Glam Slammed: Visual Identity in Prince’s Lovesexy

by Kirsty Fairclough & Mike Alleyne

Sign O’The Times signalled the beginning of a period where Prince wrestled with moral and spiritual questions; good versus evil, God versus Satan, pleasure versus virtue and the release of 1988’s Lovesexy marked its full arrival.

The central tenet of the album, the battle between God (good) and evil (the Devil, personified as “Spooky Electric”), which largely seems to be an internalised moral struggle, is introduced early in the album. “Lovesexy” as a conceptual framework is never made fully clear, but it seems to be a state of spiritual contentment that fuses a love of God and a connection with humanity via sexuality. Lovesexy presented this set of themes as a postmodern challenge to grand narratives, the look and feel of the album operates to explore these themes in a pop culture package that is brimming with creativity, boldness, colour and exuberance.

 The paper also explores the controversies surround the Lovesexy album cover. It references the historical roles and functions of the album cover, Prince’s status as a visual icon on his cover art, and comparative perspectives on his nine preceding album covers. Moreover, the analysis incorporates the mainstream cover norms at the time of Lovesexy’s release, photographer Jean-Baptiste Mondino’s collaborative approach to the project with Prince, and ways in which negative critical response to the resulting art contributed to its relative commercial failure. The assessment interrogates multiple possible readings of the cover and its implications for Prince’s visual presentation on later releases.

 This paper will explore the visual presentation of such themes through an analysis of the album cover, music videos and art direction as part of the evolution of Prince’s visual identity and will consider Lovesexy’s visual style as Prince’s personal mythos.  Lovesexy is one of Prince’s career high’s, a landmark album that displays an artist at the peak of his creative powers using philosophical constructs both visually and aurally in a way rarely seen in the mainstream. Thirty years since its release, it sounds and looks more exciting than ever.

Kirsty Fairclough

Dr. Kirsty Fairclough is Associate Dean: Research and Innovation in the School of Arts and Media at the University of Salford, UK. She is a writer and speaker on popular culture and is the co-editor of The Music Documentary: Acid Rock to Electropop (Routledge), The Arena Concert: Music, Media and Mass Entertainment (Bloomsbury) and Music/Video: Forms, Aesthetics, Media (Bloomsbury), and co-author of the forthcoming The Purple Papers: Prince, An Interdisciplinary Life.Her work has been published in Senses of Cinema, Feminist Media Studies, SERIES and Celebrity Studies journals.

Kirsty has lectured internationally on popular culture, most notably at the Royal College of Music, Stockholm, the University of Copenhagen, Second City, Chicago, Columbia College, Chicago, Middle Tennessee State University, Bucknell University, Pennsylvania and Unisinos, Brazil.

Kirsty recently developed the University of Salford Popular Culture Conference series which has included “I’ll See You Again in 25 Years: Twin Peaks and Generations of Cult Television”,Mad Men: The Conference“, and in May 2017, “Purple Reign: An Interdisciplinary Conference on the Life and Legacy of Prince“.