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March 11, 2020 43 mins

Though he’d achieved complete commercial domination with Thriller, the King of Pop spent much of the ‘80s looking over his shoulder at the Prince of Paisley Park. As far as MJ was concerned, the musical landscape was big enough for only one eccentric, androgynous, Midwest-raised genre-bending star with killer dance moves and a propensity for Xanadu-like private compounds. He even crafted “Bad” as a duet to serve as their on-mic showdown, but the Purple One turned him down. Over the years they duked it out in the charts, onstage, and even on the Ping-Pong table. The rivalry pushed them towards artistic greatness, but despite a begrudging mutual respect, the pair would never be simpatico.

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
Rivals is a production of I Heart Radio. All Right,
Welcome to Rivals, the show about music rivalries, beefs, feuds,

(00:21):
long simming resentments between pop stars. I'm your host, Stephen Hyden.
I'm your co host Jordan Runt Talk, and today we're
gonna be talking about two of the greatest pop stars
of all time. You square it off, dearly beloved, or
gather here today to get through this thing called Michael
Jackson and Princes so smooth, Just like the record just
I was like, am I listening to? Uh, Let's go

(00:42):
crazy right now? I felt like that for a minute.
Available for parties, weddings. Yeah, we're gonna talking about Prince
versus Michael Jackson. Okay, let's dive into this battle. A
lot of twist and turns in this story, and you
may know some of them. You probably don't know all
of them, though. It's like these are two of the
most famous people ever. I feel like we all know

(01:05):
something about Prince and Michael Jackson. We all love their music.
We might feel complicated feelings about one of these people.
Maybe we don't like them as much as we used to.
We can get into that later in this episode. But
you can't talk enough about just the impact that both
of these men have had. And you know, when you
talk about their early lives, there are some parallels. I mean,

(01:26):
they're both born in ninety eight in the summer of night.
Michael Jackson's born in June. Prince towards the end of August,
so about two and a half months or so separates them.
Both born in the Midwest, Michael Jackson was he born
in Gary, Indian. Prince of course, born in Minneapolis, Minnesota,
which is where I live. By the way, we used

(01:48):
to be sort of neighbors for a while, which is
one of the great prides of my life. You get
his newspaper sometimes stuff like that. Well, yeah, sometimes it
was occasionally some times like the assless Pants would come
to my house and like, these don't look like the
assles pants I ordered. They're a little too small for me.
I'll run him over to Prince's house with maybe a

(02:11):
play the Brownies or something and maybe you'll let me
hang out. Um after that, I mean, their lives obviously diverge.
I mean, by the end of the sixties, Michael Jackson
is already one of the most famous pop stars on
the planet. He's the lead singer of the Jackson Five.
You know, the Jackson five. They kind of just come
barreling out of the shoot right away with you know,

(02:32):
on Motown. They're putting it out I Want You Back.
Their debut single, one of the greatest debut singles for
any group ever. I would say, incredible song, Number one song,
many many hits after that. ABC. So Michael Jackson, he's
in the Jackson five, He's a huge star. He's a kid.
He's growing up in the public eye and it's crazy.
I mean, he will be one of the most famous

(02:52):
people on the planet for like the rest of his
life at that point, like starting at age like eleven
or so. By the end of the seventies, he started
to spread his wings outside of the family. In seventy
puts out Off the Wall, a blockbuster solo record, one
of the greatest pop records of all time. I would say,
the best Michael Jackson record. I had to. That's kind

(03:14):
of the cool kid pick because it's like the slightly less,
which is what smart people do. Revolver is better than
Sergeant Picker. Off the Walls is better than Thriller, But
you know, he puts out Thriller in eighty two, the
biggest pop record of all time. I mean, he is
at that point probably the biggest music star of all time.

(03:34):
My my perspective is skewed because I am older than you.
I'm older than you by ten years. So I remember
that time. I was about five years old when that
album hit. Thriller was the first album I had on vinyl.
I think if you were born in the seventies and earlier,
you know, around that time. I was born in seventy seven,
if you were born around that time, it's one of
those albums that, like, literally anyone from the age of

(03:55):
five to eighty you bought Thriller. It just appealed to
such a wide demo graphic of people. So Michael Jackson's
huge early eighties. Let's go back to Prince. He doesn't
become famous at age eleven. He's just the kid. His
father is a musician. He's sort of a prodigy himself.
He's learning how to play different instruments. He's learning how to,
you know, sing and perform. He's studying, he's listening to records.

