61: Pop Life

Around the World in a Day (1985)
In recent years, hyper-capitalism, spiralling inequality and rampant greed has soured people’s views on the American Dream. A billionaire used to be the ultimate success story, instead of a warning symptom of a malfunctioning system. But smack-bang in the middle of the gimme gimme gimme Reaganomics of the 80s, the dream that anybody could make it big was at its Mammon peak. Enter Prince, surfing in on the white crest of Purple Rain’s chart domination with the anti-aspirational message that not everybody can be on top. Talk about buzzkill. Even today, a common take-home message is that he is condescendingly mocking poverty. You have to remember though that Prince was at a very different echelon of stardom when he wrote Pop Life compared to when he released it. The Purple Rain film/album juggernaut was still in production. Pop Life isn’t a song where Mr Baby I’m A Star rubs his meteoric fame in people’s faces. It’s a song dealing with ennui and the human compulsion to fill life’s emptiness with dreams of fame and wealth, or – in a probably reference to Morris and Vanity’s cocaine addiction – with drugs. Prince never seemed truly comfortable with fame. While Madonna and Michael would make calculated career choices to make themselves more marketable, Prince would often try to sabotage his own success. This is behind the name-change, triple-disc albums and why Pop Life appears on Around the World in a Day instead of a more commercial Purple Rain 2. He’s sung many times about the emptiness at the top of Celebrity Mountain, and here, even on the ascent, he’s addressing that void. Everybody’s got a space to fill, but stop chasing fame’s panacea and drink in this exquisite pop with a bassline from the gods. It won’t fill the void but it’s more nourishing than empty dreams of illusory salvation.