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.

Mike Alleyne

Prof. Mike Alleyne teaches in the Department of Recording Industry at Middle Tennessee State University. He is the author of The Encyclopedia of Reggae: The Golden Age of Roots Reggae (2012), contributing editor of Rhythm Revolution: A Chronological Anthology of American Popular Music – 1960s to 1980s (2015), and coauthor of the forthcoming The Purple Papers: Prince, An Interdisciplinary Life. His forthcoming book The Essential Hendrix is due for publication in 2019. Mike’s articles have been published in Popular Music & Society, the Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Rock Music Studies, the Journal on the Art of Record Production, the award-winning Grove Dictionary of American Music, Popular Music History, Social and Economic Studies, Small Axe and Billboard magazine.

In addition to numerous book chapter contributions encompassing popular music, Mike has lectured in the Caribbean, Sweden, Germany and the U.K. and has also presented papers on popular music internationally. He has provided expert witness consultation on copyright infringement, and is a songwriter/publisher member of both ASCAP and PRS.