(04:19):
Puts out his first record, I believe it was seventy eight,
self titled record, has his first number one R and
B hit in seventy nine with I Want to Be
Your Lover. In eighty he puts out Dirty Mind, which
is I think his first sort of acknowledged masterpiece album.
It's the album that makes him a critic darling at
that time. His next record, I think, his controversy. And

(04:42):
then he puts out In nine, which is like a
blockbuster record. You have the title track a month before Thriller,
a month before Thriller, and by any other standard, would
be a blockbuster pop record. Of course it's not as
big as Thriller, but it's a big record, all these hits.
And then a few years after that he puts out
Purple Rain, the album and the film, and that is

(05:05):
what shoots Prince into the upper echelon of pop stars
in that company with Michael Jackson, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen around
that time with Born in the USA is a big star.
He's like on the Mount Rushmore eighties pop stars. Because
of Purple Rain. This is the point where Michael Jackson
and Prince are kind of in the same world. And

(05:25):
it's interesting, like when you read magazine profiles from that time,
because you know, we think of Michael Jackson and Prince
is always being in the same context. Now, you know,
you think, oh, they're both huge eighties stars. But at
the time, as Prince was ascending, the narrative and a
lot of the stories was about him being an outsider.
He's from Minneapolis. He maintained a base in Minneapolis. That's

(05:46):
where he worked and lived in Minneapolis at that time.
I mean, it had no national profile at all. You
might as well have been living on the moon as
far as like the major media centers in New York
and l a Are concerned. He's, you know, basically in
these albums by himself, playing all the instruments, producing, mixing, engineering, catering.

(06:06):
And you can trust that with someone like Michael Jackson,
who literally went through the Motown factory. I mean five
debut album was I think it was Diana Ross Presents
Dot Dot Dot the Jackson five. We had everything going.
And that is the contrast that was set up by
critics at that time that Michael Jackson was like this
legacy star, the epitome of born to do this. He

(06:27):
is like, you know, he is Coca Cola, he is
IBM McDonald's, you know, just the epitome of like mainstream
pop music commerce. And then you have Prince. You have
the upstart, the guy coming out of nowhere. He's kind
of a weird guy. He's he's an eccentric. He's writing
these incredibly catchy and infectious pop songs. But they also

(06:48):
have kind of a weird sensibility to them. They sound
a little bit different, their experimental there's a sort of
weird sexual undercurrent to them. He's very provocative and transgressive,
and that's how it's kind of set up at that time.
But they're also both sort of regarded as these genius musicians,
and at some point they're going to come into opposition.

(07:08):
There's four big conflicts as I see it, between them,
like four incidents, Am I right? Or there are other ones,
because there's like a big four. There are a couple
more than that I found, But yeah, there's the big
four that you so hopefully outlined in your absolutely incredible
book Your Favorite Band is Killing Me? Take a Drink
Everybody at All Fine bookstares, Yes, my book, Your Favorite
Band is Killing Me, Take a drink Everybody about pop music? Ravalries,

(07:31):
I wrote about this Ravelry because that's one of my
favorites of all time. I said four. Well, first of all,
what before we get to the four that I talked
about my book. Your favorite band is killing me. Take
a drink. That's three drinks, by the way, our audience
is wasted already. If you could just say anything at
this point, what were some of the ones that I
didn't mention that you'd want to just mention because like
they come into because because again, like they're both huge

(07:52):
pop stars, they're both like alpha dogs, and they I
think grudgingly respect each other absolutely. I mean the things
that it was very interesting friendly was friendly, but like
they know that the other guy is really good. Yeah,
but they also feel like I have a huge ego
and I'm I'm the man, I'm number one, and this
guy standing in my way. So when Prince is putting

(08:14):
together the Purple Rain tour, he went to UH to
watch I think several shows that the Jackson's within the
Victory tour and kind of took notes. And also after
Thriller came out and made UH some adjustments to UH
Purple Rain, which was then just to work in progress.
And then Michael kind of repaid the favor by I
guess when the Purple Rain tour went to l A

(08:35):
at the Forum. Did four nights at the Forum. I
think he was there every night, was what I read.
I think it was the interview with the Quest level
he said something about and he confirmed that. Um, but
sort of the big first public showdown between the two
that wasn't you know in the charts was the famous
James Brown performance at the Beverly Theater in Los Angeles

(08:56):
three and I feel like, people, you should almost pause
the show right now. You got you have to see
that and go watch this for for context, because it's
an incredible video. I mean not only because James Brown
looks like he's dressed as Jackie. Oh. I mean, it's
it's like, really, yeah, you have James Brown. You know,
early James, early eighties James Brown. I'm sure there was
there was no cocaine in the system at all at

(09:18):
that point. I'm sure he's clean as a whistle because
this concert from three's at the Beverly Theater in Los Angeles,
James Brown Concert. He brings Michael Jackson up first and
like Michael Jackson's kind of doing like James Brown dance
moves he's doing. But then he also when he takes
the mic and He's dressed in his like you know,
sergeant peppery kind of military a with the sunglasses, and
he just sings I Love You over and over again,

(09:39):
just rings every bit of emotion he possibly can of.
It just doesn't every different cadence. And and then he
whispers in James Brown's ear, and then and then all
of a sudden, like Prince just kind of materialized thin air.
It's like he's conjured like like Candy Man, like from
the movie Candy Man. And like the footage isn't great,
like it's it's grainy, and like you know that I've

(10:01):
been on YouTube has probably been like taped like twenty times,
so you can't make out things totally clear. But like
you said, like everyone is kind of dressed in like
the prototypical way that you'd expect them to see them,
Like James Brown looks like James Brown. Michael Jackson has
like the Sergeant Pepper outfit on, and Prince has like
the Prince hair, the whole ghet Austin powers, he the
frilly shirt kind of thing. Yeah, and he comes out

