Prince bored me rigid

The weirdo recluse pop genius was a girls’ idea of what rock music ought to sound like - an act of debauched sexual communion

30 April 2016

9:00 AM

30 April 2016

9:00 AM

I saw Prince play once. I was bored rigid but couldn’t mention this to the girls I’d gone with: as far as they were concerned, watching the purple sex dwarf (he was 5ft 2in) masturbating with and fellating his guitar and generally getting off on his sublime pixieness was like experiencing the second coming. Me, I could have done with a few more tunes.

I like ‘When Doves Cry’ a lot: the keyboard hook, the demonic guitar, the naggingly catchy tune, the otherworldly vocals that make him sound like some kind of lascivious reptile from Venus. Whenever I hear it, though, I’m reminded of my fundamental problem with Prince: he was a really great pop star who wouldn’t do pop. Instead, profligately talented multi-instrumentalist that he was (he played guitar better than any other guitarist, they said, and drummed better than any drummer), he was more interested in showing off and pushing boundaries than in writing catchy singles.

This is why chin-stroking critics worshipped him: in contrast to Michael Jackson, Prince was the weirdo recluse pop genius it was safe to like because he continually challenged you — or, as I’d prefer to think of it, took the piss (all those tiresome name changes) and tested your patience (pretentious orthography, as in ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’). But then, admittedly, I never got to go to one of his legendary secret aftershow gigs which were, apparently, like, totally amazing and went on for hours and no doubt made you feel part of the muso elect.

When I vouchsafed some of this on social media the day he died, I found the crossest reactions came from a) girls and b) kids who had embraced Prince as an early adopter of all that gender-fluidity idiocy currently so fashionable on campus. That makes sense. Unlike, say, Led Zeppelin, Prince always struck me as a girls’ idea of what rock music ought to sound like — not so much about the riffs and bombastic epic quality that boys like as about the utterly filthy 50 Shades of Grey interior stuff where each track feels like an act of debauched sexual communion. Listen to ‘If I Was Your Girlfriend’ and you’ll get the idea. It’s not a song written for boys; it’s written so that Prince can shag their women while their menfolk look helplessly on.

And, yes, of course Prince was very androgynous and bisexual and — ugh! — gender fluid. (At the time, I found this quite creepy and sinister and pervy: well it was, wasn’t it — Prince was a lech who just oozed sex, which was fine if you fancied him but less so otherwise. But you’re not allowed to say that any more.)

Then again, so was David Bowie, who was far more influential and whose talents went a lot further. Perhaps it was just bad luck, but Prince’s heyday — at the end of the Eighties — coincided with that musical dead zone just before acid house arrived and dance music saved the world. Prince’s stuff sounds to me like a wrong alley — an interesting period piece where funk and rock and R&B and soul collide, but to no great purpose. I don’t think you can hear his influence anywhere today, which may be to his advantage: it means Prince will never date.

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  • artemis in france

    Thank you for a bit of honesty, James. The guy was a better songwriter than performer and usually other people produced better versions of his songs than his own. A pretentious little egotist, that’s all.

    • niktu70

      “A pretentious little egotist, that’s all.”

      Yep, that’s all he was. Well, except a proficient multi-instrumentalist, prolific songwriter (of major pop hits that have stood the test of time), producer, dancer, singer, entertainer… But yeah, we should all just remember him as a pretentious egoist and nothing else.

      • boomslang74

        Said it for me.

  • Ark Ark

    The inevitable contrarian view after a popular music star dies bores me rigid. He didn’t appeal to you, so what ? he did to thousands of others. And what makes someone weird anyway ? just because he was different ? wouldn’t it be boring if we all bowed to normal conventions ? different strokes for different folks.

    • samton909

      Taking drugs seems to be the way to have talent

  • silent_tyrant

    While we’re at this sort of thing, I thought Victoria Wood was as unfunny as a broken bone.

    • JOhn Mackie

      agreed. and I’ve had 2 broken bones.

    • Zanderz

      I found her funny, but hated ‘The Life of Brian’. Just didn’t get the ‘humour’.

    • meqmac

      Totally agree. Flat and boring.

    • rosebery

      I heartily concur with that sentiment, though I am surprised that she died so young.

  • MikePage

    Never was a big Prince fan but you can’t deny his originality and influence and in that sense feel gratitude. The very same can be said of James Brown.

