Humans and Doves Remember the Artist Formerly Known as Prince

Humans and Doves Remember the Artist Formerly Known as Prince

Attention, birdwatchers. Look closely at the two white doves perched up on a tree in your backyard. You may notice that they’re crying a thousand tears and singing a mournful tune. Did they lose a baby dove? No. They lost the man who turned their avian woes into an mega ’80s classic: The Artist Formerly Known As Prince.

The artist formerly known as Prince (born Prince Rogers Nelson), the driving force behind the powerful and sometimes controversial chart-topping singles like “When Doves Cry,” “Kiss,” “Little Red Corvette,” and “1999,” has passed away today at the age of 57 in his Paisley Park recording studio in Chanhassen, Minnesota. Not a lot is known about the cause of his death other than he was battling the flu since earlier this month, forcing to, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, cancel a concert in Georgia’s capital city. On April 14, he performed for his fans in Atlanta, playing the piano instead of his iconic purple guitar for nearly an hour and a half. Afterwards, Prince’s plane had to make an emergency landing so that his illness can be treated in the hospital. The pop star did recover from the flu, but just one week later, someone close to Prince found him unresponsive in an elevator at the record studio and called the medics. He was confirmed dead upon their arrival.

Prince was one of my favorite ’80s pop musicians my mother introduced me to from a very young age. He took on a multitude of creative risks, such as donning outfits in one or many shades of purple, changing his alias as he saw fit–aside from earning the nickname “His Royal Badness,” Prince also went by Alexander Nevermind, Jamie Starr, and in 1993 switched his stage name to “Love Symbol” (Prince logo.svg)–create alter egos and, to the shock of some parents of ’80s kids and teens, wrote sexually provocative lyrics in some of his songs. (“Darling Nikki” prompted Al Gore’s wife Tipper to found the Parents Music Resource Center and urge the recording industry to stamp the “PARENTAL ADVISORY: EXPLICIT CONTENT” disclaimer on music CDs containing lyrics not suitable for young children.)

Here are some of my favorite hits from the Purple One.

“When Doves Cry” (1984)

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Written for the film Purple Rain and album of the same name, “When Doves Cry” tells the story of a love affair and intermingled parental difficulties (“Maybe I’m just too demanding / Maybe I’m just like my father, too bold / Maybe I’m just like my mother / She’s never satisfied”). This single earned the movie an Academy Award for Best Original Song Score and was ranked #5 on VH1’s list of “The 100 Greatest Songs of the ’80s,” making it Prince’s signature song. Every time I hear this song, I have daydreams of Dr. Eggman–or me cosplaying as Sonic’s arch-nemesis–busting out killer dance moves, and I don’t know why.

 

“Little Red Corvette” (1983)

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As a kid, I thought “Little Red Corvette” was literally about the red low-riding sports car that some guys love to drive in. Actually, the “Little Red Corvette” Prince was referring to is a pretty but promiscuous woman with whom he experiences a one-night stand. He urges her to slow down and tells her that she “needs love that’s gonna last” because her tendency to sleep with one man after another is going to hurt her in the long run. Okay… This song was a little awkward to put in, but I heard it, so… “I guess that makes it all right”?

 

“Kiss” (1986)

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One of the many songs Prince performed with The Revolution, “Kiss” started out as a 60-second acoustic demo, comprised of a single 12-bar blues verse. Prince gave the song to funk band Mazarati for their self-titled debut album. After hearing the final product, which contained a stripped-down minimalist sound, Prince was amazed by the soulful funk beat and decided to take it back for himself, but was kind enough to give Mazarati credit for their backing vocals. Plus, that guitar break!  “Kiss” became another signature song for Prince, earning him a Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group. This song was also featured in the film Under the Cherry Moon, which Prince acted and directed.

 

“Black Sweat” (2006)

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A single from the album 3121, “Black Sweat” introduced a combination of minimalist funk and hip hop elements, with drums and high-pitched synthesizers the only instruments being played in the background of Prince’s falsetto vocals. I thank my former jazz teacher for introducing me and the rest of her elementary- and middle school-aged students at the time (I was 12 and in 6th Grade) to this song and giving us the opportunity to perform a dance to this song for our parents.

 

Thank you, Prince, for giving my mother the greatest songs for her to share with me. Now, rest in peace on the wings of doves.

P.S. The three-eyed shades really show your true creative genius.

