Years after the abrupt death of Michael Jackson in 2009, and then Prince in 2016, their presences in the music industry continue to be resurrected and commemorated today. Prince and Jackson have etched telltale signs of their existence all over the world through the impact of their artistry, and how it has evolved music. They left melodious sensations in their wake, not to mention the legacies of their personas.
Although both artists in particular were lauded for their nobility within the same era, and had attained eminence on a par from their most prestigious albums of all-time (released only two years apart), they were almost polar opposites musically, despite constantly being compared to each other in their infamous rivalry.
If you do not know about Prince and Michael Jackson’s frienemy-esque relationship, here is a quick overview:
Prince and Jackson’s falling-out had supposedly been ignited due to how often they were compared. Their 1958 birth-year was fixated upon, along with the knowledge that both had worked as Jehovah’s Witnesses at one point. Furthermore, they initiated their musical careers in the early-seventies, and both had reached its heights around the same time in the early-to-mid-eighties; the release of Jackson’s Thriller in 1982, and Prince’s Purple Rain in 1984 can be thanked for that. The budding legends simultaneously dominated the charts, their songs transcending through the top ranks.
Their love-hate relationship did not become apparent, however, until Quincy Jones––the executive producer of Jackson’s seventh studio album, Bad––revealed in an outtake interview for said album’s 2001 re-release, “When Bad was conceived, I wanted to do a duet with Prince.” Then, he added, “It would’ve been great.” He spoke of its potential wistfully because, not only did Prince decline the offer, but he had re-recorded the song (as if fixing its flaws) and sent it back to Jackson.
Prince later broke his silence on the situation in an interview with Chris Rock, saying, “The first line of that song is ‘Your butt is mine.’ Now I said, ‘Who’s gonna sing that to whom? ‘Cause you sure ain’t singing it to me, and I sure ain’t singing it to you… so right there, we got a problem.'”
Their feud proceeded for years afterward, seemingly to no end.
Other events that had transpired between them includes Prince playing obstreperous bass in Jackson’s face during one of his concerts in Las Vegas, participating in a ping-pong game against one another and Prince saying that Jackson had “played like Helen Keller.” And, more recently, tapes that were released of Jackson talking about Prince in private, saying, “I don’t like to be compared to Prince at all […] I have proven myself since I was real little. It’s not fair. He feels like I’m his opponent. I hope he changes because boy, he’s gonna get hurt.”
In a question on Quora with the title Did Prince and Michael Jackson really have a rivalry?, Randall Peede––who claims to have worked in one of Jackson’s tours––answered, “How could Prince ignore Michael? Dislike? No. A smiling rivalry, yes. Both were similar-aged black men who were frequently on the edge of genius. Not much competition for those two. They were both really nice people.”
People appear to have made a consensus that what arose between Prince and Jackson was, in fact, not malicious hatred––but a sense of competition that had driven a wedge in their associations.
As an enthusiast of both artists, I would love to see how a duet might have turned out. I believe that they, had they been cordial, would have ruled the charts with a duet. Of course, “Bad” turned out to be a great song despite the conflicts which occurred throughout its production, but imagine if they had welded together and spewed out another masterful version of that song. They could have been great friends, had it not been for the sense of antagonism that they were enduring.
The next and most important focal point of all: How Prince and Michael Jackson differentiated musically and elementally, and why we should stop comparing them.
In my opinion, there was no winner or loser in this rivalry. Prince and Jackson rarely correlated talent-wise––and what I mean by that is their musical strengths were manifold. Jackson had a three to four octave vocal range, which allowed his voice to reach high tenor. He sung beautifully and diversely; an easy conclusion to draw by listening to his music. And on top of that, his choreography and body language was extremely intricate and even a bit anomalous without a scientific explanation (lookin’ at you, gravity-defying lean from “Smooth Criminal”). Jackson usually did not play instruments live, but his vocal range and complex performances were so enthralling that you could not care less about the instruments.
As for Prince, his strengths lingered in the instrumental areas. He played instruments in most of his live shows––especially the electric guitar––and has been acclaimed for his ability to multitask; he could effortlessly play a long and immersive guitar solo, sing, and dance at the same time. This sounds even more formidable to do (but entrancing to watch) knowing that his vocal range was between five and six octaves. That is a very impressive range in general, let alone for a male singer. His singing voice was arguably more versatile than Jackson’s.
And for those reasons I just explained, we all need to stop comparing Prince and Michael Jackson.
Yes, they felt competitive and had an ongoing rivalry (whether it was playful or not), but that does not mean you have to choose one or the other. I hear people comparing them incessantly, and quite frankly, it is exasperating. It is okay if you prefer one artist over the other, but please . . . Do. Not. Compare. Their musical strengths and weaknesses were just shy of completely opposing, and likewise can be said for their styles in terms of appearance and mannerism. Jackson was always clad in glistering attire that managed to flow well with his bodily movements on stage. Prince was more on the provocative and flamboyant side with great panache and, of course, purple apparel.
If you like Prince more than Michael Jackson, or vice versa, your opinion is completely valid. But you can express your sentiments without comparing two separate artists that are barely kindred. Just because they had somewhat similar upbringings does not mean they are alike in their artistry.
STOP COMPARING ARTISTS.