    • I feel grateful for ‘I Feel Good’ and ‘Living In America’. Otherwise, not really.

  • seangrainger

    Come on guys please — the apostrophe in the standfirst is in wrong place. Pretty basic stuff.

    • Novus

      Disagree. “A” refers to “idea”, in that there is just one idea. However that idea, according to JD, was shared by many girls. Hence, “a girls’ idea”. One idea belonging to many girls.

      • seangrainger

        Now I disagree. These things — like collector’s item — are I think invariably pos S.

        • Zanderz

          Collector is singular. If it was ‘one girl’s idea’, fine, but ‘many girls’ idea’ is correct.

          • seangrainger

            Dear oh dear. Collector collectors girl girls. Difference please squire?

          • Maxwell Frere

            Your “was” should be a “were”. Subjunctive mood. Just sayin’.

          • Zanderz

            Is it subjunctive? I decided not.

          • Maxwell Frere

            If I was you I’d reconsider.

          • meqmac

            Why? ‘Were’ is correct and necessary.

          • rosebery

            You don’t get to choose, unless you choose, wilfully, to be wrong.

        • boomslang74

          You may disagree but Novus is correct. And collectors’ item is correct, for the same reason.

          Yay, punctuation pedantry! I’ll just have to live with myself for starting a sentence with “and”.

          • seangrainger

            Strewth where do people like you lot come from? Have you not got a dictionary between you?

          • rosebery

            ‘Among’ you. More than one, you see?

          • seangrainger

            Strewth, what a jerk. You can only be in the public sector possibly — god help the kids — a teacher.

          • burcosco

            “A girl’s idea” is correct
            We do not use the plural in this type of sentence.
            Replace the word girl with woman (not women) and you will see what I mean.
            “This is a woman’s idea of …”

          • meqmac

            The Chicago Manual of Style allows you to start sentences with And, But, and more. I use it as a means of controlling some sentences.

          • rosebery

            It is not the only, or ‘best’, of such manuals. I was taught to never start a sentence with ‘and’, ‘but’, ‘so’, or ‘because’, and the rule has stayed with me, for better, or worse. ‘So’ is much abused these days, especially by those who have been media-trained, for some reason.

  • THX11384EB

    ‘I don’t think you can hear his influence anywhere today.’

    Ok then.

  • davidshort10

    I had hardly heard of him but knew that song Purple Rain. I was amazed (or was I?) that the BBC R4 news began with ‘Tributes have been pouring in….’. I wondered why such an opening came in the day after the Queen’s birthday but then learned it was for this pop midget. Another reason to axe the licence fee, from which Beeb radio is funded.

    • Andrew Cole

      He was a black icon so of course immediately becomes an influence to everybody whowever while I didn’t really find him or his music interesting and his music didn’t appeal to me I have to concur with the article author that a lot of girls I knew thought he was the bees knees.

      In a similar way to Morrissey and the Smiths I didn’t get them but the girls were well into them.

      I must say though that in this day and age where Winehouse is proclaimed a genius and influential off the back of one album of a rehashed retro sound then Prince certainly must be way way up there because these days that bar must be much much lower.

      If Winehouse just sneaks in then Prince sails into the upper echelons half way up towards Bowie.

      • boomslang74

        Winehouse probably was a genius. It’s kind of unfair to have expected an extensive canon from her, since she died aged 27.

        Now Adele on the other hand…

        • Andrew Cole

          Come off it. Both are retro vintage reproductions who relied on the producers and mixers to make their music sound good.

          Bowie invented his own style and self through his career. Prince wrote and produced his sound and it was his own sound.

          Winehouse emulated other’s style and sounds. She wrote the songs but invented nothing.

          What will she inspire? Other’s to pick a sound and emulate it?

        • samton909

          There are people who get their “talent” from drugs, and then they die.

  • ROUCynic

    There are people who are unhappy with everything.

    • samton909

      There are people who get their “talent” from drugs, and then they die.

  • Skyline UK

    An excellent piece; sums up my feelings about the chap. As a musician myself I’d been worried for decades whether I’d got him sussed properly. Like Beyonce, he had a boring obsession with a level of lasciviousness usually only seen in fourteen year old boys and it constantly eclipsed his modest (sorry, at was) talent for pop music.