(10:23):
and like Prince just starts like wailing on the guitar
like he's he's playing on guitar. He's like dancing around
and he's just like, to me, he looks awesome. I'm like,
Prince is killing it. It's like I thought James Brown
was cool. I thought mj looked great. And then Prince
comes out and he's like he's owning this. But like
that wasn't the take a lot of people he I mean,
he's handed the guitar. Apparently the guitar was strong left handed,

(10:45):
I'd read that, and so he kind of fumbles a
little bit at least when you know what Prince is
capable of. I mean, especially if you've seen that video
of him at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
where he does while my guitar gently weeps and he
just like, if you put it against that, it's it's
absolutely no compar Harrison. You can see, especially at the
beginning when he first gets it, he's trying to like
find his way. But yeah, no, he's he's fine. And

(11:06):
then so he does this sort of half herded guitar
solo and then gyrates a bit with the guitar and
then strips off his shirt and then contrasting, you know,
Michael Jackson says I love you into the mic, Prince
just kind of moans a totally and then dance is
a bit more and then he's kind of done. He's
sort of like wanders off the stage and with what

(11:29):
I can't tell if it's just incredible nonchalance or a
genuine accident. He just kind of brushes against this oversized
lamp street lamp prop and just knocks it over. As
his final like mic drop, Like the ultimate mic drop
is this massive street light prop, like you know, ten
ft tall. It's a huge thing, and it kind of
looks intentional, but I think it was an accident, but
he plays it off incredibly well. It just looks like, yeah,

(11:51):
it's like it's again, I'm done. I just destroyed this stage.
And you know, like you watch the show and you're
like there is a sense that like maybe Michael Jackson's
like paying homage to James Brown, whereas Prince is like
from paying amas to James Brown since he was six
years old. Yeah, I mean, but it's like there's like
sort of like a reverend thing to MJ's presence there.
And then Prince comes out and it seems like his
mission is just disrupt and to to disrupt and to

(12:15):
destroy and like I'm the man, and I'm taking both
of you out because James Brown, you had your day,
You're done. M J. You and are contemporaries, but I'm
the man. I'm better than you. And at this point
he hadn't put up Purple Rain yet, about a year
away from Purple Rain. But you could just you get
that sort of divide and conquered mentality from Prince and
it's beautiful. I watched that, and I'm like, well, they're

(12:36):
they're all cool, but I kind of lead towards Prince
in that regard. It's like that Prince is so cool
in this video. People associated with Prince later said that
that he, you know, I was sort of unhappy with it.
Um and his friends were giving him a hard time.
He said they made an ass of himself, but Michael
Jackson apparently thought that he looked bad. He apparently u
el A reads memoir uhl I said that Michael invite

(12:58):
him over to his house and was given him a tour,
and then they went into a screening room and Michael
put on the clip of him and laughed his ass off,
and then to cap it off, put on under the
Cherry Moon and laughed his ass at some of the
says so just he said he had this like queued
up to play guests of just Prince making, you know,
and his I guess there's famous audio that was done

(13:20):
I think when he was when Michael Jackson was writing
his memoir in eight Moonwalker, and the audio surface I
think after his death not too long ago, and there's
a clip when he's talking about it and he's saying like,
oh my god, he made such a full of himself,
Like oh, you know, it was everybody was screaming when
the thing fell over. It was like so Michael Jackson

(13:41):
took great delight in and apparently, you know, for the
rest of his life felt that this was an incredible
humiliation and he relished it. Now, on the flip side
of that, let me preface this by saying, early Quincy
Jones gave a bunch of interviews I think too Echo two,
I should say, to run epic run of two to
New York Magazine and g Q, where he just he
just quick giving a damn about anything. He just you know,

(14:02):
he's talking about you know, who killed JFK, And you know,
trash and the Beatles and all this incredible stuff. One
of the greatest two interviews ever by anybody, and in
I forget which interview, I think it was. G q uh.
He claims that Prince was waiting in the parking lot
after the James Brown Show in his limo and tried
to run down Michael Jackson. Tried to get his driver

(14:24):
to run down Michael Jackson because he was so irate
about this this humiliation. Now again, I preface that by
saying that this was, you know, when Quincy Jones was
talking about, you know, they're being Basis on the moon
and stuff, like I was gonna say, like Quincy was
like on his second bottle of champagne in the middle
of the interview. So yeah, that was I think the
same one where he talked about, like, you know, dating
Ivanka Trump and stuff. So you know, I make of

(14:46):
that what you will, but that's it's a very interesting
code of that, you know what. I'm gonna just choose
to believe it because it's because it's so cool. I'm
gonna choose to believe that Prince almost ran Michael Jackson
down on a limousine. Yes, we're gonna take a quick
break to get a word from ours sponsor before we
get two more rivals. So the second big encounter between them,

(15:14):
or it's sort of a non encounter, is the recording
session for We Are at the World Now We Are
the World. Michael Jackson is like one of the primary
drivers of this. You know, he co wrote the song,
He's featured in the video. He's you know, literally out
front in the videos, out front. He wasn't known as
the king of pop at that point, but he is
the King of Poppy's like that, you know. And again

