The singer, songwriter, actor and sex symbol released more than 40 albums in fewer years. Here are just 5 of the most sensuous songs by Prince.
Since the Prince gave the actress her name, a girl group, and a number-one song, Vanity made many talk show appearances in the mid-’80s. But an interview with the outspoken Joan Rivers was hardly ever just another celebrity interview. So when Vanity admitted she’d thought Prince was gay when she first met him, Joan’s candid response was hardly surprising: “That makes sense! The man weighs 100 pounds, and 50 of them are sequins,” she shrieked. “I mean, you would think he’s gay. He makes Michael Jackson look like a Green Beret!” The audience exploded with laughter as I watched the interview.
I came of age not in the ’80s, when artists like Prince and Michael Jackson and George Michael ruled the scene, but in the late ’90s and early ’00s. Yeah, NSYNC sometimes wore formfitting leather, and TLC was known for rocking the baggy pants, but their sexuality was almost always undeniably heterosexual. It was fairly easy to put them into boxes.
Prince Rogers Nelson, a Minneapolis native–turned–worldwide sex symbol (and in 2001, turned–Jehovah’s Witness), was not so easily boxed. He often wore eyeliner, tiny crop tops and even tinier underwear. The video for his first hit, “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” feels a bit like a cross between a Pantene shampoo commercial and a Farrah Fawcett screen test. At the same time, he often sang about beautiful women, or was draped in them.
Prince and his music represented sexuality in its most primal and sometimes most jaw-dropping state. He’s mystifying even now in 2018, a time when nothing, really, should be that mystifying.
In honor of what would have been the late artist’s 60th birthday, here’s a look at five of the sexiest songs by Prince.
1. “If I Was Your Girlfriend”
Having written this mid-tempo groove for then-girlfriend Susannah Melvoin, Prince originally intended to release it under the name of his female alter ego, but the album Camille was scrapped before its release. It was placed on his 1987 album, Sign o’ the Times, instead.
You could take or leave this information, though, since his alter ego is still very much in the video. Prince performs and gyrates in his pink feather sweater with all the confidence of a woman named Camille, and as he asks his lover, “Would you let me wash your hair? Could I make you breakfast sometime?” it becomes even less clear exactly which kind of “girlfriend” Prince is hypothesizing becoming. It doesn’t even matter.
This video may begin with a lingeried woman in her bedroom and end with Prince on top of her on a reclining heart-shaped disc…but still, it’s pretty tame. Like the song’s lyrics, the video’s sensuality is heightened not by what’s shown but by what’s implied, by both the hot-and-heavy gazes exchanged between Prince and his love interest and the pointed shift from spotlighting to backlighting as he removes his feather sweater.
Most Memorable Moment: The three consecutive (and painful-looking) splits Prince does during the instrumental break.
2. “Darling Nikki”
This song is so dirty that it forever changed the way music would be marketed. Tipper Gore, ex-wife of Al Gore, bought her daughter the soundtrack to Prince’s Purple Rain movie when she was 11 years old. All was well until Tipper stumbled upon “Darling Nikki” and, I suspect, had something of a parental heart attack. So began Gore’s spirited and successful mission to place rating labels on all albums that contained explicit content.
“Darling Nikki” tells the story of a rather freaky encounter with a “sex fiend” who, according to the narrator, is pleasuring herself with a magazine when the narrator meets her in a hotel lobby. Its rawness might be the reason it doesn’t get as much airplay today as many other songs by Prince (this album alone includes “When Doves Cry” and, of course, “Purple Rain”). But “Darling Nikki” continues to be embraced by contemporary artists, from the Foo Fighters to Beyoncé, who used it to praise Nicki Minaj. Perhaps most fittingly, Rihanna performed it while on tour in 2011 before launching into “S&M.”
Most Memorable Moment: Prince grinding on the stage floor in time with the electric guitar. The man had abs of steel.
