Michael Jackson vs. Prince – Let’s Compare the Legends



Prince and Michael Jackson are popular culture icons, who defined music genres and influenced entertainers forever. What we gained from these artists are funky, R&B influenced, dance inspiring jams that resonate with most people who’ve ever given them a listen. With great popularity and worldwide acclaim comes a unique life with all the benefits and downsides of such notoriety. While there are many similarities between these musical icons, Prince and Michael Jackson have obvious differences. In this article we will take a look at what makes them similar, different, as well as what artists today are influenced by their styles.


The King of Pop

Michael Jackson has been described as the King of Pop, and he explored a variety of music genres, including pop, soul, rhythm and blues, funk, rock, disco, post-disco, dance-pop and new jack swing in his career which started from childhood. He was a persistent hit maker for over four decades, with such chart topping albums as Off the Wall (1979), Thriller (1982), Bad (1987), Dangerous (1991), HIStory (1995) and Invincible (2001). He has sold over 750 million albums, worldwide. Thriller has persisted as the best selling album of all time, with over 65 million sales worldwide. His top hits include “Thriller,” “Billy Jean,” and “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough.”



The Purple One

Prince was a musical innovator and known for his eclectic work, flamboyant stage presence, extravagant dress and makeup, and wide vocal range. His music integrates a wide variety of styles, including funk, rock, R&B, new wave, soul, psychedelia, and pop. He has sold over 100 million records worldwide, making him one of the best-selling artists of all time. His top hits include “When Doves Cry,” “Kiss,” and “Let’s Go Crazy.” He wrote the soundtrack and starred in the 1984 film Purple Rain, which won the Academy Award for Best Musical.



What’s Similar?

Both men took elements of funk, R&B, and disco and put that into their music. They have both said they were influenced by James Brown, Little Richard, and Jackie Wilson, among others. They both created a unique sound that defined the music of the times.

Both are of African American descent, and both became reclusive and retreated to private residences later in life where they recorded and spent most of their time: Neverland in California for Jackson, and Paisley Park in Minnesota for Prince. Both had controversial actions that made headlines – Jackson and his legal troubles, Prince and his religious fervor, as well as using a symbol for his professional name to upset his label. Both wanted to distance themselves from their labels. Jackson has famously called Sony head Tommy Mottola a racist.

Sadly, another similarity is that they both died all too young – Jackson at 50 and Prince at 57 – and in unfortunate ways. Questionable medical advice, treatments, and powerful medications being used improperly were definitely a part of Jackson’s death, and now looks like similar issues may have played a part in Prince’s death.



How Do They Differ?

Some of the major differences are that Prince was a multi-instrumentalist – playing guitar, drums, percussion, bass, keyboard and synthesizer. Michael did not play any instruments live, only during the recording process, and preferred to use his voice to beatbox the other instruments for the songs he composed. Prince’s musical influences could be viewed as more rock influenced including Jimmy Hendrix, Mick Jagger, and guitarists like Carlos Santana. However Jackson was also influenced by rock music so that’s not a huge difference.  Michael will forever be remembered for his innovative and unique dancing style, which became as much a part of his presence as his music, whereas Prince’s skillful guitar playing (he is considered one of the best guitar players of all time) became part of his stage presence.   



You Knew the Rivalry Was Coming

These two pillars of pop obviously got to know each other over the decades, and even had a rivalry going on. Prince reportedly called Jackson “Helen Keller” after losing a ping pong match at his Paisley Park home. Now that’s just funny. Savage, yes, but all in good fun. Prince also probably alluded to Jackson with a lyric from Musicology: “My voice is getting higher/and I ain’t never had my nose done/That’s the other guy.”  Recent interviews with former Prince band members reveal a more genial side. “They’d shoot hoops at Paisley Park,” longtime Prince drummer Bobby Z told the Star-Tribune. Prince had a deep-seeded competitive nature, so it’s easy to see why he would measure himself against Jackson’s success.



The Legends Live On

Artists today have cited both Michael Jackson and Prince as influences to their careers.  Those that have cited Prince as one of their main inspirations in their music career include Frank Ocean, Miguel, St. Vincent, Janelle Monae, Nick Jonas, Beck, The Weekend, and Lady Gaga.  Michael Jackson’s influence can be clearly seen in Justin Timberlake, Usher, Chris Brown, Madonna, Bruno Mars, Beyonce, Jason Derulo, and Ne-Yo. Both artists, however, are undeniably similar, yet different enough to create lasting legacies that will continue to inspire us generation after generation.



Some media may contain mature content. Discretion is advised when viewing with students.

Prince Talks About Michael Jackson to Chris Rock in 1997: will.i.am's Prince and Michael Jackson Memory:
Lesson Plan

Lesson Objective: Students will learn about the similarities and differences between Michael Jackson and Prince, and use a Venn diagram to organize characteristics of the two famous musicians.

Log in to view the full Lesson Plan.

View the Lesson Assignment

Back to NuSkool
Lesson tags: Eighth, English, Music, Ninth, Pop Culture, Social Studies, Tenth

Melissa Pelletier

Melissa has a Masters in Educational Communication and Technology from NYU. She has worked in academic publishing, games, and the educational toys industries.