(15:35):
he has the Sergeant Pepper I would fit on, so
you feel like he actually is part of the pop
military and he's the general um or the or the yeah,
the the admiral. I think admiral would be more fitting
to him. Um. Anyway, everyone is there at the at
the We Are the World sessions. You've got Bob Dylan there,
You've got Huey Lewis. There, got Cindy Lapper Rodgers, Billy

(15:56):
Joel h Simon, I think Paul Simon's there, is boy
George there. I can't I'm getting that and um and
live Aid confused. Yeah, and everyone is there except Prince
and Madonna wasn't there either, But Madonna didn't get a
heart of a time, like people gave Prince a really
hard time for not being there, and like the excuse

(16:16):
that Prince ended up giving for not being at the
Weird the World recording session was that he was in
Los Angeles and he got into a fight in a
Mexican restaurant with the photographer, right, with a photographer. Yes,
not that the best excuse, Not the best excuse. And
like you know, at the time, people depicted Prince as
this sort of conceded self involved jerk basically because he

(16:38):
wasn't involved in this altruistic project about feeding starving kids
in Africa. Said he was beating down photographers in a
Mexican restaurant, which is about as far from exactly. Maybe
he was picking up some Mexican food to take to
Africa to to feed these kids, you know, and then
he got sidetracked by this photographer. Maybe that maybe that's
what was happening. And I don't know if you've ever

(16:59):
seen this, I feel like somebody probably like buried this clip. Crystal. Yes,
there was a Saturday Night Live Scotch where Billy Crystal
played Prince in black Face. By the way, and uh
sang a song called I Am the World I Am
the World exactly kind of impression, and that just shows you,

(17:19):
like what the world was like that it was more
offensive for Prince not to sing on we Are the
World than for Billy Crystal to don blackface and make
fun of Prince, like that's that's how That's how it was.
And you know, the thing is too, is when we
look back on we Are the World. You know, at
the time it was this historic single, it was a

(17:40):
big deal. Now we look back on it, and you know,
the good cause and good intentions aside, people tend to
make fun of that song. It's kind of a corny song.
It kind of epitomizes this idea of like self important
pop stars who sort of self aggrandizing their own nobility,
you know, in a song. So in a way, it
like it was good for Prince in retrospect to not

(18:03):
be involved, because you don't see Prince standing next to
holl Of Notates and Kim Karnes singing you know, these
sort of you know, mawkish lyrics. You know, like Prince
still has some mystique from that time because of that.
And he did contribute a song to the the album
that it was on, too. It was for the tears
in your eyes. I think for the album that that

(18:25):
came out, that Havy of the world on it, the
lp uh, he did, you know, try to make up
for it, up for it. But at the time it
was a huge r disaster for him, and it kind
of fed into this idea after Purple Rain, you know,
the sort of backlash against Prince that he was this
kind of like a self involved weirdo, Like that's how
people depicted him at the time, And there was still

(18:46):
this idea that Michael Jackson was this humanitarian, humanitarian you know,
and like just the epitome of like virtue mass entertainment.
Everyone loves Michael Jackson still. In eight five, then we
get to the third classic incident between these two and
this might be my favorite, is yes, is my favorite.

(19:07):
It's Michael Jackson and in Prince playing ping pong, the
single greatest ping pong matchup. This is like the Ali
Frasier of ping pong. You know, like, if there's ping
pong fans out there listening to this podcast, you can
you can tweet at us, let us know and you know,
educate us on ping pong history. I don't know of
any other ping pong matches. I can't imagine any other

(19:29):
ping pong match being more historic than Michael Jackson Prince.
This would have been I guess six or so. I
think so. I think I think it was that. The
version that I heard was that it was at a
the Samuel Goldman studio in West Hollywood, and uh, Prince
was finishing up under the Cherry Cherry Moon, and I
think Michael Jackson's doing Captain EO the Disney you know

(19:49):
clip yeah, which, by the way, m J giving Prince
shipped for Under the Cherry Moon, and like you're the
star of Captain EO. It's like, come on, glass houses,
my friend Prince is playing. It's like, hey, you know
my come you want to play? And Michael kind of
timidly goes over and said, I don't really know how
to play, but sure, Michael Jackson not much of a jock,
not even probably, I'm not that skilled princess, you know,

(20:10):
trying to get him to to really see, you know,
come on, Michael, get into it, come on, let's go
for you. And I imaginely Prince like hitting the ball hard.
Oh yeah, no, he's not letting up now, he's spiking
it over the net. I mean, I'm sure it's bad,
and then so and then Princess Sam do you want
me to slam it? And Michael at this point drops
his paddle, apparently by mistake, and covers his hands his

(20:33):
face with his hands to shield himself from the ball
that Prince is about to spike. Prince spikes it and
it hits Michael Jackson squarely in the crotch. Michael, this stuff.
You can't write this stuff, man. He turns around, walks away.
Prince apparently starts, you know, dance around almost like a
peacock or like a rooster, and turns to one of
his assistant said, did you see that he's playing like

(20:54):
Helen Keller, which, by the way, Prince trash talk. I
gotta say, Princes, you know a little problematic there. You know,
I don't want to stigmatize Helen Keller in that way,
great American. But having said that hilarious, I wonder, like,
you know, to what degree he was motivated by that
James Brown incident? Do you think that I astely think

