The world is a little less purple today, following the shocking death of music legend and pop culture icon Prince.
The multi-talented star, who was found dead in his home at the age of 57, had a complex relationship with sexuality and gender in his on-stage and off-stage personas, often appearing positively camp.
In the earlier part of his career, he pushed boundaries by playing with gender-bending imagery in his shows, pictures and music videos. He wore makeup, frills, high heels and a bikini bottom.
In one song, 1981’s Controversy, Prince toyed with sexual fluidity and racial stereotypes by singing: “Am I black or white, am I straight or gay?”
On 1984’s I Would Die 4 U, he sang: “I’m not a woman. I’m not a man. I’m something that you’ll never understand.”
Significantly, Prince’s famous “love symbol”, which he used to identify himself after dropping his name in the early nineties, included both male and female elements.
He was also sexually expressive in his lyrics and famously posed naked for the cover of one of his landmark alums, 1988’s Lovesexy.
In 1997, things seemed to change when Prince became a committed Jehovah’s Witness. While he rarely discussed LGBT issues, a few comments and lyrics raised some red flags.
When asked about same-sex marriage by the New Yorker in 2008, the star appeared to disapprove, commenting that while Republicans claim to represent biblical values, and Democrats are “like, ‘You can do whatever you want.’ Gay marriage, whatever … neither of them is right”.
He went on to say: “God came to earth and saw people sticking it wherever and doing it with whatever, and he just cleared it all out. He was, like, ‘Enough.’”
Prince later insisted that the journalist misquoted him, but he never actually expressed his support for same-sex marriage or the LGBT community.
In 2013, he was also criticised for the lyrics for his song Da Bourgeoisie, in which he seemed to write about his disgust for a bisexual girlfriend, singing: “Maybe you’re just another bearded lady at the cabaret, I wish I never kissed your (spits in disgust) ugh…”
Ultimately, Prince never opened up in great depth or clarity about these issues or how he felt about them.
What is undeniable is the impact he had on cultural norms and on the many LGBT people who grew up inspired by Prince’s defiant celebration of difference and uniqueness in the face of a disapproving world.
As openly-bisexual singer Frank Ocean wrote on Tumblr after Prince’s death: “He made me feel more comfortable with how I identify sexually simply by his display of freedom from and irreverence for obviously archaic ideas like gender conformity…”