The funny thing about an artist’s mystique is that it only works if everyone around them buys into it. And Prince seems especially skilled at keeping up appearances and maintaining an aura of implausible oddness and secrecy. There are no “normal” Prince stories out there; even when he asks a friend to do something relatively common with him, like go roller skating, he doesn’t show up until after 2 a.m. and comes wielding a custom pair of clear, light-up skates. The more you dig into Prince and his life, the more it appears that he is truly is the most eccentric artist of his time.
On the rare occasion that he grants a journalist an interview, Prince doesn’t allow them to bring devices of any kind to the conversation: no cameras, no cell phones, no microphones, not even a self-destructing tape recorder. These challenging reporting restrictions often find their way into the narrative of the piece, as the journalist attempts to explain why they can only quote Prince in short sentences rather than capturing his whole line of thought. Add to it the fact that Prince ensures that every aspect of his meetings with press are downright bizarre—phone calls from numbers that don’t show up on caller ID, movie-villain-worthy locations (a secret lair in the Caribbean?), last-minute changes of plan, late-night interview times—and it’s as if journalists have no choice but to buy into the narrative and continue to weave the tale of the ever-mysterious Prince.
Even his recent appearance on New Girl played into this magical spell he casts, with the show’s main character screaming and fainting in his presence before being swept into an ornate kitchen and living room to eat pancakes and play ping-pong. But that show also seemed like a turning point for Prince; it was clear he went into the taping with his tongue planted firmly in cheek, and he appeared the enjoy the send-up of his persona.
Last night, when Prince declared a “takeover” of the Arsenio Hall Show and appeared on most of the one-hour late-night program, his aura was perforated even more cleanly. The show began with a sit-down interview between Prince and Arsenio Hall, and it was an especially straight-faced talk between the shy pop star and the giddy late-night host. Arsenio joked more than once that he might have to edit certain parts out—it was clear that Prince and his people had asked for approval before the interview aired—but by the time they moved into an audience Q&A it seemed that Prince was game for pretty much any question people could throw at him.
Rather than an enigma, Prince appeared shy, gentle, and thoughtful. Here are a few revelations from Prince’s appearance on the show:
1. He watches more TV than you’d expect
Though Prince pretended not to know what an infomercial was, he clearly keeps the television on his living room. Just the other day he caught Purple Rain when it was on TV, and sat down long enough to watch the scene where he performs “Take Me With U.” He also tried to watch a singing competition show (either The Voice or American Idol, he couldn’t remember which) with his pal Esperanza Spalding, but they both realized that they couldn’t concentrate on the songs because they were rearranging the music in their head.
2. He doesn’t do chores, but he does cook
“But only one thing: omelets,” he said, joking that “All my friends have high cholesterol.”
3. He’s savvy about current music trends
“We live in a singles-driven market,” he reflected. “But I come from the old school and making albums, and that’s what I love… One of the things we try to do is wait until we have other songs that go together with our favorites. That’s why it takes a long time to come out with albums these days. Because, you know, not being under contract, there’s no rush to do anything.”
4. He’s not entirely anti-internet (he joked he wants to start “Princetagram”), but he is concerned about how artists will make money
When asked about his love-hate relationship with technology, Prince replied, “It’s a double-edged sword. A lot of artists aren’t getting paid full-scale for their art, and because of the internet and downloading it’s kind of like a black hole, and it’s hard to audit, it’s hard to get accounting. It’s not that it’s just about the money, but it’s about justice and fairness. And when people say that they love you and respect you but at the same time take 80 percent of your earnings, and then expect you to fix your own communities—and they’ll probably edit all of this out—that’s the sharp part of the sword. And we’re at the wrong end of it right now. Eventually, with courageous people going out there and actually saying something and standing up for it, I think we’ll get some balance.”
5. He claims he doesn’t look back, but he has poignant things to say about his trajectory
“When you’re 20 years old, you’re looking for the ledge. You want to see how far you can push everything. As an artist I went there just to find it. And then you make changes. You know, 30 years ago—there’s a lot of things I don’t do now that I did 30 years ago. And there’s some things I still do.”
6. He wants to be a teacher
When asked what he would do if he wasn’t Prince, he replied, “When I was 16 I was completely broke and needed to get a job, so I got the yellow pages out and I couldn’t find one thing that I wanted to do. So I decided I was going to push as hard as I could to be a musician, and win at it.” After a pause, he returned to the question later in the interview, adding, “I think I’d want to teach. There’s a lot of fine musicians in the group right now, and I’m learning from them, so as much as I’d like to teach, I also like to learn.”
Watch the full Arsenio Hall interview with Prince here:
And here’s Prince and 3rdEyeGirl playing a new song, “FUNKNROLL”:
More videos of Prince’s appearance are up on Arsenio Hall’s website or you can watch the full episode below (while it lasts!).