(21:14):
that was in his head because he probably felt humiliated,
even though he shouldn't have been. I think he was cool,
but he might have felt humiliated and like, this is
my chance to literally hit Michael Jackson in the balls. Well,
you know how how Michael Jackson got revenged? Right? I
guess after the game was over, he went over and
started flirting with um with Prince's girlfriend at the time,

(21:35):
Shrylyn Fenn Uh some interview that I think, Oh yeah,
that's why. Oh my god, I guess it was when
he was dating her. UM And there's some interview that
Prince's recording engineer game. He said that was sort of
the you know how how Michael got got his his revenge.
After that, Prince get mad about that. I mean, history
has not recorded his reaction to that, but apparently a

(21:58):
lot of Prince's associates said that. I don't know. I
think the Princess drummer Bobby Z gave a an interview
where he said that, um, Michael would come to Paisley
Park and they played a little basketball. I mean, there
were apparently that that's what he said. I mean, I
don't know how true that is, but there have been
instances cited interviews where they had other athletics. Because Prince

(22:18):
was a great basketball player. Absolutely, I wonder, like I
just I can't imagine Michael being a good basketball player,
but he could have been. He was good. I mean,
he's obviously actual. He knows how to move his body,
and I mean I made that joke about him that
being a great athlete. He's obviously a great athlete though,
because he's a great dancer. He's one of the best
dancers in pop history. Well, you know, you know the

(22:39):
great story about Michael dancing. I guess it was when
they were preparing for the This Is It tour in
um in two thousand nine. Kenny Ortega I think, went
and had a meeting with him, and because Michael kept
wanting to change, he was like, man, he kept having
all these ideas for the show that he wanted to add.
He one to add all these little vignettes and stuff,
and he wasn't sleeping. And Michael was saying like, well,
you know, I can't sleep because God, God gives me

(23:00):
is at night, he channels through me at night. And uh.
And Kenny's like, well, yeah, great, Michael, but but can
you please just give it a rest, like we we
got to get the show on the road. And Michael said, no, no,
I I can't rest because if I don't God's gonna
give these ideas the Prince. I think that proved to
be the case ultimately for those two. So we get
to seven, and this is like the fourth kind of

(23:22):
great story about Michael Jackson and Prince intersecting, which is
that Michael Jackson he's about to put up Bad, the
follow up to The Thriller, and he wants to record
the title track as a duet with Prince, which you
think of that. You think of Prince and Michael Jackson
on the same song in on Paper, You're like, where

(23:47):
do I take this and get my like one billion
dollar pay out? I mean, this is just like incredible,
incredible idea. Everyone would love it. The song is perfect
for it. It's a showdown. It's like, yeah, you get
to be tough in this song. It's a really good
song too, And you're like, who wouldn't love that? You know,
that is Alien versus Predator, that is you know, uh,

(24:09):
that's Hobbs and Shaw, that's every you know, that's every
great duo coming together. But Prince declines he really didn't
like the opening line you're but his mine, and he said,
there's an interview with Chris Rock I think in then
he's just saying, like, you know, who's going to sing
that to who? Because you're not saying that to me,

(24:30):
and I'm not singing that to you. And I think
it's hilarious that Prince much. I know that Prince is
like one of the great sort of like gender bending
rock stars pop stars of all time. That he was
a guy that sort of subverted the idea of like
traditional masculinity in music. And you know, he wasn't afraid
to be to appear androgynous or even feminine, you know,

(24:53):
in his public persona, that he was fearless in that way.
And he did that at a time you know, well
before that was sort of in fashion and pop music.
I mean famously, he had that tour opening for the
Rolling Stones and like one where people were like throwing
garbage at him literally because they didn't know what to
make of him. I think it's funny that he would
give such like a traditionally macho answer to that that

(25:14):
he was like afraid macho? Was it just ego? Is
it just I never thought of it as like a
sexual thing. I just thought of it as like, you know,
you're he doesn't want someone to say that you're you're
better than me, or but he wouldn't want to say
that to Michael Jackson. No, either wanted he didn't want
to be in the dominant role either. I was assumed
that it was sort of like a macho thing that
he didn't want. He didn't want it to be implied
that he was like wanting Michael Jackson's butt, or that

(25:36):
Michael Jackson would want his butt like that. To me,
that's how I read that, but I could be wrong.
It probably was an ego thing that he was not
going to appear on Michael Jackson's record, that he wasn't
going to help move copies of Bad. He offered him
another song he was He was offered him when You
Love to Love Me. It was like an updated demo
of one of his own songs, and Michael passed on that,

(25:57):
and apparently, uh to be how Prince was. He rerecorded
Bad and sent him a version of Bad back to
Michael after all this went down, just to be like no, yeah,
that's just how it should be. This is like the
final like you know, kiss off. I didn't hear that story.
I like that story all right hand. We'll be right
back with more rivals, you know, it's weird. I mean,

(26:29):
we've we've gone this deep into this episode talking about
Michael Jackson and Prince without talking about the elephant in
the room with Michael Jackson, which is he achieved the
level of fame so great that it made him greater
than human to a lot of the people that loved him,
and it just allowed him to act at a level

