Michael Jackson and Prince's feud explained: Why the pop rivals hated each other

25 October 2022, 16:38

Michael Jackson and Prince were the biggest boundary-breaking stars of the 1980s.
Michael Jackson and Prince were the biggest boundary-breaking stars of the 1980s. Picture: Getty

By Thomas Curtis-Horsfall

They both revolutionised music in their own unique ways.

During the MTV-fuelled era of the 1980s, both Michael Jackson and Prince became the biggest stars pop music had ever seen.

Not to mention the huge strides they made for black artists within the music industry, dominating the pop charts which were very much enjoyed by white audiences.

They reinvented pop music, and throughout the 1980s alone, they produced a combined 30 top ten hits between them with 13 of those songs reaching No.1.

Thriller would go on to become the best-selling album of all time, seeing Michael Jackson push the possibilities of music videos with it.

With Purple Rain, Prince would also become the first artist since The Beatles to have the No.1 album, single, and movie at the same time.

They weren't just enormously successful on a commercial level however, they were multi-dimensional musicians that broke boundaries and changed the face of music as we knew it.

But because of their successes, the artists would also keep a close eye on one another in what would evolve from a pop star rivalry into a full-blooded feud.

So why did Michael Jackson and Prince fall out? Here's all you need to know:

How did Michael Jackson and Prince's feud begin?

After his huge success with Thriller, Michael refused to consider Prince as an equal.
After his huge success with Thriller, Michael refused to consider Prince as an equal. Picture: Alamy

With both artists being ultra-competitive characters, their huge success meant that they were bound to be rivals, but they were rivals from afar in the beginning.

The King Of Pop was renowned as the world's greatest entertainer, whereas The Purple One was considered to be a far greater musician.

Both being black artists who transformed what it meant to be a pop star, there were bound to be comparisons.

But Michael Jackson didn't take too kindly to that notion, reportedly revealing: "I don't like to be compared to Prince at all."

"I have proven myself since I was real little. He feels like he's my opponent. I hope he changes because, boy, he's gonna get hurt."

What started out as a professional rivalry between two generational talents quickly turned personal.

What happened during the infamous James Brown performance?

In what would be the first time Michael Jackson and Prince would meet, it'd also be the start of their bad blood.

In a 1983 show, James Brown would invite both stars to perform on stage with him as they both where in attendance in the crowd.

MJ joined 'Mr. Dynamite' for a brilliant duet which drew a standing ovation from the crowd. Shortly after he encouraged Brown to get Prince up on stage too.

At the time Prince's famed paled in comparison to Michael's despite scoring hits with '1999' and 'Little Red Corvette', so he wanted to strut his stuff biggest the world's biggest stars.

But it didn't go to plan - Prince didn't manage to wow the crowd, and attempted to swing from a prop lamppost beside the stage when saw him tumble on to the floor.

In some rediscovered recordings, Jackson is heard saying: "He made a fool of himself. He was a joke…people were running and screaming. I was so embarrassed. It was all on video."

To hammer his superiority home, Jackson reportedly bought the video footage to ensure that the footage was never consigned to the history books.

Did Prince and Michael Jackson ever work together?

Despite years of bickering and competition (including a legendary ping-pong match between the two), they nearly did end up working together.

Michael wanted Prince to duet with him on 'Bad', so his producer Quincy Jones set up a secret meeting in the summer of 1986.

Prince was clearly interested in a collaboration, but given they both artists were intense control freaks, he didn't like the fact it was billed as Jackson's project and was concerned Michael was again make him look inferior.

Michael sent Prince an early demo of 'Bad', in which Prince re-recorded virtually everything and sent it back. It didn't go down too well.

Prince would also repeatedly call Michael 'Camille' to his face and attempt to humiliate him in front of his peers.

Years later in an interview with comedian Chris Rock, Prince joked: "The first line of that song is ‘Your butt is mine’."

"Now I said, ‘Who’s gonna sing that to whom? ‘Cause you sure ain’t singing it to me. And I sure ain’t singing it to you… So right there, we got a problem."

Even though the collaboration never came to fruition and he turned down a starring role in the 'Bad' music video (which then went to Wesley Snipes), Prince reportedly turned to Jackson and his management after the meeting and graciously stated: "It will be a big hit even if I’m not on it."

For the charity single 'We Are The World', Prince also refused to contribute given that Lionel Richie had co-wrote the song with none other than Michael Jackson.

Was their long-running feud heightened by the media?

Michael Jackson called Prince "one of the rudest people I&squot;ve ever met." (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
Michael Jackson called Prince "one of the rudest people I've ever met." (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images). Picture: Getty

In many ways, yes, as there's always been a desire to pit successful artists against one another even though they're not that closely related - look no further than The Beatles and The Rolling Stones for instance.

Any sniff of a sly dig MJ or Prince would give each other the media would pounce all over it. But they both knew how to work publicity in their favour.

Michael loved to leak stories to create publicity stunts: "I want my whole career to be the greatest show on earth," he told his managers.

Though the rivalry snowballed in the media, both artists challenged each other, and they both seriously disliked each other.

In recordings for his 1988 autobiography Moonwalk, Jackson slammed Prince saying: "He was so rude, one of the rudest people I've ever met. He has been very mean and nasty to my family."

There's no smoke without fire, but ultimately it seemed that both artists had major egos that they couldn't overcome.

Even towards the end of Michael's life as he prepared for his residency at London's O2 Arena, he still had Prince at the front of his mind claiming that: "If I’m not there to receive these ideas, God might give them to Prince."

Did Michael Jackson and Prince ever bury the hatchet?

After Michael Jackson&squot;s death, Prince said: "It is always sad to lose someone you loved."
After Michael Jackson's death, Prince said: "It is always sad to lose someone you loved.". Picture: Alamy

Sadly, it seemed like Michael Jackson remained embattled with Prince up until his death on 25th June 2009 - ironically the 25th anniversary of Purple Rain.

In the wake of Michael's passing, everyone was keen to get Prince's perspective on his rival's demise. He made no public statement, but according to interviewers, he was deeply affected.

Author Tavis Smiley remembered talking to Prince "for hours… about his own mortality and what the loss of Michael Jackson really meant for him."

In one interview on French television, Prince simply stated: "It is always sad to lose someone you loved" and in 2014 declined to talk about it saying: "I don’t want to talk about it. I’m too close to it."

In tribute, Prince even began covering Jackson's 'Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough' when touring to the amazement of his fans.

Similarly to Michael's premature death, Prince would later die in 2016 whilst in the midst of a creative rejuvenation.

Though they clearly had disdain for one another, both Michael Jackson and Prince were more alike than they'd admit.

Sharing the same kinds of struggles and achievements, and travelling similar journeys to the top of pop music, they were both talents that defined their generation.