3. “Nasty Girl”
Prince didn’t sing “Nasty Girl,” but his touch is all over its sassy lyrics, beat and lead singer Vanity herself. The simplest of all the videos on this list, and perhaps the least expensive one to produce, this one stars three women in tight dresses dancing and singing along to what some might recognize as the beat sampled in Britney Spears’ “Slave 4 U.”
By today’s standards, this video seems pretty conservative, even after the three women leave the room and return in lingerie. Their routine is akin to a Zumba warm-up exercise; they dance more with their arms than with anything else. But don’t let its low quality fool you: Both the song and its video were banned when released in 1982, for obvious reasons. Vanity sings about “lookin’ for a man that’ll do it anywhere, even on a limousine floor” and needing “seven inches or more.”
Prince was known for his many relationships with various beautiful women who became his muses and/or “protégés” — Vanity being one of them, until she reverted to Denise Matthews and converted to evangelism in the 1990s — and it’s easy to say this video was very much made with the male gaze in mind. But “Nasty Girl” could also be read as a song about a woman taking claim of her own sexuality, something pretty incredible for 1982.
Most Memorable Moment: Vanity berating her lover for not being able to keep it up as the song comes to an end. “Is that it?” she scoffs. “Wake me when you’re done. I guess you’ll be the only one having fun.”
4. “Gett Off”
Two women in tiny dresses arrive at an undisclosed location for an “audition.” Two muscular doormen in tight underwear and blue face paint heave open a set of metal doors that lead into a large room filled with people. Surprise! The audition is actually an “orgy,” with Prince naturally at the center of it all.
“Gett Off” is sensory overload at its finest. Where do you look? There are candles and colorful costumes and Roman statues. There are bare chests and barely-there underwear. There are threesomes occurring in the background. There’s an intricate jazzy dance routine with Prince, Diamond and Pearl.
But the best part of this song is Prince’s then-new backing band, the New Power Generation. Singer Rosie Gaines is all attitude as she gropes a miscellaneous bulging bicep and belts, “There’s a rumor goin’ all around that you ain’t been getting served.” And there’s something undeniably sensual and surprising about the way Tony M. raps, “I’ll only call you after if you say I can.” Their voices blend well, giving this slinky jam a fun and fresh jack swing vibe.
Plus, like many of Prince’s other songs, “Gett Off” is very sex-positive. “If you want to, baby, here I am,” Tony raps. But if you don’t want to do it with him, this Bacchic video seems to suggest, you can ask Prince, Rosie or pretty much any other half-dressed extra in the room.
Most Memorable Moment: The high-pitched, loin-stirring scream-turned-wail that Prince lets loose as Diamond and Pearl enter his “paisley crib.” Is it a sound of pain or pleasure? Both, probably.
5. “Sexy M.F.”
Sometimes the lyrics in this song are a bit misleading. Prince raps early on: “In a word or two, it’s you I want to do. No, not ya body. Yo mind, you fool.” In another moment, he says: “This ain’t about sex. It’s about love.” I’m not sure how true this is, since sex is absolutely and almost exclusively at the heart of this video and song. But the horn section in “Sexy M.F.” is so great that I think its lyrical contradictions can be forgiven.
The clever editing of this video is pretty great, too; perhaps it’s even the sexiest thing about it. You never get to see what you expect (or hope) to see for longer than a few seconds. When the camera does linger, it’s not on Prince’s sexual escapades but rather on him and his buddies as they get down to the funky sounds of the tough band.
Most Memorable Moments: Prince in high-waisted tight black pants that go up nearly to his armpits. Prince thrusting a golden pistol (or is it a microphone?) between his legs. Prince in bed with one woman, then two. Prince doing a booty roll with his hands on the hood of a yellow expensive-looking car… There are far too many. But the best part of the “Sexy M.F.” video is that it’s Prince being Prince — he’s having a good time being who he wants, doing what he wants. He always did — and we’ll miss that sexy M.F. for it.