You can’t have a conversation about music in the 80s without bringing up both Prince and Michael Jackson. In terms of pop, the two practically defined the era and irrevocably altered the course of modern music. But with such dominant forces comes a bit of friction. There was definitely a bit of a “there can only be one”/”this town’s too small for the two of us” dynamic between The King of Pop and The Purple One.
The two icons were parallel throughout their respective careers. Prince debuted with For You in 1978, MJ debuted as a solo act the following year with Off The Wall. Prince released 1999, MJ countered with Thriller. This provoked Purple Rain, and so on, and so on…
This back and forth, however, was not limited to the charts. As you will soon find out, it got petty and at one point, downright deadly. Here’s a history lesson on Prince and Michael Jackson’s legendary rivalry.
“Bad” by Michael Jackson was meant to a duet with Prince, until he heard the first line…
Lesser known fact, “Bad” was initially to be a duet between Prince and Michael Jackson. And what an epic showdown it would have been. Picture it now. The vocals. The instrumentality. The faux masculinity from knife fight dance choreography. That was reportedly until Prince learned of the first line to be lobbed from MJ’s corner:
Obviously this wasn’t going to fly with The Purple One. Prince also declined Michael’s invitation for “We Are The World”. He’s consistent if nothing else.
When the two were pulled on-stage to perform with James Brown, MJ relished an incident that humiliated Prince
Again, in the thick of an insanely epic talent collaboration. During a James Brown concert, Michael Jackson was invited on stage and unsurprisingly killed it. He then leaned into Brown’s ear and dared him to invite Prince up to “try follow up” what just happened. Prince accepted the challenge and held his own, but as fate would have it, fell into the crowd when he leaned against a prop lamppost. MJ mocked him tirelessly:
Yes it was (4:46 for the money shot).
Prince tried to run over Michael Jackson after the James Brown incident
Following the rare occasion of embarrassment on the part of The Purple One apparently tried to run over MJ with his limousine, according to equally legendary producer Quincy Jones, anyway. In Jones’ own words:
MJ would comment on Prince’s temperament years after the events surrounding the James Brown incident:
Prince bass-ed all over MJ’s face, and he was not cool with it
A strangely sexually charged moment of dominance akin to that found in nature (and prison), Prince swung his hips and slapped the bass hard in Michael’s face. This was something that probably could be written off as showmanship if it weren’t for the fact it was so damn deliberate and so damn public. MJ was quite upset by the gesture according to Will.i.am, and is quoted to have said the following over breakfast the next day:
It’s also worth noting Michael Jackson made a habit of rocking up to multiple Prince shows to study him with a competitive eye. Got to keep your enemies close, I guess.
At the end of the day, it probably wasn’t entirely hostile. When astronomical talents such as Prince and Michael Jackson exist in the same time and space, it’s easy for comparisons to be drawn. And on their end, it’s even easier to feel frustrated with said comparisons. Both parties worked tirelessly to strike out as individuals only to be lumped into a single existence by others without a second thought.
Michael Jackson was the phenomenal vocalist.
Prince was the phenomenal multi-instrumentalist.
Both deserve equal respect – hard-earned and in their own right.