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Letter to Kanye West

Dear Mr. West,

I appreciate your musical genius just as much as I appreciate Mozart’s. I’ve followed your career since I was 10 years old, and I’ve seen how exponentially your music has evolved. But when word circulated on the Internet that you spewed out a sexually charged lyric against Taylor Swift in your new song “Famous” at New York Fashion Week today, the first thought that came to mind was…”ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR FRICKIN’ MIND?!”

The first time you dissed Swift was at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, when you interrupted her speech by calling her out for winning Best Female Video for her single “You Belong With Me” over Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It).” We eventually forgot about it, and saw you and Swift slowly become friends. Now that you dissed her by lyrically suggesting she owed you a sexual favor–and at a fashion venue, no less–I don’t know of we’re ever gonna get past your degrading performance, especially me (I did not watch your show on Tidal, I read about it). You have a gorgeous wife and two impressionable children, the oldest of whom attended your show tonight. Is your relapsed disrespect towards one of the most successful young women of today’s music industry an example you want to set for your youngest son? Do you want your daughter to disown you as her father once she discovers your misogynistic attitude a decade from now? More importantly, do you want to see Kim walk out of your life forever (unless you apologize to her about your behavior, if she even has the mind to ask for an apology at all)? And, perhaps more imperatively, do you want to lose the respect and friendship of other female pop singers you have collaborated with over the years?

I’ll leave you with these thoughts to think about tonight. Whether or not I’ll listen to your new album The Life of Pablo–or at least listen its singles on the radio or YouTube–is the most difficult decision for me to make as a music fan, even as I’m writing this.

Taylor Swift invested a lot of effort into her music to get to where she is today, so don’t give yourself any credit for catapulting her career sky high.

Regards,
Cristina Alexander

Utada Hikaru: Queen of J-Pop

Utada Hikaru: Queen of J-Pop

Utada’s 33rd birthday may have already passed, but I think it’s only fitting that I write a tribute to her about my love for her music that started in my latter days of elementary school and continues to this day.

I’ve always had an exquisite taste in music since I was very young. I did listen to pop songs by Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and *NSYNC like everyone else in the late 90s, but my mother gave me a wonderful opportunity to hear pop music from the greatest (and often controversial) musicians of her time–Madonna, Prince, Michael Jackson, the Eagles, UB40 (the band most people confuse with Bob Marley because their voices sound the same), Sade, Marc Anthony, Ricky Martin, and even Alejandro Fernandez. English and Spanish were my primary languages in regards to music, as I’m of Spanish descent from my mother’s side of the family. At the age of 11, I would discover Japanese music in the form of none other than Utada Hikaru.
At the start of 5th Grade, my after-care counselor introduced to a new girl named Rebecca, who transferred to my school after moving to South Florida from New York. Rebecca had a lot in common with me–we both played Sonic video games frequently, loved to read, and watched the most complex cartoon shows at that time. One day, some time before my father died of liver cancer, Rebecca popped her headphones onto my ears and played something peculiar on her CD player. The singer’s voice was angelic, but the language she was singing in was too foreign for my tongue to decipher, yet the background music sounded familiar.
“Rebecca, what song was that, and what language is it in?” I asked after the song was over.
“It’s the Japanese version of ‘Simple and Clean’ from Kingdom Hearts,” Rebecca said matter-of-factly.
In that instant, my mind flashed back to watching the TV ads for both Kingdom Hearts and its Game Boy Advanced sequel Chain of Memories with the English version of the same song playing for 30 seconds. I didn’t know the name of the artist at the time Rebecca introduced me to her. It was only weeks, months even, before I set foot in middle school that I would find her name on Barnes & Noble’s music search network in its music department: Utada Hikaru (or Hikaru Utada per the Japanese naming custom).
I discovered her English album Exodus at the Virgin Megastore in Downtown Disney (now Disney Springs with the Virgin Megastore replaced by a bowling alley) and I begged my parents to get it for me. They did, on the condition that we all listen to it in the car on the way back to the Ramada Hotel. I loved it, but my mom expressed some concern about the content contained in all the lyrics of the Exodus album despite that there was no PARENTAL ADVISORY disclaimer on the cover. Sure, Utada wrote some pretty suggestive stuff, but I only cared about the beats in the songs, not very much for the lyrics–such is the innocence of childhood. My mom even went so far as to read some of the lyrics to our friends to get their opinion and, on the second day of 6th Grade, impound the CD from me. I was six months shy of 13, yet I got really upset about the fact that my parents decided right off the bat that Utada’s music isn’t appropriate for a 12-year-old girl. Ironically, a lot of kids my age were listening to raunchy rap music on the radio.
What my family didn’t know, Utada lent her musical talents by recording a new theme song for the North American release of Kingdom Hearts II called “Sanctuary” (“Passion” in the prior Japanese release). Kingdom Hearts II was released for the PlayStation 2, as was the first game [that I never played], in March 2006, but I was one of those gamers who acquired the game on Christmas. “Sanctuary” fit so beautifully with the opening sequence for KHII, for every word in that song described Sora’s goal to achieve peace, harmony and justice for his friends. If the fact that Utada sang for the Kingdom Hearts series didn’t convince my mother to accept my interest in her music, I don’t know what did.

