As a popular musician, Prince broke racial, gender, and socio-economic barriers and contributed to a legacy of artistic expression that advocated for individual freedom and empowerment. Nowhere else is this more evident than in Purple Rain, where Prince played with images of androgyny and race. This is particularly evident in the album, the movie, and even in the behind-the-scenes production of both projects. These were questions that Generation X was grappling with at the time, and that generations today continue to grapple with, in the struggle against a rigid hierarchical power structure. Yet this was also the same power structure of social, political, and cultural institutions that had failed as moral leaders, with issues of systemic racism, dysfunctional families, Reaganomics, gender dynamics, divorce, and problematic social and moral institutions (school, parents, etc.) affecting society. Prince’s music developed within this social context and spoke directly to Generation X. Purple Rain hit upon a theme of generational malaise and tension that is reflected in today’s current political climate as well, making Purple Rain a deeply resonant album. To explore this idea, I will look at the cultural factors behind the making of the album and the racial and gender barriers Prince had to subvert in order to get the album and accompanying film made.
Toward A Purple Aesthetic: Prince and the Creation of A Cultural Identity in Purple Rain
Douglas Rasmussen earned his Master of Arts degree in English Literature from the University of Saskatchewan where he wrote his thesis on the AMC television series Breaking Bad. Since then he has been continuously writing on various subjects in popular culture, from Star Trek, to action films, Scream, David Bowie, the band Queen, and Quentin Tarantino. Currently he also contributes to the website Housequake.com, which is dedicated to exploring the works of Prince, where he has written a number of blogs on various aspects of Prince’s career and legacy.
Douglas Rasmussen; Toward A Purple Aesthetic: Prince and the Creation of A Cultural Identity in Purple Rain. Journal of Popular Music Studies 1 September 2023; 35 (3): 82–101. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/jpms.2023.35.3.82
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