Purple Women: Madonna & Prince's Anti-'Love Song'


'Purple Women' is a limited tribute series honoring the women who made music and history with Prince during his lifetime. To follow this series and check out the who's who of women on the roster, be sure to visit the introductory page for further information.  

According to legions of fans and foes, Madonna should have a restraining order out on her, ceasing and desisting her from any and all of Prince's music catalog. This especially so after her lackluster (and heavily petitioned) performance of "Nothing Compares 2 U" at the Billboard Music Awards back in May. While I'm allergic to petitions that overreact, I do agree that the performance, right down to its song choice (it's criminal that Madonna missed her chance to do "Cream"!), was a tragic display --- and this is coming from someone who loves her some Madge.

If you know me you know I come from a place of constructive criticism when it comes to Madonna's ability to be *ahem* excessive, because there is such a thing as being so open minded that your brain falls out. But since Madonna ceases to conform or mature with any ounce of subtlety, the complaints towards her were futile at best, especially those that waxed and whined that Madonna didn't have a right to get up on stage and honor Prince.

You can drum up petitions on Change.org or write think-pieces to your hearts content, but aside from sharing a birth year, singular unique birth names, and '80s pop hierarchy Madonna and Prince clocked in studio time together, coming together --- not in the biblical sense --- on Madonna's 1989 album, Like A Prayer. So yeah, those bragging rights to be co-signed by Prince? Madonna's got 'em.

Whilst going unaccredited for playing rhythm guitar on the sophisti-pop, "Keep It Together" and the hit title track (yep, that squealing guitar at the intro is Prince himself!), Prince's name was front and center on "Love Song". Sandwiched between the funky feminist strut of "Express Yourself" and the snide Sean Penn swan song, "'Til Death Do Us Part", "Love Song" was the accumulation of Madonna and Prince's efforts during their recording sessions at the Paisley Park studios.

Whether they swapped bodily fluids or were collaborating because their agents thought it'd be a good idea, the combination of Prince and Madonna in 1989 was well, orgasmic (sorry) and a smart idea.

Here you had two artists in the prime of their careers who were both known for pushing the envelope all the way off the table with their provocative and controversial aesthetics, and they were going to combine all of that fervor and talent on one, single production. Even better were the adjustments the two made for each other to concoct this. Madonna was attempting the rare act of allowing someone to share duet space who shone with a similar pop mega wattage as her. Prince, on the other hand, was going to be working with a woman who matched him in sly and salacious attitude. Clearly, their union was a precious moment for pop music.


 "Love Song" often doesn't get a fair shake because well, it didn't live up to expectations. I mean, your hopes are set pretty damn high right when you see their names scrunched together on the title line. You expect excellence of the highest caliber with this 'promise'. Yet, when you actually lend an ear to "Love Song", you become disoriented, your face becomes fixed in a quizzical stare, and at the fade out you're like...this is it? This is what came from a meeting of two elite musical minds? This is what y'all really came up with in the studio?


Look, "Love Song" isn't a bad song (I've heard worst) and over the years I've warmed up to it since Like A Prayer is my favorite Madonna album, and the album where I truly believe she began her grandest era, the 1990s. But I understand why even in its unconventional nature it wasn't issued as a single as it really does nothing for both entertainers, it just indulges in and meanders around the idea, confirming that these two aren't exactly compatible like one desires them to be.

"Love Song" is very "Prince-y" --- you wouldn't even know Madonna was on it if it didn't state it so on the album sleeve --- and to be fair, Prince at his worst is interesting and worth taking time out for, especially when he's smirking and wrapping his wry wit around each syllable and turn of phrase. The song adopts a similar sparse sonic bed a la "Sign 'O' The Times", this to draw attention to the nuanced blending of his and Madonna's voices and the oblong, stacked verses. "Love Song" never falls into commercial appeal like The Bangles' "Manic Monday" nor does it raise an eyebrow over its scandalous innuendo like Sheena Easton's "Sugar Walls", it's subtle, impromptu, dreamlike, and maybe that is its strange beauty. 

For Madonna, "Love Song" fits within Like A Prayer's frame of highlighting her maturation and newfound regard to experiment and evolve on her sound. Though Prince doesn't leave much room for Madonna to breathe singular (he does tend to overpower, remember...), but when you listen to it among songs like "Til Death Do Us Part" and "Oh Father", "Love Song" makes sense as the album was conceived to clear the air about Madonna's divorce from Penn, and she had tears flowing and fists raised, turning her pain and anguish into an art form. The chorus states it clear: "this is not a love song", it's a song to call out liars, it's a song about not having the patience or the time for raggedy fuckbois who whisper sour-breath nothings in her ears. Though Madonna has recently denied the rampant abuse she received from Penn during their relationship, she's pretty aware here that she doesn't want another relationship where she feels like she's trying to engage with a toxic two-faced bully.  

So why is "Love Song" so disliked, so forgotten? Maybe that's just me thinking so, because it's the weakest link on Like A Prayer for me, and because I can be bitchy about songs that have great elements that fail to come together. I'm also a bit puzzled over the notion that Madonna once divulged that her time in the studio with Prince bore many fruits, but "Love Song" was the one she liked the best, leading one to ponder about the discarded material --- and Madonna's taste at best. 

Then again, Prince and Madonna's thorny timeline of their friendship might have spurned the forgetfulness that these two chummed it up in the studio many moons ago. 

Fans of both are quick to spout that in the 1990s Prince and Madonna had a brief falling out when some not-so-nice words were exchanged between them. Since Madonna doesn't balm matters with her obtuseness to race and Black Americans in general, protective Prince fans weren't here for her 'invading' yet another space of a Black icon. The reality of the matter is that Prince and Madonna quietly made amends, raising the last white flag in 2015 when Prince threw Madonna a private concert at Paisley Park for her and nearly 100 of her touring crew after her stop in town. According to reports, Madonna sat rapt with attention during the performance, with Prince being his ever charming self. 

Question is, would an sworn enemy throw a private concert for their foe? 

I doubt. I mean, would you? 

While Prince and Madonna had conflicting artistic insight when they joined forces, it's still good to know that in a time of competitiveness and pettiness they still had mad respect for each other as creators to make time for each other. Whether it was all for show or not, I'm ceasing to throw another shady forest at the Madonna vs. Prince debacle, because friendships, just like this song, are complicated and sometimes misguided --- and totally meant to be understood between the two people involved.
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