This was supposed to be a love letter to my favorite album of all time, created by a purple machine of happiness. But in the wake of Surviving R Kelly, horrific real-life events have come to light about Prince.
I was supposed to talk about how Prince’s Batman score/soundtrack plus Jack Nicholson’s Joker And Michael Keaton’s Batman changed me forever. How I fell in love with dark, complicated superheroes and their villain counterparts. I was supposed to talk about how I’ve had this album on cassette, vinyl, CD, and now digital because I adore it so much. I was going to write a whole paragraph about the iconic “Batdance” video that has been in my Internet bookmarks on every machine I’ve owned. I was going to talk about hybridity, intertextuality, and metatexuality between the album and the film. I was going to talk about how Prince’s music suddenly made superheroes sexy instead of campy. I wanted to talk about how, from funky dance tunes to Prince’s signature raunchy love songs, the Batman score/soundtrack has everything for the superhero nerd who also loves to dance. This was supposed to be a love letter to my favorite album and its beloved creator.
As it turns out, Prince groomed two 16-year-old girls, both of whom he had sex with after they turned 18. One of whom he married when she was 22. Prince was approaching his 40s in both occasions. One of the songs on my favorite album of all time, “Vicky Waiting,” is actually a creepy pedo anthem to the underage girl he’s waiting to fuck when she’s legal. And this information puts other lyrics from the album into a really nasty light. Excuse me while I go throw up 30 years of poisoned love. (Don’t even mention Bowie right now. That’s another essay.)
Maybe you’re thinking, “It’s just an album, and not even one of Prince’s most critically acclaimed or culturally important.” But here’s why it’s more than that for me: I grew up globally nomadic in Africa and Asia to a white American mom and a Tamil-Sinhalese Sri Lankan father. My conservative and patriarchal father insisted that my creative, independent, and outspoken qualities disqualified me from being a “real” Sri Lankan. Disconnected from that side of my heritage and actively prevented from accessing it by my cruel dad, I turned to American films and television so I could try embrace at least one side of my ancestry. Our visits to my mom’s hometown of Milwaukee to visit my grandparents only took place every two years. And it was one of those summers, in 1989, when I saw Batman in the cinema. I had been obsessed with the movie and album ever since.
When you grow up between worlds and without a fixed home or roots, a sense of home has to come from somewhere else. For me, one way was through these beloved pop-culture artifacts like Prince’s Batman album. These are the ties that bind me. Finding out such a terrible truth about one of my links to home — even if it’s an imaginary one — is like having the rug pulled from under me and landing on my neck. If I’d learned this information sooner, Prince’s work wouldn’t have become so fundamental to my sense of self. That’s why Batman is more than “just” an album. It is part of my personal history, a source of comfort for decades that I now need to shelve. The vacuum it’s leaving behind is enormous.
The art is the artist, and vice versa. I can’t in good conscience go on supporting an artist who did terrible things to women and got away with it because of his genius and celebrity. If people, and the law, are finally holding R. Kelly responsible for his heinous acts of sexual violence against children, we have to hold others to the same standards. There is no room for exceptions.
I so badly wanted to write a love letter to Prince’s Batman album on its 30th birthday. I wanted to talk about how much it has meant to me. How much solace it has provided in dark times and in good. All the hours I’ve spent dancing to these songs since childhood and well beyond. How this piece of musical art has inspired my writing and was my gateway into superhero fandoms.
But in a post-Surviving R. Kelly world, a love letter to a man who groomed young girls so he could eventually have sex with them is no longer appropriate. I’m taking the time to grieve this loss anew. It’s not just Batman I lost. It’s losing Prince all over again, too. My heart is shattered and I’m sick to my stomach. A fundamental part of my identity has shifted away from me, and now I have to figure out what will grow in that empty space. Maybe this is a necessary reckoning for us all. To remember that just because someone is famous and talented, they don’t necessarily deserve to be worshiped. And if they hurt vulnerable people, like young girls, they should have no place in our collective or individual experiences, save as a cautionary tale. It doesn’t change the fact that it hurts. But it can change how we consume things and integrate them into ourselves with open eyes and zero tolerance for abusive behavior.