Prince, The Awkward Sex Symbol

True, the man had natural sex appeal. But he didn’t wield it with confidence. More often, he was surprised by it
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True, the man had natural sex appeal. But he didn’t wield it with confidence. More often, he was surprised by it

Has any pop star radiated sex like Prince? The Purple One inhabited a hyper-sexual image from the get-go, and even his album titles drip with carnality: Dirty Mind, Lovesexy, Come. This might lead to the misimpression that he was some sort of dick-swinging casanova. True, the man had natural sex appeal. But he didn’t wield it with confidence. More often, he was surprised by it.

Prince never bragged about his sexual conquests. He only occasionally bragged about his prowess, generally jokingly (“Le Grind”) but sometimes not (“Come”). He never sounded jaded and bored, never generalized about the shit girls did and didn’t do. He was always happy to surrender to his partner, and when he did, he shrieked and screamed and convulsed like he hadn’t fucked in years. Listen to the noises he makes on “Do Me Baby”, or “International Lover”, or the wonderful climax to “Darling Nikki”, where he sounds absolutely overjoyed to have a new booty call. This is not a man who took sex for granted. He sounded happy just to be having it.

The singer initiated sex in only a minority of his songs, generally novelty-leaning goofs like “Jack U Off” or “Head”. More often he found himself seduced out of the blue, often in absurd scenarios that exist only in teen fantasies. All Darling Nikki does to get Prince in bed is ask “how’d you like to waste some time?”; I don’t think even the horniest fifteen-year-old would accept such a proposition from a random lady masturbating in a hotel lobby. And in “The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker”, all Prince needs to do is order a fruit cocktail to make waitress Dorothy invite him back to her place. Or how about “Head”, where a bride-to-be—on her way to be married!—proposes to give him head? These songs make the sleaziest cable-guy porn plots look like courtship.

Maybe this was because Prince was a decidedly non-extroverted guy. Most of his interviews are cryptic shit delivered in a hushed voice that doesn’t sound like it really wants to be talking. When he did a Reddit AMA, he answered exactly one question: an obtuse inquiry about audio quality, to which he responded with a link to an equally obtuse article. This could be attributed to a deliberate mystique. But the Prince discography paints a picture of a pretty awkward dude.

“Kiss”—the ur-Prince sex jam, and ground zero for the raciest 2000s post-Mouseketeer pop—smacks of desperation. He throws all standards out the window, because he just wants to fuck someone, anyone; it’s hard to interpret the spasmodic screeches at the end of the song as anything but the wails of someone dying of “thirst.” Ditto “If I Was Your Girlfriend”, where he wishes he was his crush’s buddy so they could be just a little more intimate. (This gay writer has seen too many bros pat each other on the ass and felt the pain.) “Could we just hang out, I mean, could we go to a movie,” he stammers—then a scream. This isn’t a scream of pleasure but of self-admonishment, like he’s slapping himself to keep from fucking up any further.

Nowhere is Prince’s awkwardness more clear than “Cindy C”, a cut from the fabled Black Album (nigh-impossible to find, but on par with Purple Rain or any of his classics). The six-minute jam climaxes with a muffled Prince screaming “DON’T YOU WANT TO PLAY WITH ME?” as Cindy C’s voice echoes from the other room—“just a minute!” She’s probably just going to the bathroom or something, but anyone who’s been in the throes of a crush and presumed the worst at the slightest hint of rejection knows exactly what His Purpleness is talking about.

Listening to hyper-sexual pop can be alienating to those of us who don’t lead as active sex lives as we might want to. Only some among us can relate to Drake or Future or even Rivers Cuomo being tired of sex, having partners come and go like it’s nothing. More of us can relate to the ecstasy of having a great fuck after a long dry spell. More still can relate to being desperate, being frustrated, being rejected, being awkward, being sick with love. And that’s why Prince was a sex symbol for the people—someone just as easy to be in awe of as to relate to.