By Hayden Wright
Madonna brought the crowd to their feet at the Billboard Music Awards with a rendition of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U.” Clad in a purple suit, the pop queen performed before the words “BROTHER” and funereal images. In a smooth transition to “Purple Rain,” Stevie Wonder came onstage to join her as purple wristbands lit the Las Vegas arena. The tribute turned a cappella while fans clapped reverentially.
“Every time we hear a really great guitar solo, we’re gonna remember,” said Questlove in his introduction, leading the audience in a moment of silence. “I just want to take a moment to remember the great Prince Rodgers Nelson.”
Madonna and Prince (who were rumored to have briefly dated) collaborated on her Like a Prayer on the track “Love Song.” Before a worldwide audience in the millions, Madonna’s performance was a fitting tribute to her old friend and collaborator.
2016 has been a rough year for music icons: Just as it seemed we reached a lull in tributes to David Bowie, Prince suddenly passed away at the age of 57. Like Bowie, it would be impossible to measure the influence Prince had on future generations of artists. Even his contemporaries owe a debt of gratitude to his virtuosic skill, ambitious vision and genre-defying contributions to pop, rock and R&B.
Paying tribute to Prince is a tall order, but it’s hard to imagine anyone more culturally qualified to do so than Madonna. A survey of disruptive musical forces from the 1980s includes Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Prince and Madonna as breakout icons of the video era. Most of them are gone too soon.