As an undergraduate student back in the 1980s, I made the controversial decision to do my dissertation on the pop star Princeby Sarah Niblock / May 28, 2017 / Leave a comment
“I’ve never been a Prince fan but after hearing this panel discussion I am so inspired!” Tom the audio-visual technician, 24, wasn’t even a glint in his parents’ eye when the star donned his shiny trench coat and sat astride a pumping motorcycle.
But after the first day’s deliberations at Purple Reign, the world’s first interdisciplinary academic conference on the legendary musician’s life and legacy, Tom’s completely sold.
He’s not alone. More than 60 researchers presented their findings on everything from Prince’s hit records to his high heels over two densely-packed days and nights of deliberations. Even Dez Dickerson, Prince’s one-time lead guitarist from The Revolution, rocked up and sprinkled purple stardust over the event, jointly hosted by University of Salford and Middle Tennessee State University.
Eyebrows are often raised when pop culture phenomena, be they musicians or TV series, attract critical scrutiny. People may scoff at the idea of a group of indulged academics squandering bloated expense budgets on pet pursuits. But in the coffee breaks as we exchanged email addresses, it was clear how many had crossed the globe at their own expense.
As an undergraduate student back in the 1980s, I made the controversial decision to do my dissertation on the pop star Prince.
While my classmates pondered pressing questions of political economy, media ethics and regulation, I burnt the midnight oil wearing out VHS tapes of Purple Rain. A part-time MA and PhD on the star followed, done in the evenings and weekends while juggling work and toddlers.
Prince offered me a lifeline
Why put myself through this? Because as a young working class female growing up in a depressed northern town, Prince offered a lifeline; the inspiration to crash through any barriers. His own inauspicious and troubled background is a masterclass in overcoming racism, trauma and bullying over his height to achieve success.
I spoke to many others who, like me, struggled to find academic publishers willing to make their scholarship permanent. Yet their work is no less empirically rich, methodologically-sound or relevant than studies of Mozart. Their interrogations spanned musicology, philosophy, psychoanalysis, visual culture, gender, ethnicity and sexuality.
The topics were tangible, not esoteric: His connections with black labour activism and…