Michael vs. Prince: Was the Rivalry Real?


I’m sure those of us who have been around long enough are, at best, vaguely familiar with the relationship between THE KING (of Pop) and Prince and their so-called friendly rivalry. I’m not well acquainted with the story of how everything began, so,  I wanted to do some deeper research and provide a little more insight into the feud between the two biggest icons of the 80’s.

Now, if there are any of you who have some doubts about whether or not the various fiascos were publicity stunts, you might be surprised to know that they were real. In fact, it was more a friendly bout than a feud, where an over competitive Prince threw most of the (known) ‘blows’. Sure both were competitive chart dominating figures, but evidence suggests Prince was the slightly more competitive of the two.

First off, it’s no secret that MJ and Prince share interesting similarities. So much so, the media just couldn’t resist putting the two head to head, even if they showed no signs of being competitive with each other. Both were born in the summer of 1958, had similar styles of music, dominated album charts (Michael with Thriller, Prince with Purple Rain), both had a mysterious demeanor and did their best to retract themselves from the media spotlight (Michael’s safe haven: Neverland, Prince’s safe haven: Paisley Park); which led to raised eyebrows at their personal lives (Michael’s legal mishaps, Princes’ religious orientation), and both had problematic relationships with their record labels (Michael and Sony’s Mottola -the- Demon, Prince’s Warner Bros. feud) in which they each tried to protract themselves.

Similarities aside, they weren’t enough to immediately produce a friendly bond.

Once Michael and Prince both knew what the media was up to, it’s evident Michael tried his best to make them look stupid by attempting to show the world he and Prince were buddies- or at least on friendly terms. Unfortunately, things didn’t exactly happen that way. The more Michael reached out, the more Prince drew back.

Those familiar with the ‘We Are The World’ incident  are aware of Prince’s arrogance. Prince said one thing and did another. This particular incident occurred when Michael was gathering the all-star cast and, naturally, invited Prince to sing on 1985’s We Are The World. To make a long story short, Prince confirmed he would go, but come day for everyone to sing along, Prince was a no-show. The reason behind his no-show- lyrical differences. However, if you care to give him the benefit of the doubt, he did contribute a little somethin’ to the overall charity album.

Then there was that incident that could have produced possibly the biggest duet of the late 80’s. The bad ‘Bad’ incident. Once again, had it not been for Prince’s cockiness, the two could have really had something there. I’m talking about the ‘Bad’ duet that never was. Legend has it, Michael intended for ‘Bad’ to be a duet between him and Prince. The reason that no such thing happened? Prince told Michael the song would be a hit without him (which it was). It was later circulated Prince stepped out of the chance to duet with Michael on the song because it wasn’t exactly his taste. (Such an accurate, but sorry excuse, wouldn’t you agree?)

In the face of evidence, it looks as if Prince liked the idea of a rivalry between he and MJ more than MJ did. It also seems all Michael’s reach outs were in vain. The behavior says it all. But when the relationship of Michael and Prince was brought up to one of Prince’s former band member’s, Bobby Z, Michael and Prince “got along fine.”

Michael drops his paddle and holds his hands up in front of his face so the ball won’t hit him. Michael walks out with his bodyguard, and Prince starts strutting around like a rooster. ‘Did you see that? He played like Helen Keller.'”

Of course, as shown by the quote, not every attempt to make friendly went as awry as did this ping-pong playing pursuit (say that three times fast). Not only did they get to quarrel face to face during a ping-pong game, but another band member of Prince’s tells of times when MJ and Prince would shoot hoops together. In thanks for occasional friendly encounters of one-on-one, Prince and his crew received packages from MJJ Productions of things Michael knew Prince was interested in.

Then, almost out of the blue, we get mixed emotions regarding Prince’s 2004 album ‘Musicology.’ On a track titled ‘Life O’ the Party,’ some interesting, attention drawing lyrics tease “My voice is getting higher and eye ain’t never had my nose done/That’s the other guy.”

Sounds like someone felt like rekindling an old flame. That piece of song struck many as plain ol’ disrespectful. You never hear about Michael shooting Prince down publicly (or anyone for that matter except those who’ve had it comin’), let alone on an album!

Sure Prince was getting his laughs in, but while Prince was starting many, if not all, of the fights, was Michael secretly waiting on his chance to act out in revenge?

That, as many of us already know, was not the case. In fact, Michael once admitted he didn’t even understand the concept of revenge. So, for Michael to lash out at Prince because he isn’t making any attempts to be friendly with him, would by no means get Michael riled up. Michael even showed interest in Prince’s music when he was an up-and-coming act, and attended backstage performances of Purple Rain.

“Michael Jackson even showed up to 2 Purple Rain shows backstage.  Although Michael Jackson did want to work with Prince a few years later, Prince declined due to lyrical differences.”-Bobby Z

 ” I would give Michael copies of the magazines and he would see certain people in the book and ask me lots of questions about the artists he was interested in. And that’s how he was introduced to Prince. After that, I started to let Michael listen to some of the Prince music I had and he was intrigued. -Cynthia Horner

Even after Prince’s 2004 lash out against Michael, you can bet the ‘rivalry’ was still going, even if neither made an attempt to ‘get’ the other in some time. Of course, I’m referring to the story Kenny Ortega recounted during the hype of This Is It, where Michael expresses to Kenny how God works through him.

“In fact, as the production got under way, it quickly became clear that Jackson’s creative ambitions for the concerts were beyond anything he’d ever attempted. With the budget already past $24 million, Jackson told his team he wanted to recreate one of the world’s largest waterfalls — Victoria Falls in southern Africa — on the stage. “I was ready to jump off the balcony of my office,” says Randy Phillips, president of the concert promotion firm AEG Live. “We went and met with Michael, and [director] Kenny [Ortega] said, ‘Michael, you’ve got to stop. We’ve got an incredible show, we don’t need any more vignettes.’ Michael said, ‘But Kenny, God channels this through me at night. I can’t sleep because I’m so supercharged.’ Kenny said, ‘But Michael, we have to finish. Can’t God take a vacation?’ Without missing a beat, Michael said, ‘You don’t understand — if I’m not there to receive these ideas, God might give them to Prince.’ ”

Despite their past, Prince was in no way hell-bent to keep the quarrel ongoing. As recently as last year, Prince had been performing renditions of DSTYGE and Dancing Machine in honor of his late “playmate.”

So, the question still remains: was their rival born from naturally competitive personalities or was this just a mere publicity stunt?

I think it’s safe to say that everything was in the name of fun. Though both competitive, neither took the rivalry thing too far (although those lyrics were a close call on Prince’s part), and no hard feelings were established. It’s even been rumored that Will.I.Am, who worked with Michael on Thriller 25, was the bridge between the reconciliations and at-last admitted friendship between the two back in 2008. (I’m not so sure there was anything to claim to have fixed.)

Whatever the tale, Prince and MJ were friends. Some may go as far as to say ‘friendly rivals,’ but I guess only Prince really knows for sure what kind of relationship the two shared. Either way, they’ve both acknowledged their respect for one another.


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