    • William Brown

      There are a couple of things I would like clarification on: What kind of musician are you? In what way is Beyoncé (ffs) comparable to Prince?

      • Andrew Cole

        She isn’t. She is the queen of the publicity driven age that ensures you stay on top by brand visibility.

      • Skyline UK

        Guitarist, keyboardist, songwriter, performer. Sorry, I thought the parallel I’d drawn was clear. Beyonce trades off the same puerile childish lasciviousness as a substitute for/detractor from substance. To be fair they are not the only ones.

        • samton909


        • William Brown

          Well, I’d love to hear your musicianship and songwriting ability, so that we I might see how prodigious a talent you have in comparison to someone you say had a “modest talent” for pop music. Do, please, provide a link to your website.

          • Skyline UK

            So the qualification for having an opinion on someone’s music is to be restricted now to those who have highly developed musical abilities? What are yours? For what it’s worth here’s a link to some of my modest achievements. Composed, written, performed (all instruments) by yours truly. Let me have your link. https://soundcloud.com/skyline_uk

  • boomslang74

    Sorry Delers, but you’re wrong on this one; so very, very wrong. “Musical genius” is a grossly overused term but it unquestionably applies to the Purple One. At least you acknowledge his extraordinary multi-instrumental talents. He was also a brilliant writer, dancer, producer and one of the best live performers of all.

    Pretentious? Probably. Eccentric? Undoubtedly; and wouldn’t the world be a duller place without those sorts. And since when was pushing boundaries a bad thing?

    Now, about this time travel thing. This article is dated two days hence…

    • samton909

      Pushing boundaries is bad when it causes you to die of a drug overdose.

    • Ken

      how depressing that Spectator readers these days are obsessed with faded pop stars…

  • William Brown

    As a 100% heterosexual, I can confirm that you are wrong about who Prince appealed to. I rather enjoy the juxtaposition of sexuality being sung and acted out by a God Botherer. As for his musicianship, songwriting and production prowess, he was pretty awesome by anyone’s standards.

    I’m just sorry you don’t get it – you’re missing out James.

    • samton909

      Dance music is dance music. It is not greatness.

  • LoveMeIamALiberal

    Michael Jackson could out sing him, out dance him, out songwrite him and out loony him.

    • boomslang74

      Don’t forget out child molest him.

    • samton909

      Apparently they were equal in drug taking ability.

  • Freddythreepwood

    I’m with you, James. I think I saw his real name the other day, which he was formally known as before he became formally know as something else. Purile and pretentious, the music wasn’t much cop either. Mind you, my children loved him; but they are both tone-deaf.
    By the way, did you notice how the announcements escalated – from ‘Pop star dies’ to ‘Rock star dies’ to ‘Rock superstar dies’ to ‘Rock megastar dies’? Thank goodness they eventually ran out of superlatives.

    • Ufuk Inturk

      His real name was Prince Rogers Nelson. So, Prince. He became ‘artist formerly known as’ because his record company had him on a commercially exploitative contract, and he had to use another ‘brand’ to release new music). As well as being a multi-talented musician (Eric Clapton called him the best guitarist in the world, and I’ll take his opinion over a click-bait hack or his followers), then, he was a prominent defender of musicians rights vs corporate bullying.

      • Freddythreepwood

        Eric Clapton was talking through his r’s. There are ten times better guitarists in any backstreet Spanish tapas bar.

      • samton909

        He was very ordinary as a guitarist. If you played guitar, as I do, you would know that. If you examine his supposed fantastic performance of “While my guitar gently weeps” you can see he plays some very hum drum, simple licks. He just had a fantastic ability as a showman, and vamped so much that people are fooled into thinking he is actually doing something on the guitar. He was a great showman, but that is all he was. All hat and no cattle, so to speak. Clapton, actually being great, said similar things about other musicians all the time. He even told John Lennon he was great on the guitar. Lennon had a style, but a great guitarist, he was not.

        Prince was a showman. He had a certain flair. But his music will die away fairly quickly.

        • rosebery

          I play guitar too. He was trapped in the pentatonic box, as many of us are. But didn’t he do well with it? Jealous, much? Oh, and the there are the songs …

  • Michael H Kenyon

    Keep listening to Supertramp, James: Prince was “rockist” to the music snobs, for which we should be eternally grateful. I didn’t think this nonsense concept would upset you, but then maybe you read one too many copies of a 1980 NME.

