He probably still is, to a great many people. That said, if you look at him now, you cannot tell me that, divorced from his history and personal context, he is desirable. Aesthetically-speaking, Prince looks like Phil Spector, and Phil Spector has never been sexy (expect maybe to a very specific kind of person).
The reason Prince is no longer sexy is a simple one; Prince is now 56 years old. He is eligible for an AARP card. He is old enough that he (very likely) remembers the assassination of JFK vividly.
There is nothing to say that an old man cannot also be a sexy man. Richard Gere’s career flies in the very face of that assumption. However, if you look at aging fuck-singers, and look at their output as they grow old, there is a tendency to slow down on all that heavy breathing and sex havin’ in favor of reflections on life and love. That’s how it should be. Passion is a tool of the inexperienced. Love is the domain of the informed.
(This is where I’d use Al Green as an example, and it would kind of work. While not being as lecherous as Prince, Green’s early body of work focused pretty exclusively on the theme of “girl, I’m gonna give it to you oh so right” before he reinvented himself as the Reverend. That example would work pretty nice here. Only one problem: there’s evidence that Green’s transformation is less a product of age and experience and more a product of a woman who killed herself because Al wouldn’t stop fucking other people. Sorry, data-driven journalism. This one just goes by the gut.)
Prince’s new album, Art Official Age, has some pretty sexy songs on it. Nothing here reaches as deep into the sex cauldron as “Darling Nikki,” but there’s some romance here, for sure. The outright sexiest song might be “Breakfast Can Wait,” in which Prince explains that he would like to hold off on breakfast because he’d rather morning-fuck you. Songs like that are pretty good, and they do a good job of allowing you to think of Prince as “ageless sex lord” and not as “your uncle’s age.”
Still, the very best song on Art Offical Age has nothing to do with sex at all. “Breakdown” is a heartfelt song about Prince’s regrets. In it, one can hear the years weighing on him. Smog wrote a song called “Prince Alone in the Studio,” which tells the story of a lonely auteur working after the party has left. That’ what this song it.
As fun as Prince’s sex work can be, this song stands above it because this feels intimate. Prince is an enigmatic character, and “Breakdown” plays like a window into a moment of real regret and reflection from a man who, I would have assumed, had neither. It makes all the sexy songs sexier, and it humanizes the Artist in a way that nothing else has in decades.
“Give me back the time / you can have the memories.” This is not the sentiment one expects from Prince. It’s openness makes it all the more shocking, and nothing is more sexy than honesty.