30 Years Later, Prince’s “Batdance” Still Gets the Funk Up

Friends, it’s been a while since we’ve featured a Movie Music Video post here on MovieFanFare, so I am rectifying this in the most stylish way possible by showcasing Prince’s 1989 summer jam “Batdance” (from the Batman soundtrack, obviously) today. It is important to remember that when Batman hit theaters on June 23rd, 1989, there was simply no escaping the film’s pop culture reach. So naturally, Batmania would dominate the music charts during this time as well.

The thing is though, as far as number one songs go, “Batdance” is an avant garde effort that pulls off the Herculean task of being both super weird and incredibly funky. The song is a musical hodge podge that includes a reference to the theme song from the 1960s Batman series — a show that, it should be noted, Warner Brothers bent over backwards to try to distance itself from– mashed up among the other styles on display during its over six-minute run time. (A shorter radio edit removed some of the calculated strangeness, making the version more commonly heard not nearly as interesting as the album version). Neverless, even though it is more of a stylistic collage than anything else, Prince topped the pop charts with “Batdance,” giving us possibly the most offbeat Song of the Summer in history in the process.

Directed by Purple Rain helmer and frequent Prince collaborator Albert Magnoli, the “Batdance” music video is also a fascinating (if self-indulgent in the best possible way) clip that eschewed featuring footage from the film. Instead, it featured an army of Batmen and Jokers, all locked in battle while the real Prince watched from afar while a doppleganger who is a Two-Face version of The Joker and Batman dances around while samples from the film occasionally play. It’s all a bit confusing really. Fortunately, the video’s Wikipedia page can explain exactly what’s going on here. Or at least attempt to:

Prince appears as a costumed character in face paint known as “Gemini”, with one side of his face representing the Joker (evil) and the other, Batman (good). The Batman and Jokers alternate dance sections, while Prince (as both himself and Gemini) sings. The video ends with Gemini hitting a detonator, exploding an electric chair (referenced in the song), and Prince (actually Michael Keaton‘s voice) saying “Stop” as the video abruptly ends. The video also features one Vicki Vale wearing a black dress with the words “All this and brains too”, a reference to The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller, in which a female news presenter wears a top with the same slogan.

Gemini is Prince’s astrological sign, and is a reference to the duality in his music.

Everybody got that? I think it’s been at least 20 years since I’ve seen this video in its entirety, and I’ve never seen it in HD before. Let’s all watch it together then discuss:

The most striking thing about “Batdance” — both the song and video — is how non-traditional it is. I can easily see studio suits being nervous, expecting Prince to deliver another “When Doves Cry” or “1999” and getting this oddball effort instead. (Good luck belting this out at karaoke night). But Prince was never one to follow anyone else’s path but his own, and honestly, this effort works. Had he recorded a ballad like Seal’s “Kiss from a Rose” from Batman Forever, the song still would have been a hit, but not the artistic triumph that “Batdance” is. I don’t know if this song is great or just an utter mess, but it sure is interesting. And I’ll take that over ordinary any day of the week. Indeed, audiences back in 1989 felt this way too. The follow up single was “Partyman,” a more traditional Prince jam. Here’s the video for that:

This song wasn’t anywhere nearly as successful as “Batdance” was, and frankly I don’t even remember ever seeing this video on MTV. It’s a fun song too, but by the time of its release in September of 1989 the Batman hype train had long run out of steam. It remains a pop culture footnote where as “Batdance” was a phenomenon, a left-of-center hit song that was unlike anything else on the airwaves at the time. As a result, “Batdance” is a unique blending of art and commerce.