May 16, 2000 is the day when The Artist Formerly Known as Prince (“TAFKAP”) went back to just being Prince. It’s hard to believe that was 21 years ago now. I can remember seeing a blurb about it on the news that my parents were watching. Of course, I didn’t recall that it was May 16, but sometimes when I want to write something on this website I google the date and see if anything happened on that day in history.
In case you’re wondering, May 16 was an eventful day, and you can check the wiki here.
From Prince to…Something
In 1993, Prince, then still called Prince, had a dispute with Warner Bros., his record label. He referred to this symbol as a “Love Symbol,” and some of his fans referred to the symbol as such. But why did he bother changing his name in the first place? That’s an interesting story involving the riveting subjects of contract law, songwriting backlogs, and minor corporate rebellion.
Prince signed with Warner Bros. in 1977, when he was still a teenager. The 1980s were prolific for Prince; he released 1999, Purple Rain, Sign O’ the Times, and Parade, among other albums, each of which was critically acclaimed. He also wrote “Stand Back” for Stevie Nicks, “Manic Monday” for The Bangles, and “Nothing Compares 2 U,” which he recorded but was a massive hit for Sinead O’Connor. Of course, Warner Bros. was happy with Prince’s output because they made quite a bit of money off the small man from Minnesota.
Then in the early 90s, Prince renewed his contract with Warner Bros., and this would prove to be the beginning of their feud. By 1993, Prince had a backlog of almost 500 songs and wanted to record and release them as quickly as possible. Warner Bros. balked at this idea because they were afraid Prince would saturate the market with his music and negatively affect his future marketability. So, like any record label that maintains that kind of control would have done, they forced Prince to stick to a rigid recording and release schedule. Prince was not happy with being strong armed in such a way.
In fact, because Warner Bros. even owned the name “Prince,” and as such Prince felt that even his name was tarnished by Warner Bros.’ greed. He wanted to rebel in a way that would have an impact on Warner Bros. and would also allow him to flex his creative muscle a bit. His solution was to change his name to the symbol.
“Warner Bros took the name, trademarked it, and used it as the main marketing took to promote all of the music I wrote,” Prince said in a press release shortly after the name change. “The company owns the name Prince and all related music marketed under Prince. I became merely a pawn used to produce more money for Warner Bros.”
Of course, the problem was that not only did Warner Bros. not know how to pronounce the name, Prince’s fans didn’t, either. Some began calling him Love Symbol, but most referred to him as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, or TAFKAP. TAFKAP doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, and the move was the subject of much social commentary from outlets such as Saturday Night Live.
During this time he also occasionally performed with the word “SLAVE” written on his face, which was a manifestation of his belief that Warner Bros. (and to some extent all record companies) treat the artists like slaves.
In 1998, Prince signed with Arista, leaving Warner Bros. behind. As a statement, or perhaps just oversight (doubtful, but funny to think about), he still went by TAFKAP for another two years. But the seven years he spent as TAFKAP were just one chapter in a truly incredible musical career. He was one of the most creative, prolific songwriters between 1977 and his death in 2016. His Super Bowl XLI performance in 2007 is my personal favorite Super Bowl halftime show I’ve seen in my lifetime, and I watched Nipplegate live.