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That Time Prince Said Islamic Countries Are ‘Fun’ and Other Highlights of the Pop Star’s International Dabblings

Beloved pop icon Prince refused to participate in the "We Are the World" charity recording and called for better relations with Moscow.

This photo taken on June 16, 1990 shows musician Prince performing onstage during his concert at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris.


Pop icon Prince -- whose pioneering brand of danceable funk made him one of music's most influential figures -- died on April 21, 2016 at his compound in Minnesota. He was 57. The announcement came just a week after the Grammy and Oscar winner was taken to hospital with a bad bout of influenza, although he made light of his health problems after the scare.

 / AFP / Bertrand GUAY        (Photo credit should read BERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images)
This photo taken on June 16, 1990 shows musician Prince performing onstage during his concert at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris. Pop icon Prince -- whose pioneering brand of danceable funk made him one of music's most influential figures -- died on April 21, 2016 at his compound in Minnesota. He was 57. The announcement came just a week after the Grammy and Oscar winner was taken to hospital with a bad bout of influenza, although he made light of his health problems after the scare. / AFP / Bertrand GUAY (Photo credit should read BERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images)

In his 57 short years, American pop icon Prince, who was born Prince Rogers Nelson and was also known as “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince,” released 39 albums, won an Academy Award, opened the Grammy’s ceremony, performed at a Super Bowl halftime show, and solidified his role as an American sex symbol.

He died at his studio in Minnesota on Thursday, and President Barack Obama said in a statement that Prince’s death meant the world had lost a “creative icon.”

“Few artists have influenced the sound and trajectory of popular music more distinctly, or touched quite so many people with their talent,” the president said.

From directly addressing an American president in a track released in 1981 to refusing to participate in an international charity project, Prince at times subtly, and at other times much more blatantly, dabbled in international politics.

Below, Foreign Policy has chronicled some of the highlights.

“Ronnie, Talk to Russia”

In 1981, at the height of the Cold War, Ronald Reagan was sworn in as president and Prince released his album “Controversy.” The fifth track was a plea to Reagan to mend relations with Moscow:

“Ronnie talk to Russia before it’s too late
Before they blow up the world
You go to the zoo, but you can’t feed guerillas
Can’t feed guerillas
Left-wing guerillas
You can go to the zoo, but you can’t feed guerillas
Who wanna blow up the world…

Ronnie if you’re dead before I get to meet ya,
Don’t say I didn’t warn ya”

“1999”

In the first album featuring his band “The Revolution,” Prince took a stand against nuclear proliferation. It was 1982, two years before the release of his signature album “Purple Rain,” and the album was considered his funkiest yet.

The title track referenced the year before the new millennium, when conspiracy theorists believed the world would combust.

“Yeah, they say two thousand zero zero party over,
Oops out of time
So tonight I’m gonna party like it’s 1999
Yeah …

I got a lion in my pocket,
And baby he’s ready 2 roar
Yeah, everybody’s got a bomb,
We could all die any day,
But before I’ll let that happen,
I’ll dance my life away”

The song ends with Prince repeating “Mommy, why does everybody have a bomb?”

“We Are The World”

In 1985, a group of American musicians pulled an all-nighter to record “We Are the World,” a charity single written by musical legends Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie. It sold more than 20 million copies and the proceeds benefitted famine relief in Africa. But Prince was notably missing from the supergroup.

A staunch Jackson rival, he reportedly didn’t want to collaborate with the other musicians, who were gathering to record the song the night of the American Music Awards. Huey Lewis ended up taking the line “But if you just believe, there’s no way we can fall,” which was originally designated for Prince. And while the group stayed up all night recording, Prince went out partying — and his bodyguard even got arrested after a scuffle in Los Angeles. Years later, Wendy Melvoin, an American guitarist who played for The Revolution, said Prince didn’t join “because he thinks he’s a badass and he wanted to look cool, and he felt like the song for ‘We Are the World’ was horrible and he didn’t want to be around ‘all those muthafuckas.’”

Islamic Countries Are ‘Fun’

In a 2011 interview with British newspaper the Guardian, Prince, a Jehovah’s Witness, weighed in on whether or not women living in countries ruled under Islamic law enjoy their state-imposed dress codes.  

“It’s fun being in Islamic countries, to know there’s only one religion. There’s order. You wear a burqa. There’s no choice,” he said. “People are happy with that.”

Photo credit: BERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images

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