During my teenage years, as I was listening to songs from her old and recent albums on YouTube, such as Distance (2001) and Ultra Blue (2006), Utada released a lot of interesting new music. In 2007, in addition to providing the ending song Beautiful World for the 2007 anime film Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone, she sang a cover of Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon (In Other Words)”, lengthening the song by one minute by adding an extra verse of her own at the beginning. I appreciate the original song my mother introduced me to, but Utada’s version was even better. The next year, she released Heart Station with three out of six popular singles that I loved: “Heart Station”, “Beautiful World”, and “Kiss & Cry”. As much as I liked hearing Japanese music, I wondered when Utada would make another English-language album. The answer came one lazy January day in my 8th Grade Language Arts class.
My teacher allowed us to use the school’s laptops to goof off for some reason, so on a whim I logged on to the website for Island Def Jam Records, the record label Exodus was released under. I typed Utada’s name in the search box and, sure enough, there was a new English single called “Come Back to Me” for a new album in the works. I plugged in my earphones to take a listen and, oh, my God, “Come Back to Me” was the best song since Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River”! The way she played the piano from a decrescendo to a crescendo in the beginning was genius! I mentally thanked my Language Arts teacher for giving me the rare opportunity to discover Utada’s new English song during class. The physical copy of This Is The One was released May 12, 2009, and though I would’ve loved to go out with my mom to buy it, I figured I wouldn’t find it at any music store in South Florida, so I couldn’t. Thank God LimeWire still existed long enough for me to download at least a few songs from the album that I liked (I’m not telling which ones they are).

My sophomore year of high school came with the announcement that Utada Hikaru will be taking an indefinite hiatus from music. It was shocking, considering how popular her music was with the anime community. Fortunately, Utada was nice enough to release four new singles that would be featured on her second compilation album Utada Hikaru Single Collection Vol. 2: “Goodbye Happiness”, which also came with a YouTube-esque music video where she sang to the webcam, danced like a goofball and played with puppets, “Can’t Wait ‘Til Christmas”, “Show Me Love (Not a Dream)”, and “Hymne à l’amour (Ai no Anthem)”. All of them were epic as always, except the full version of her cover of the Édith Piaf original didn’t show up anywhere on YouTube no matter how hard I tried to look for it.
I was sad to see Utada move on to other things for the duration of her hiatus, but I understood why. Life as a musician can be tedious, especially when your career begins at the tender age of 13, singing with your parents under the band name U3.
In my Chorus class, my Japanese singing practice would pay off when I decided to sing “Passion” at the year-end cabaret show. Two months before, an earthquake and tsunami hit the northeastern coast of Japan, knocking down the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant and releasing radioactive chemicals into the air and the water in the process. I thought it was appropriate to dedicate the song to the people of Japan who were still recovering from the disaster and needed their spirits lifted. On the day of the show, there weren’t a lot of people in the audience, so I was a little bit discouraged. And even though no one understood a word I was saying–Japanese was not in my high school’s curriculum, such is the Latino-dominant South Florida–I still enjoyed myself onstage. I made Utada and the tragedy-stricken Japan proud. Most of all, I was proud of myself for being able to sing a popular Japanese song to the entire school (even if it was just my Chorus classmates) without fail.

Utada has experience a tidal wave of events during her hiatus. She quietly released the song “Sakura Nagashi” for the final Evangelion movie in 2012; her mother committed suicide by jumping 13 stories from her condo in Shinjuku in 2013; she married an Italian bartender in 2014; and just six months ago she gave birth to a healthy baby boy whose name she hasn’t revealed to her fans. In spite of everything, Utada has still managed to keep her honest personality intact. I can’t wait for her musical return in Kingdom Hearts III, if she decides to write a song for the highly anticipated game.