  • Omallet

    Well you must be boring then to be bored by Prince and I’m not even a big fan – he knew his stuff stop chasing your journo angle you mizog

  • SeaNote

    Prince was no Mozart.

  • polidorisghost

    Not sure I ever heard anything by him.
    Oh well, my loss I suppose – I’ll live with it.

    • Considering Delingpole’s taste in music, the claim that he wanted to hear more melody doesn’t ring true. I wasn’t a fan, but this is the last critic I would go to for an opinion on emotional pop. Never mind the fact that, in the manner of a true s-xist, he imagines that ‘girls’ don’t dig Led Zeppelin just as some think they can’t dig Chateauneuf du Pape because it’s a ‘man’s wine’ (give me a bluddy break). I was digging Led Zep at 13 and I never stopped. (The Chateauneuf et cetera came later.) Some men just don’t know some women, obviously ;^)

      • polidorisghost

        You’re letting Dellers get under your skin my dear. He is (I hope) being deliberately airheady a lot of the time.
        Do you want to know a secret? I’ve been to 35 wine tasting sessions over the last few years and, despite being a man, I still can’t tell Chateauneuf du Pape from anything else – I am invariably bottom of the class and rely on a girlfriend to whisper the answers.
        I went to see the English Touring Opera perform Iphegenie en Tauride this evening. In the “tasting notes” there was mention of a violinist named Cosino, who was so overwhelmed with emotion during one performance of the opera that he collapsed sobbing and had to be removed from the orchestra pit and carried home. Now that’s what I call music – I wonder what Delingpole would have made of it.
        Not sure about the avatar C – a bit inscrutable – unnervng.

        • That’s all right: I have enough vino know-how for the two of us. I know Dellers from way back. He is alarmingly genuine.
          I love music and was particularly taken with Mozart’s Symphony No. 21 (the Koechel number escaped me) on the radio the other day. Do we have it? I dunno. I could buy it and then find that we have two different performances already. It’s been known to happen (not me so much, but the other resident here).
          Don’t care for the avatar, eh? Funny, I had a compliment on it just tonight. I think the mannequin (for a sunglass website) looks a lot like Samantha Bond. I like Samantha Bond. Does that make it any better? I like being ‘a bit inscrutable’, by the way. In such an open personality as mine, perhaps it’s a good thing.

        • Is this one less unnerving? It’s from a 1960s (what else?) American clothes catalogue.

        • You haven’t commented at all, so of course you haven’t given your opinion about my new avatar — after I changed it just for you [sob!].

          I reckon it looks much as Michael Jackson would’ve done if he’d kept going with his facial reconstruction. Except for the fact that mine has more nose left than he had.

          • polidorisghost

            Stayed over at friends!
            Be in touch
            PS: gorgeous

  • robertinjapan

    Apart from one or two of his songs,he wasn’t exactly my type of scene. I’m instantly reminded though of a Foreign Office questionnaire which asked: “Queen Elizabeth II is the present sovereign and her heir apparent is her eldest son,who is known as? (It was a multiply answer choice) (A) The Prince of Britain (B) The Prince of Wales (C) The Artist formerly known as Prince

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      Can I get back to you on that?

  • stuartMilan

    come on, James. Prince had a carbon footprint to scorch the frontal lobes of any greenie. surely that ought to be enough for you.

  • 100

    Its not even been 7 hours and 15 days since Prince passed away.

    • samton909

      And still the world turns

  • Positivelycalm

    As a gay man I am actually in the minority as a fan. Prince made it quite clear that he was not bisexual and as a jehovahs witness he didn’t agree with homosexuality. I did, however, love his music and his amazing live performances. I was lucky enough to attend one of his aftershow parties after one of the concerts. Amazing! Maybe you just wasn’t into his music which is fair enoug but I just wanted to correct the statement that he was bisexual.

    • rosebery

      Not hardly friend. In the pre-aids 80s, where I worked had several, very out, gay men who were, more-or-less, all into Prince, big time. One spent his leisure time following Prince gigs and after parties, wherever these might have been. Must have cost him a fortune. Aids killed the outre-ness of them all, but, suited and booted as they became, they all followed his purpleness, and so, for the record, did I, albeit a little less slavishly. Some monstrously good songs he wrote and I am sorry that he has joined the 2016 panoply of deceased artists.