(26:51):
of like impunity, uh that the average person wouldn't be
able to do so, Like that's why he was able
to convince parents for a stance to let their kids
sleep at his house because this was Michael Jackson. This
was a person that had been in their lives for decades,
someone that they loved, so you trusted him, even though
you would never trust any other adult man, you know,

(27:12):
to host your kid at your house. And how that
connects with Prince. I just think it's interesting because they
have two very different approaches to fame. That Michael Jackson
at his peak was someone who was very invested in
making himself as huge as possible at all times. I
don't know if you've heard this story, but like when

(27:33):
he was making bad he put a piece of paper
on his bathroom window where it's aid a hundred million.
It was his goal to sell a hundred million copies
of Bad And you think of that and you're like,
you know, the normal average pop star, you know, who
had an album like Thriller or any other sort of
mega selling album, I think it'd be I think a

(27:55):
normal person would look at look at that and go,
this is a fluke. And I think most people would
say I can never replicate that, you know, it would
be insane for me to try. So what I'm gonna
do instead is I'm just gonna make music that appeals
to me. And if I follow my own path, then
my core fans, the people who really love me, they'll

(28:16):
stick with me. And yeah, I'm not gonna sell sixty
million records again, but no one's gonna sell sixty million
records more than once. Like I've done it once, I
kind of have a blank check now to do whatever
I want. The Prince did well, I was gonna say
to me, that is the sort of crux of this
ravelry and what it signifies two different approaches the pop stardom.

(28:39):
Are you gonna just try to be as big as
you can be at all times, or are you gonna
be the person who becomes a superstar, and then it's like,
now I'm going to be a great artist, and I'm
gonna focus on that. Because if you look at Prince's
career in the eighties after Purple Rain, he puts that
around the world in a day, puts it out pretty

(29:00):
soon after Purple Rain. If it was a year, it
might have been like less than the calendar year it was,
but it was very close, you know, Whereas Michael Jackson
waited five years to make Bad because he was I
think he spent like two years and like two million
dollars making that record because he was trying to make hits,
and by the way, he was very successful at making hits.

(29:22):
That record had five number one singles and sold eight
million records. It's the first record to have five number
ones on exactly, and by any standard, that is a
blockbuster record. But like it was as big as Thriller,
so public perception and even I think in Michael Jackson's
own mind that record was considered a failure, which is
an insane thing to do. Prince is like, I'm not

(29:43):
going to try to make Purple Rain again. I might
even gonna try to make pop hits in the style
of the songs that have been on my previous two records.
I'm gonna go into this sort of like psychedelic, weirdo
experimental phase where I make around the world in a
day and then he makes Parade with is a brilliant record,
but like is so unusual and like anti pop in

(30:06):
a lot of ways, even though Kiss was the big
single off that record, and it's like one of the
greatest Prince songs ever, one of the most beloved hits.
It was a number one pop hit, although when you
listen to it, it sounds like a demo that someone recorded.
It's so spare and so unusual. And then you know,
the same year that Michael Jackson puts out Bad Prince
puts out The Sign of the Times, which is this

(30:28):
double record ambitious social commentary. On that record, there's like
intensely sort of autobiographical songs on there. There's like songs
like I Wish I was Your Girlfriend, which is like
this sort of psycho sexual drama going on. You know,
just very unusual, very ambitious record. Of course, after that
he did like the Batman soundtrack, which kind of throws

(30:48):
this theory into whack. But I think if you look
at ambitious pop stars all that. You know, whether you're
talking about Janelle Monet, you're talking about Frank Ocean, they're
following the Prince model. Like Prince kind of invented the
modern pop star in the mid eighties, although at the
time those decisions that he was making were often maligned,

(31:08):
and Michael Jackson was like the mainstream pop star. He
was the beloved guy, and he was the one that
people thought was doing what you should be doing. Although
we look back at that now and it's sort of like,
it's kind of weird that he was doing that, and
maybe he was compensating for horrible things in his personal
life by doing that. Well, so I mean it's it's
you reference in your book too. It's not cool to
set out to be an insider, you know, I mean

(31:31):
Michael Jackson was. I mean, you couldn't think of a
better example of what is mainstream music industry in you know,
the eighties and early nineties, and Michael Jackson and he
was the cool guy in high school. He was the
one who was you know, born to do this seemingly perfect.
I mean, obviously we know now that that's very much
not the case, but you know, and then someone would

(31:52):
Prince who did it all in his bedroom as a kid,
and you know we had trash thrown at him. I
mean it was just, you know, the polar opposite from
Michael's experien are it's of being you know, literally brought
up by Diana Ross, you know, a huge star um
and and it's it's interesting now about just sort of
more contemporary artists now looking back about their careers aside

(32:12):
from all of the reputation Michael has from all the
the court cases in the HBO documentary, just the artistic
route of kind of doing your own thing and be
I feel like Prince has been sort of embraced almost
like David Bowie is being kind of the patron saint
of weird and like doing your own thing, expressing yourself
in whatever way you want, like as a quintessential artist.
I feel like, I feel like if you are a

(32:33):
recording artist, you Prince is one of the people you
look to as a model, Like that's what you want
to have, where you can have massive popular success that
affords you this space to be your own person and
to follow your own path you wanted to make art.
I mean, there's a famous story Michael Jackson called up
Paul McCartney and said, you know, do you want to
make hits? And I think that the choice of that,
we're not you want to write songs? Not you do

