Google the words “Prince” and “shade.” Go ahead. It’s worth it. Or just click here, lazybones. Listicle after article on how the departed genius was the “King of Shade.” And seriously, check out the memes. What the hell am I rambling on about? What’s “shade”? If you’re feeling unhip, look no further than the video above, which has the added bonus of featuring The Artist in a solo acoustic performance at New York’s Webster Hall for an MTV Unplugged episode, doing a kind of highlights reel of some of his best-loved songs.
He is, of course, brilliant. You don’t need me to rhapsodize about what an amazing musician Prince was. You already knew that, and if you didn’t, the Internet has told you so several hundred times over and, for once, it didn’t exaggerate one bit. But back to the shade. In Prince’s case, the subtle side-eye, the withering looks of disdain and disapproval, the WTF sneers…. When you take in the full range of the man’s expressions, you’ll see why Miles Davis compared his stage persona to Charlie Chaplin—he wasn’t just a musical genius, benefactor to many, film star, sexy MFer…. He was also a physical comedian.
Watch him toy with the audience above. He invites them to sing along as he starts with “Cream.” They do so badly off-key, Prince stops and throws shade. Audience shuts up, suitably shamed, then cracks up. Repeat. It’s fantastic crowd interaction from a man who could put on a Broadway-worthy production with all the smoke and pyrotechnics and a cast of thousands, or who could sit onstage alone with an acoustic guitar and wrap the crowd around his little finger. (Later during “Sweet Thing” he turns the mic around and lets the audience take over completely.) And his acoustic blues chops ain’t bad either. See the full performance here.
As an added bonus, above, see Prince’s very first televised interview, broadcast on MTV in 1985 and shot on the set of the “America” video. Watch him answer prescreened questions and explain to us how, “I’m just like everyone else. I need love… and water.”