Journal of African American Studies

, Volume 21, Issue 3, pp 353–372 | Cite as

A Flâneur in the Erotic City: Prince and the Urban Imaginary

  • Adrian A. BautistaEmail author


In September of 1986, megastar Prince journeyed across the Atlantic to France to begin filming his second motion picture Under the Cherry Moon. Having captured the US imagination in the commercially successful Purple Rain (1984), “The Kid” (Prince’s Purple Rain alias) was eager to begin shooting his idea for a wry comedy in black and white in “homage to the B films of the 1940’s” (Goodman, 1986). Prince’s artistic, transcontinental trek was already on display with his 1985 Around the World in a Day, an album that at once pushed him forward musically by looking backward to 1960s psychedelic, Beatles-esque pop. An avant-garde experimentalist, Prince was seemingly constructing a new musical paradigm that linked past and present in kaleidoscopic fashion. The title song might have Prince playing the melodious wanderer: “Open your heart, open your mind, A train is leaving all day, A wonderful trip through our time, And laughter is all U pay.” Parade: Music from The Motion PictureUnder the Cherry Moon” continued the sauntering theme as the diminutive Prince declares in the title track, “The little 1 will escort U, 2 places within your mind.” In this manner, the wanderings of Prince’s character Christopher Tracy took him “more often to the strange corners of Paris than to its historic centre, to the strongholds of multiculturalism rather than to the classic headquarters of the Gallic tradition” (White, 2001). The purpose of the article is to present Prince as a postmodern flâneur. Beyond notions of his dandyism, most directly observed in his use of signifiers that convey gender ambiguity/bending, Prince’s urban representations, traveling imagery, solitary character, social commentary, contradictory relationships with women, and transformative creativity mark a new take on the flâneur.


Flâneur Urban imaginary 


  1. Baudelaire, C. (1863). "The Painter of Modern Life." Pp. 1-41 in The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays, translated and edited by Jonathan Mayne. London: Phaidon Press, 1985.Google Scholar
  2. Bush, J. (n.d). Song Review by John Bush. Retrieved October 15, 2016 (
  3. Case, W. (2016). Prince touched Baltimore with concert, song after Freddie Gray’s death, unrest The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved September 21, 2016 (
  4. Conlin, J. (2014). “'This Publick Sort of Obscurity': The Origins of the Flâneur in London and Paris, 1660-1780." Pp. 14-39 in The Flâneur Abroad: Historical and International Perspectives, edited by Richard Wrigley. Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.Google Scholar
  5. Donato, A. (2016). 10 Times Prince Wrote His Own Gender Rules. HuffPost Style Canada. Retrieved December 22, 2016 (
  6. France, L. R. (2016). How Prince stayed so private in the age of celebrity. CNN Entertainment. Retrieved April 25, 2017 (
  7. Garelick, R. K. (1999). Rising Star: Dandyism, Gender, and Performance in the Fin de Siècle. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Gilroy, P. (1993). The Black Atlantic: modernity and double consciousness. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Goodman, W. (1986). Screen: Prince in ‘Cherry Moon’, Review of Under the Cherry Moon (Warner Brothers movie), The New York Times. Retrieved August 3, 2016 (
  10. Grøtta, M. (2015). Baudelaire’s media aesthetics: the gaze of the flâneur and 19 th -century media. New York: Bloomsburg Academic.Google Scholar
  11. Hawkins, S. (2017). The sun, the moon and stars: Prince Rogers Nelson, 1958–2016. Popular Music and Society, 40(1), 124–128.Google Scholar
  12. Hawkins, S. & Niblock, S. (2011). Prince: the making of a pop music phenomenon. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Limited.Google Scholar
  13. Hicks, D. (2016). How Minneapolis made Prince. Slate. Retrieved October 23, 2016 (
  14. Hsiao-yen, P. (2010). Dandyism and Transcultural Modernity: The dandy, the flâneur, and the translator in 1930s Shanghai, Tokyo, and Paris. London/New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  15. Kaisary, P. (2014). The Black Atlantic: Notes on the Thought of Paul Gilroy. Critical Legal Thinking, Retrieved January 14, 2017 ( Scholar
  16. Levy, J. (2016). Prince: rockstar, funk lord, provocateur, genius: how he created a world—but, in the end, could only go it alone. Rolling Stone. Retrieved June 4, 2017 (
  17. Mazlish, B. (1994). The flâneur: from spectator to representation. In K. Tester (Ed), The flâneur (pp. 43–60). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  18. Milburn, K. (2014). Underground, Overground, Wandering Free: Flânerie Reimagined in Print, on Screen and on Record. Pp. 325-341 in The Flâneur Abroad: Historical and International Perspectives, edited by Richard Wrigley. Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.Google Scholar
  19. Mills, M. E. (2012). Urban Imagination in Biblical Prophecy. New York/London: T&T Clark.Google Scholar
  20. Morton, B. (2007). Prince: A Thief in the Temple. Edinburgh, UK: Canongate Books, LTD.Google Scholar
  21. Niblock, S. A. (2005). Prince: negotiating the meanings of femininity in the mid-1980s. PhD thesis, Middlesex University.Google Scholar
  22. Niblock, S. (2013). ‘Glam Slam’: musician Prince’s 30 year reign as a pop fashion icon. HuffPost: United Kingdom. Retrieved May 17, 2017 (
  23. Parashkevova, V. (2012). Salman Rushdie's Cities: Reconfigurational Politics and the Contemporary Urban Imagination (Continuum Studies in the City). New York, NY: Continuum Publishing Corporation.Google Scholar
  24. Pearce, M. (2016). "In Minneapolis, everyone has a story about Prince." Los Angeles Times, Retrieved February 14, 2017 ( Scholar
  25. Philpott, B. (2013). Prince's Purple Rain, Sex, and Misogyny: A Contemporary Perspective." Drowned in Sound, Retrieved February 10, 2017 ( Scholar
  26. Ro, R. (2011). Prince: Inside the Music and the Masks. New York, NY: St. Martin's Press.Google Scholar
  27. Sturdevant, A. (2012). Yes, Uptown suffers from a personality crisis, but it’s also vibrant and undeniably walkable. MinnPost. Retrieved December 23, 2016 (
  28. Summers, J. (2016). Essay: Prince brought magic to Baltimore. NBC News. Retrieved October 24, 2016 (
  29. Tester, K. (1994). Introduction. In K. Tester (Ed), The flâneur (pp. 1–21). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  30. Touré. (2013). I Would Die 4 U: why prince became an icon. New York: ATRIA Books.Google Scholar
  31. Turcot, L. (2014). Did the flâneur exist? A Parisian overview. In R. Wrigley (Ed), The flâneur abroad: historical and international perspectives (pp. 40–65). Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.Google Scholar
  32. Uptown Urbanist. (2009). Uptown, Minneapolis—past, present, and future: musings about the greater (and great) Uptown area of Minneapolis. Retrieved May 17, 2017 (
  33. Urry, J. (2009). Speeding up and slowing down. In H. Rosa & W. E. Scheuerman (Eds), High speed society: social acceleration, power, and modernity (pp. 179–198). University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press.Google Scholar
  34. White, E. (2001). The flâneur: a stroll through the paradoxes of Paris. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing.Google Scholar
  35. Wrigley, R. (2014). Introduction. Pp. 1-14 in The Flâneur Abroad: Historical and International Perspectives, edited by Richard Wrigley. Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.Google Scholar
  36. Wolff, J. (1985). "The Invisible Flâneuse: Women and the Literature of Modernity." Theory & Culture, Vol. 2, No. 3.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Oberlin CollegeOberlinUSA

Personalised recommendations