(32:54):
you want to make some hits? And I think that's
very telling. Michael Jackson wanted to make hits, Prince wanted
to make art, I think, And I mean that's just
we want to make hits and and art. I think
you I think Prince wanted to do everything. I think
what Prince did is that he realized that because he
had hits, it created a space for him to do
what he wanted to do. It's like Michael Jackson looked
at Thriller and said, I need more of that. Prince

(33:14):
looked at Purple Rain and said, I don't necessarily want
to be as huge as this album has made me,
but I can use the capital from this to kind
of do whatever I want, Like I can build Paisley Park,
for instance. Like that was a direct result really from
him being so fantastically successful and rich. You know that
he could build his own compound, and he could do

(33:36):
it in his hometown. He didn't have to do it
in la or New York. He could build his Wonderland,
his Zanna Do in Minneapolis and kind of create his
own world, and it created space for him to make
the music that he wanted to make. I want to
go back to something you said before, because I think
it's a really good analogy. You compared to Michael Jackson
to like the popular kid in school, and like the
cliche about those people is always that they ad just

(33:58):
or that they have a faciite odd of perfection and
and and and popularity that is hiding something darker, and
that there's something that that is sort of compensating for.
And when I look at this rivalry, I really kind
of think of it in those terms that I think
Prince was able to live honestly in a way in
his art in the eighties that Michael Jackson wasn't able

(34:21):
to do that. I think Michael Jackson was creating sort
of a version of himself everyone could love in the eighties,
whereas Prince was someone who this is who I am.
This is who I am, And I have contradictions, and
I have eccentricities, and there's things about me that you're
gonna love, and there's gonna be there's things about me
that you're not gonna get but this is who I am,

(34:41):
and I'm unapologetic about it. If you conduct your career
like that, in the short term, they're going to be
consequences of that, And for Prince there were. And this
is something I think again that gets forgotten about Prince,
you know, in light of his death, because Prince now
is again I think, one of the most revered, if
not the most revered musician of his generation. I mean,

(35:03):
everyone loves Prince, everyone respects his legacy. You know, no
one's gonna say anything bad about Prince, you know, at
this point. But there were long stretches of his career
where he was questioned, he was maligned, he was ignored.
Especially in the last half of his career. He put
a ton of music that people didn't really care about
it at all. I mean, it was my first impression

(35:24):
of Prince growing up in you know, the mid the
late nineties was you know, the artists formerly known as
print It as a punch line, really and I mean
he didn't have a top forty hit after, I think,
and so, you know, growing up in the sticks out
in in you know, New England, where weren't a lot
of record storts and stuff, I mean, if he wasn't
playing in the radio, you didn't really hear it. So
I didn't hear a lot of Prince music unless it
was at like, you know, a wedding or a dance

(35:46):
or something, and it was always sort of in retrospect,
played alongside like a Rick James song or like love
Shack or something like that. So it was it was interesting,
sort of my first impressions of him being this kind
of like strange, you know. I remember hearing Dan rather
like talk about like, you know, the artist Princess now
changed his amul unpronounceable symbol and just thinking what that
was this, which a lot of people laughed about that.

(36:07):
But there was also tied in with him wanting to
have creative independence from his record label. He was protesting
what he felt were unfair treatment, that he wanted to
own his own art basically, So even that was sort
of tied up in his sort of artistic journey at
the time, and all these things that made him difficult
when he was alive or alienated him from the public

(36:29):
at various points in his career, we now look back
on it and we're like, that's what makes him so cool.
It's like This is what's so great about him that
he was always his own man. He didn't care what
the consequence, where he didn't appear to care anyway, and
he was able to kind of win out in the end,
whereas Michael Jackson. There's this sort of weird undercurrent now

(36:50):
to everything that he did because you feel that Michael
Jackson was able to do these things because of the
public uh status that he had, his celebrity, and even
if he didn't know about it as a fan, there's
still some sort of connection that you feel to this.
And it's the most extreme example of it, maybe, but
it's a very kind of disturbing commentary on like the

(37:12):
cost of celebrity and our culture belief between the joy
we feel from the music and the whole the repulsion
we feel for what he apparently did is just so
huge that it's hard to wrap our minds, right. I
think that's the reason that it was just so you know, compartmentalized.
So if we're getting down to like making a case
for each person, is there a case you can make
from Michael Jackson at this point or is he just

(37:33):
automatically canceled? Do we just declare it's almost two I
mean his music and influence is part of the pop DNA.
I mean I think that you can't you can't turn
that back. I think, I mean, look at so many
stars from Britney Spears, Bruno Mars, just Temberl. I mean, Jesus,
you just keep going. Uh, it's that is tough. And
then plus our own personal memories. I mean, everybody has

(37:56):
at least one Michael Jackson's song that makes you think
of a personal moment, and it you know, it's it's
it's a wedding, it's a school day, it's it's this
or that, and it's inextricably bound with popular culture. And
I I obviously, yes, now it's very very tainted. Um,
I don't I don't really know how to reconcile. I
don't think there is a simple answer. Yeah, and I

(38:16):
I agree with you. I think in practical terms, like
you said, he is so ingrained in popular music that
if you're going to cancel Michael Jackson, do you cancel
Bruno Mars, do you cancel Justin Timberlake? Do you cancel
any of the dozens of pop stars that have made
sound alike songs to Michael Jackson. That a clear lineage

(38:37):
to what he's doing the weekend, you know, all those
weekend hits that sound like Michael Jackson songs. I think
what you do is you just make sure that you
don't whitewash the story. You know. It's like this guy,
he's a part of America, he's a part of American culture,
but we also know other parts of him and that
should be also represented, and when we talk about him
that we don't just bury the other parts of it.

