984 and think of Prince as the 'Purple Rain' guy, and I think they are not appreciating all the music that he can create." "'Purple Rain,'" Nice adds, "was primarily a rock album, and that is not all that he is capable of."
"I think Prince is respected as a historical figure and as one of those guys who, when he's gone, no one will replace him, says Harvilla. "We may never see that combination of extreme talent and erratic behavior again."
Prince's new album has been getting decent reviews, but according to Harvilla, it does not compare to songs of 20 years ago like "1999," "Purple Rain" and "Little Red Corvette." By the sheer force of his celebrity and intrigue, he wills the public to pay attention.
"We're willing to listen to Prince whenever he wants to engage us," Harvilla said. "We're willing to put him on magazine covers."
Prince's music is almost impossible to define -- Harvilla tried and called it "cartoonishly erotic funk pop --
and that's oversimplifying it."
But Prince's wide-ranging style is what, in many ways, has made him successful as a crossover artist. Harvilla said that after Michael Jackson, Prince was the second black artist to be played on MTV and be embraced by the white youth of the era.
His influences are as diverse as the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Wonder, and his music resonates with people with all kinds of tastes. Songs like "When Doves Cry" are still known and loved today. That song in particular has been covered by numerous artists like Ginuwine and the late Aaliyah.
"Even hardcore rock 'n' roll dudes will say they love Prince and mean it sincerely, says Harvilla. "He's one of those artists. He's up there with Springsteen."
The 2004 release of "Musicology" thrust Prince back into the limelight, and he did the unthinkable by performing "Purple Rain" with Beyoncé at the 2004 Grammys. He received a Grammy nomination for best male pop vocal performance in 2005, but the public will always clamor for "1999" or "Raspberry Beret."
"It's always really hard to live up to the expectations of the past, because people are emotionally vested in it. Musically, from an innovation perspective, Prince is as relevant as ever," Conniff said. "He's so creative and he inspires new musicians."