Prince’s complicated lesbian history

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Prince died today at the age of 57, and you’ve probably already noticed how many queer women, among the hordes of others, are in mourning. The gender-bending icon and ally has long been a figure of celebrating uniqueness, difference and ultimately a non-hetero/binary identity. He has also, however, had an interesting history with lesbians.

Photo of PRINCE and Wendy MELVOIN and WENDY AND LISAPhoto by Ebet Roberts/Redferns

In his 1979 song “Bambi,” Prince sang about converting a gay woman:

I knew from the start
That I loved you with all my heart
But you were untrue.
You had another lover and she looked just like you
Bambi, can’t you understand?
Bambi, it’s better with a man

A few years later, he began working with frequent collaborators and (now) out lesbians Wendy & Lisa (aka Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman), who were in his band The Revolution in the early 1980s. They were well-known for their Sapphic exchange at the beginning of the song “Computer Blue”:

Wendy? / Yes Lisa / Is the water warm enough? / Yes Lisa / Shall we begin? / Yes Lisa /

Together with Prince, they accepted the Oscar for Best Soundtrack for the movie version of Purple Rain in 1984.

A few years ago, Wendy and Lisa spoke with Out about Prince’s queer vibes:

Lisa: He was little and kinda prissy and everything. But he’s so not gay.

Wendy: He’s a girl, for sure, but he’s not gay. He looked at me like a gay woman would look at another woman.

Lisa: Totally. He’s like a fancy lesbian.

Wendy: I remember being at that “Sexuality” video shoot and him on stage with that little black jacket and that tie thing around his neck and his black pants with white buttons on the side. And we looked at each other for the first time and I thought, “Oh, I could so fall in love with that girl easy.” It doesn’t matter what sexuality, gender you are. You’re in the room with him and he gives you that look and you’re like, “Okay, I’m done. It’s over.” He’s Casanova. He’s Valentino.

(Fun fact: Wendy is now married to another Lisa—Lisa Cholodenko.)

Perhaps Prince truly did see himself as a lesbian because in 2013, Prince’s track “Da Bourgeoisie” had him returning to the same storyline as “Bambi,” but with a cheating angle that had him on the other end of the deception:

Yesterday I saw you kickin’ it with another girl
You was all wrapped up around her waist
Last time I checked, you said you left the dirty world
Well it appears that wasn’t the case
Hey, I see you undercover like the CIA
Snatching little wigs from another bouquet
that’s French I guess a man’s only good for a rainy day
Maybe you’re just another bearded lady at the cabaret 

Nevertheless, many queer women artists have been influenced by Prince, and proudly so. Out musician Me’Shell Ndegeocello is a huge Prince fan, so big that she once played entire sets of Prince covers at her live shows.

Made famous by Sinead O’Connor (a queer icon in her own right), “Nothing Compares 2 U” was actually written and composed by Prince. Brandi Carlile does a stellar cover of the song.

Sandra Bernhard shared her slightly NSFW “Little Red Corvette” tribute on Twitter today, and it’s quite mesmerizing.

Ultimately it did not seem that Prince identified as queer, but he had a certain sensibility that had lesbian and bisexual women drawn to his artistry. Rest in peace, Prince. You inevitably helped pushed the world into embracing a kind of queer aesthetic that existed on the frays of heteronormativity in the music industry.

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