(38:58):
I mean, in a way, it's it's sort of easier
just to just pretend that this person was never a
part of our history. But that would be a lie.
You just have to try to tell the full history
with someone like that. If we talk about Prince, that
the pro Prince argument, I mean, we've kind of already
made it. I mean again, I feel like he is
the prototype of the modern pop star, or at least
the idealized version of like what every pop star in

(39:21):
their mind wants to be. If Michael Jackson won the
you know, contemporary cultural influence argument of you know, eighties
and nineties, I I think that Prince will absolutely win
the long game for long term cultural influence that you know,
so many artists, the ones you mentioned, I mean, Money Outcast,
Frank Ocean all seemed to be following in that, you know,
in that more greater creative freedom, just sort of following

(39:44):
your own muse sort of type. And also, and maybe
this is because I live in you know, a coastal city.
Maybe this is age group. I don't know. I feel
like I don't know many younger people that are grown
up saying, you know, oh my god, I want to
be I'm just like Michael. I love Michael Jackson. I
but you see Prince. I mean there's you know, my
cousins or young kids have like Prince patches on their jeans,

(40:06):
jackets going to high school and stuff. And he against
following in sort of the Bowie mode of like, no,
it's cool to be different, it's cool to be who
I am, it's cool to be unique. And I think
that that message is going to carry on forever. I
think that that's really something that's gonna I mean, it's
a crude way. I have been age really well, and
may I think so too. I mean, it's interesting. I
think I think what Michael Jackson Prince did is that

(40:29):
I think they both try to ignore genre tags. Especially
the type of genre distinctions that get imposed on black
artists that like, if you're black, you're automatically grouped into
like the R and B category, And especially in the eighties,
and like how Michael Jackson in Prints both made overt
moves to making like rock songs, you know, like Michael

(40:50):
Jackson would beat it, you know, having Eddie Van Hill
and play on that song. I mean, that's like a
rock and roll song, you know, by any definition, Like
if if a white person were singing that song, it
would have been playing on f M rock station in
the in the eighties. Same with Prince, like Let's Go
Crazy is unquestionably a rock and roll songs guitar songs ever.
But I think Prince was the most successful at being

(41:12):
an artist that would not be confined by any classification whatsoever.
That and like when he died, a genre anything, and
what was amazing after he died. You know, a lot
of great rock stars and pop stars have passed away
in the last several years, but with Prince even more
than David Bowie. I think Bowie had a similar sort
of reach across many different demographic groups. But you really

(41:35):
saw all kinds of people paying tribute to Prince and
kind of paying tribute to him in their own way.
Like there were guitar aficionados who worshiped him as a
guitar player, you know, there were sould music officionados who
worshiped him as like one of the great like purveyors
of of R and B and soul music in history.
There were pop fans talking about him as a pop
star that you know, all the way down the line,

(41:58):
and it just showed the many, many different ways that
you could appreciate him and have an entry point into
his music, even though he was working at times in
a very sort of narrow way. It seemed like during
his career, like in a way that it seemed almost
selfish at that he wasn't trying to why aren't you
making pop hits? Why don't you making these mass appeal records?

(42:18):
And he's like, no, I'm gonna do my own thing.
And then you know, thirty years later, people look back
and they go, he kind of did a little bit
of everything. So it's like, I really like this record.
I like this record and it kind of has a
little bit for everybody, which is kind of amazing how
that worked out. Um, But yeah, it's the wisdom of
following your own mus versus trying to please everybody, you know.
I think that's what this story is ultimately. And I

(42:39):
also feel like, you know, if we're going to make
a case for like them coexisting, it's how their stories
complement each other and that they each other inspire each other,
and that they came from you know. Again, they were
very similar beginnings, very similar beginnings. They went in very
different ways, but they kind of showed the full spectrum
of how you could act as an artist and as
a human. Dan as he it's a human being, uh,

(43:03):
in the best ways, in the most monstrous ways, the
full range of human expression a man. Well, it's always
fun talking with you, Jordan. Talking about Robbert is always
fun talking Thank of you at home, Thank you all
for listening to this episode, and we'll talk to you
guys next week. Rivals is a production of I Heart Radio.

(43:27):
The executive producers are Shawn ty Toone and Noel Brown.
The supervising producers are Taylor Scogne and Tristan McNeil. I'm
Jordan's roun Talk. I'm Stephen Hyden. If you like what
you heard, please subscribe to leave us a review. For
more podcast for my heart Radio, visit the i heart
Radio app, Apple Podcasts, or ever you listen to your
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