      • seangrainger

        panoply /0ˈpanəpli/ noun & verb. L16.

        [ORIGIN French panoplie or Modern Latin panoplia from Greek panoplia full armour of a hoplite, formed as pan- + hopla arms: see -y³.]

        ► A noun.

        1 ▸ a Complete protection for spiritual or mental warfare; any complete defence or protection. Freq. with allus. to Ephesians 6:11, 13. L16. ▸ b A complete covering, esp. one that is magnificent or impressive. E19. ▸ c An impressive collection of; the trappings or accessory features (of). M20.

  • TNT

    The expected ‘Posthumous Dissent’ piece, with the apposite discernment and quality of writing. Yawn.

  • Susan Beatrice Karimchise

    Alvin Lee ” I’m Going Home”
    That’s my kind of music.

    • Scradje

      A very fast 12 bar with some very flash blues licks and a humorous nod at Elvis in the ‘quiet’ bit. Not a lot wrong with that!

    • Go immediately to Hundred Seventy Split

  • Omri Anghel

    You wrote…”I don’t think you can hear his influence anywhere today…” I mean, damn..this is such a stupid statement. The biggest single of the last year – “Uptown Funk” – is nothing but PRINCE. If you want to be annoying you can say its George Clinton, The Gap Band, and Grandmaster Flash….but this style was made famous and POP by no one other then Prince!

  • Greg Stages

    I personally love watching the indie-centric digital media lackeys talking about race and androgyny as almost exclusively ‘Prince’ without any mention of vast-selling bands like Poison, Motley Crue, Vain, not even material closer to their limited understanding such as Missing Persons or Tubes… hysterical!

  • Jackthesmilingblack


  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Good career move.

    • Frank Marker

      Please have the decency to use quotation marks.

  • Ken

    Can’t say I consciously heard any of his music and greatly doubt if I could stand it. This defunct character looks pretty gruesome. There has been far too much coverage of his death and that of the much overrated Bowie. Delingpole can read as something of a prat but on this one he is right.

  • Tom Sykes

    He spoke highly of you James.

  • sjones117

    5’2″ is not a dwarf. I’m 5’2″ and although I know that is towards the shorter side for a man it is not a dwarf (which is an offensive term anyway). Prince was just normal short, and you can’t hold his height against him.

  • TheDMTmolecule

    first Bowie, then Prince. Two over-rated talent-challenged egotists bite the dust, and nothing happens other than they got their buggered bodies out of the way so that younger musicians can move in and do it better. the Emperors had no clothes but their ‘fans’ continue to see them costumed in glory. why are people so dumb…

    • boomslang74

      You tell us. Maybe your parents are/were dumb, maybe you’ve suffered brain damage… As for your bitterness and bile, who knows? Who cares?

  • Fraser Bailey

    A pretty good assessment. Some great singles, but the albums were very boring, on the whole.

  • rosebery

    Saw him twice and, wilfully, passed up tickets to the legendary after party gig. Genuinely entertaining in the moment, but not a person to weep over. Some very excellent songs though.

    • seangrainger

      This gets better. very odd use of wilfully especially between redundant commas. The SOED gives Willingly, readily; patiently, submissively. Is that what you thought you meant? Afterparty is one word and it is not a gig it is ,,, er ,,, the afterparty. Genuinely entertaining as opposed to dishonestly entertaining one assumes and … er … very excellent? I do hope you are writing the 2020 Labour manifesto.

      • JimmyJazz

        Redundant commas Sean?

  • Richard Lutz

    He wrote some great songs, including ‘Manic Monday’ that was recorded by The Bangles – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IQoijFax5Ic and ‘Stand Back’ that was recorded by Stevie Nicks – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7VU-42MGKb0 He was a show off (par for the course with entertainers) but was a much better musician than David Bowie and had a vulnerability that I found endearing.

  • JimmyJazz

    Brilliant. A niche journalist who has built his career on the fact that he was once Cameron’s pi55boy didn’t like Prince.
    All those millions who did are duly chastened and will begin building a vinyl pyre immediately.

  • SchtenGraby

    I’ve always known you were a buffoon James, a sort of low rent Boris Johnson, but now I know you are a buffoon with no taste…