Prince’s logo – also known as ‘love symbol #2’ – has been on our “to write about” list for years. It’s with great sadness that we finally get around to writing about it after the singer’s untimely death.
In our somewhat infrequent So You Think You Know Logos series, we’ve often written about rock band logos and their back stories, and one of the logos we’ve always wanted to look at, but never quite got around to it, was Prince‘s ‘Love Symbol #2.’ That’s the pointy, swirly glyph (which nobody knew how to say) that Prince -full name Prince Rogers Nelson – used as a placeholder for his name, when he unofficially became the “artist formerly known as Prince.” I was going to publish this post a few days ago on the news of Prince’s untimely death, but didn’t want to be seen as “grave-dancing” or hurling a logo themed post aimed as click-bait only to snag web traffic. Before we start, let me say this – I was shocked and saddened at Prince’s death. While I’ve drifted away from his music over the years, I used to be a fan – I even saw Prince in his heyday at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens back in the 80s and my primary memory of that night is that he was the consummate showman and I’ve still never heard an audience react the way they did that night when he walked on stage. Anyhoo, it’s with more than a little melancholy that we take a look at Prince’s logo – also known as “Love Symbol #2.”
The back story
Before the symbol showed up, if Prince had a logo at all – he probably didn’t – it was a rough script version of his name (taken from the typography of the logo from the 1984 movie Purple Rain and album of the same name.) That isn’t the logo we’ve all come to associate with Prince though and unless you’ve been living under a rock (or at least away from the Internet for the past week) you know exactly what we’re talking about. For those who don’t, let’s get it out of the way. This:
A couple of things you’ll notice right away – the logo isn’t exactly exact, the circle isn’t really a circle and there’s wobbly bits here and there. (I even thought about cleaning the design up for this post before coming to understand that the visual imperfections were all part of Prince’s “plan” and the last thing I wanted to do was mess with that, because it’s Prince.) Anyhoo, the glyph first showed up on the cover of Prince’s untitled 14th studio album in 1992 (it would be the last album the artist would record with The New Power Generation) and Prince would go on to adopt the glyph as as his stage name in 1993.The confusion about what the logo, glyph, symbol, whatever is called stems from when the artwork was copyrighted under the name “Love Symbol #2,” prompting fans to refer to the album as The Love Symbol Album (or just “The Symbol Album.”) Accordingly, Prince’s logo has a semi-official name of “Love Symbol #2” (what, or where #1 might be is anyone’s guess.)
It’s been part of the Prince legend ever since, adorning everything Prince played (above) though this piano is NOT from the artist’s recent Piano and a Microphone tour (audio of Prince’s last performance on that tour has been leaked online.) Still with us? Let’s take a look at the origin story:
The branding of Prince.
The visual metaphors of the design are pretty straight forward Prince stuff – it merges the symbols for man and woman, creating a gender fluid pictograph. The logo also incorporates a cross, a nod to Prince’s deep spiritual views and dedication to his Jehovah Witness faith. As mentioned earlier, the logo was always meant to be imperfect, representing the inherent flaws of the human condition. When Prince adopted the symbol as his “name” in 1993 it was primarily a “fuck you” to his record company, but he always envisioned the logo playing out as guitars, stage sets and album covers. This was never more apparent than the singer’s legendary performance at the 2007 Superbowl half-time show at Dolphin Stadium in the pouring rain, a show that is still recognized by many as the best half-time performance ever. The logo was everywhere. As the stage:In purple too, natch:And as Prince’s guitar:
In the credit where credit due department, the logo was designed by Mich Hansen, creative director and partner of HDMG (a company Prince’s production team had hired to work on graphics for music videos) and designer Lizz Luce. They sketched the logo at Paisley Park – Prince’s recording estate in Chanhassen, Minnesota – when they were told simply “Prince needs a symbol.”
“The Artist Formerly Known as Prince”
While Prince never said so expressly, it was widely understood back in 1993 that he adopted the glyph as his name (it was the press who coined “the artist formerly known as Prince”) as a way to stick it to his record company Warner Bros, who the singer felt were trying to stifle his creativity (also, it was upon the expiration of his contract with WB in 2000 that he once again became known as Prince. He also struck a landmark deal in 2014 with Warners, regaining control over his back catalog.) While it was a given that contract lawyers were given headaches by the change, the press also had a hell of a time writing about the star, as they were prone to do often. The Prince camp were only too glad to help, developing a font for the symbol that was distributed on floppy disk to outlets – substituting the letter P with the now famous symbol (it was also thought that this was a way for Prince to figure out who he could trust in the press.) Detractors figured the ploy would never work and that the star would be mocked for his arrogance and narcissism. They were wrong, the font was widely adopted and Rolling Stone magazine ranked it as the fourth-boldest career move in rock history.
May you rest in peace Prince. You will be missed by us all.