News of the death of Prince spread rapidly on the Internet on Thursday as tweets and Facebook posts conveyed the usual shock and sadness over the loss of a celebrated cultural superstar. His death at age 57 was initially reported by TMZ.com, as many of these things often are.
Flocking to the Internet to read and react to the news was an interesting impulse considering Prince’s own opinions about the web. Some quick searching around revealed his most notable gem, from 2010, when he declared the Internet was “completely over.”
In an interview with the Daily Mirror, the “Purple Rain” singer pronounced “all these computers and digital gadgets are no good.”
“The internet’s completely over. I don’t see why I should give my new music to iTunes or anyone else. They won’t pay me an advance for it and then they get angry when they can’t get it. The internet’s like MTV. At one time MTV was hip and suddenly it became outdated.”
Five years after those comments, Prince still insisted he was right, in an interview with the Guardian last fall.
“What I meant was that the internet was over for anyone who wants to get paid, and I was right about that. Tell me a musician who’s got rich off digital sales. Apple’s doing pretty good though, right?”
During an epic 4-hour secret show at the Hollywood Palladium in 2014, the LAist reported that signs everywhere warned fans, “No photos. Patrons taking photos are subject to ejection.” When’s the last time you went to a concert and didn’t see the glow of smartphones illuminating the audience? Prince even sang out to fans who were trying to get a picture of the Purple One during his performance.
“Put your phone down. You can’t get down with technology in your hand!”
Last month, NPR dove deeper into Prince’s “misunderstood relationship with the Internet,” referencing the removal of most of his music from Spotify and his threat to go after YouTube and eBay for unauthorized use of his music. Billboard said the musician was trying to “reclaim his art on the Internet.”
But it is not clear that technology is the main issue here. Even before the Internet came along, Prince was trying to control the distribution of his music. At the Paisley Park concert, many people were exchanging stories of how and where they got hold of old bootleg Prince recordings. This is how an artist like Prince truly endures, how dedicated fandom develops. For these people, “Purple Rain” is for the masses.
On both forums, he fittingly followed no one.