A game I like to play with my stripper friends sometimes is one where we pick our desert island strip club musicians: If you could only have five artists to dance to, ever, in the club, who would they be? The one artist that’s on everyone’s list is Prince.
There is no other catalog of music that has a broader application for strippers. Working in a club that banned hip-hop? Working in a hip hop club but feel like you can’t pull it off? DJ who doesn’t understand your requests? “Only top 40” rule? Old crowd? Young crowd? Prince has it covered like no other. And like Josephine said to me the other day, “Literally the worst pole dancer cannot screw up ‘Darling Nikki.'” When I was a baby stripper, dancing to Prince was how I learned to dance sexy on stage. “What would Prince do?” I thought, and then I humped the floor, and made more stage tips.
all other music fans everyone, we mourn his loss and marvel at his body of work. There’s nothing I can say, really, about Prince’s place in the stripper music pantheon that hasn’t been covered by the excellent Lily Burana and Jo Weldon. Burana, at The Cut, writes about Princes’ heroism to strippers:
I don’t know what Prince thought of strippers, but I do know that strippers loved Prince. He was strip-club history. And what mattered was the music. His songs, for decades, have been sex-industry staples — whether on a strip-club playlist or in pop-culture iconography. Remember Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman” singing in the bubble bath in Richard Gere’s Beverly Hills hotel room? She’s listening to Prince’s “Kiss” on her Walkman. Of course she is. (In the original script, she’s listening to Elvis Costello.)
Weldon posted a beautiful public Facebook post:
There were still the dancers’ musical needs to contend with, though. There were often two – four women dancing at the same time, and we all had varied musical preferences. I had to dance to pop country and top 40 that I, with my taste in rock/punk/RNB/Newwave, despised, and not only that, I had to act like I loved it. Still, the one artist we could all agree on was Prince. Rocker, conservative, country girl, we could all feel that groove. Prince hadn’t even quite hit the mainstream yet, but we all had Dirty Minds. We all liked Head.
What I can do is tell you that Prince still sounds as good in the club and his appeal is just as universal today as it was during the times they write about, when he was still notching regular chart hits. His music is inclusive of everyone, spanning genres and styles, feeling classic but not killing the flow. Apologies to Madonna and Michael Jackson, but if you throw on a hit of theirs from the same era, the audience will be conscious of hearing a song from the eighties in a way they won’t be if you play Prince. Hearing him doesn’t take them out of the moment. Put on “Beat It” or “Into the Groove”—very different feel from “Darling Nikki,” yeah?
When it first came out, some clubs wouldn’t play “Closer,” with its “fuck you like an animal” refrain, but “Nikki” remains joyously filthier. Despite being the reason music got warning labels, it never got censored in a club I worked in. Nether did “Sexy MF,” a credit to how Prince sang the gospel of fucking in a way that was neither sleazy nor embarrassing nor aiming for sheer shock value. He made “P Control,” the inspirational story of the most famous character in art named Pussy that wasn’t in a Bond movie, an avatar of hustlers. It gave us a resonant stripper mantra:
And the moral of this motherfucker is
Ladies, make ’em act like they know
U are, was, and always will be
Returning to the desert island exercise, while putting Prince on the list of essential artists is easy, picking out the ten essential tracks from his catalogue is impossible. Here are the ones I think are a must:
I Could Never Take The Place of Your Man
U Got The Look
There’s so much missing from even a top ten! That list doesn’t even have “Raspberry Beret” or “Little Red Corvette” or “When Doves Cry” or “Delirious” or “Controversy.”
It even leaves off the song that soundtracks my most formative and indelible club memories: Memphis, 1996, I’m a baby stripper undertaking her first real strip trip from a club that’s about a three on the intensity scale (no-contact dances on pedestals) to one that’s a nine (it will get shut down for rampant drug dealing and prostitution charges within two months). A traveling feature dancer/porn performer named Tina Cheri comes out and does an all-Prince set, starting by driving out on stage in one of those kid’s battery-powered cars to “Little Red Corvette” and ending with “Diamonds and Pearls,” the culmination of which is when she pulls six feet of pearls out of her vagina.
I found out about Prince’s passing as I was doing my morning Twitter reading on Thursday about 40 minutes before I had to leave for a day shift. When I first started at this club, I worked sometimes with a girl named Nikki who danced to a lot of Prince, and, as a veteran of the days when they didn’t exist, refused to do table or lap dances, a stand for artistic integrity that seemed Prince-like.
I play “Erotic City” every shift already, and there’s usually at least one person who will say “yeah!” when they hear it start. By my Friday night shift, another dancer had made sure the club had a full supply of the essentials to add to the ones already in the mix. Each of us played multiple Prince tracks that night, at the request of the crowd and of our own accord. They fit seamlessly into sets of rock, of indie, of hip-hop, of dance. That music can go anywhere and do anything, and with it, so can we—any club, any crowd, any shift.
After one set closed with “I Could Never Take The Place of Your Man,” a customer at the rack who’d been boisterously pumping his fists in the air said, “Prince would approve!” I made eye contact with the guy next to him, who’d been more subdued, nodding along with his chin in his hands, and I said, “Prince would want to read the Bible with me.” He smiled. They both put money down. I don’t really know what Prince would think about anything I would do in the club, I just know he would have a song that would fit the occasion.
Portland Prince fans can see the Prince tribute act Erotic City perform at the Kit Kat Club, a downtown strip club, on May 12. If you know of other strip clubs doing Prince tributes, please post it in the comments.