On April 21st, the world mourned the loss of Prince Rogers Nelson, one of the most prolific and successful musicians in history. Prince sold over 100 million albums during his remarkable career that spanned four decades. Though he was clearly influenced by legends like Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jimi Hendrix, and James Brown, Prince was always completely unique and creative in his artistic expression as well as the way he chose to live his life. There will never be another Prince.
You might be familiar with Prince because of his long list of hit songs like When Doves Cry, Kiss, or Let’s Go Crazy. Or maybe you first became aware of his genius during his breathtaking performance at the Super Bowl. Though he achieved mainstream success, he never conformed to trends or pandered to his fans. His music was complex, moody, and singular—much like the man himself.
I’m not a woman, I’m not a man, I am something that you’ll never understand.
In 1993, Prince legally changed his name to this symbol to protest what he believed was a Draconian clause in his contract with Warner Brothers. The Love Symbol, as he called it, was a combination of the male and female symbols and represented liberation from corporate control as well as societal norms regarding sexuality and gender.
“The only acceptable replacement for my name, and my identity, was the Love Symbol, a symbol with no pronunciation, that is a representation of me and what my music is about.” -Prince,1993
Of course he was ridiculed endlessly for this bold and drastic move. People referred to him mockingly as The Artist Formerly Known As Prince. Warner Brothers exacted revenge by releasing a Greatest Hits Album, something Prince vowed never to do. If they couldn’t control him, they were determined to make every penny they could on his catalog.
When his contract with Warner Brothers expired in 2000, he changed his name back to Prince. But for 7 years, one of the biggest stars in the world was nameless, choosing to be identified by an “indecipherable glyph.”
Fans all over the world have downloaded the Love Symbol to show their support and pay respect online. Radio stations are playing his songs non-stop. And even though his career peaked in the late ‘80s, his message of gender equality and personal expression is as relevant today as it was in 1993.
As Alyssa Rosenberg so eloquently states in this great article, Prince “defied conventional notions of gender” and was living proof that “there’s no one way—no correct way—for a man to dress, to move, to decide what he values, and to choose who he loves.”