Anybody seen Prince lately?
Despite his low profile, the former prince of purple hype has sold nearly 3 million copies of his terrific "Diamonds & Pearls" CD in the past six months.
Now his profile is about to get even lower.
Today on MTV, Prince's latest hit single, "Money Don't Matter 2 Night," makes its video debut as part of a striking new short film by Spike Lee.
There's only one catch.
Prince isn't in it.
The video is a biting look at the nation's economic woes featuring Mr. Lee's images of downtrodden job-seekers, the homeless, President Bush on the links, Republicans at a gala, soup kitchens, and Donald Trump's garish gambling palace, the Taj Majal.
Prince and Mr. Lee had wanted to work together for years. Yet once they finally started this project, they spoke "maybe twice," Mr. Lee said during an interview last week.
"He played the album for me, and told me to pick a song," Mr. Lee said. "The first one I picked we couldn't do. Then I came back with "Money Don't Matter," and he said 'OK' and I said, 'Yes!'"
Prince gave Mr. Lee free rein.
But when Prince's record label, Warner Brothers, discovered that Prince was only heard on the audio portion, but not seen in Mr. Lee's project, they ordered a second video.
"When they saw it, it was like, Whoa! Where's Prince at?" Mr. Lee said.
Though clearly disturbed by Warner's decision, Mr. Lee graciously handed over his video to the Prince camp. From there, video editor Mitch Sineway interspersed Mr. Lee's work with low-key performance footage of "Money Don't Matter" to create an additional video.
Even though both videos stem from different creative visions, they share a similar feel.
Prince has never seemed as serene or as pensive. Photographed only from the chest up -- behind his grand piano -- he seems far less wrapped up in his image, and more involved in his music. In essence, he seems grown up; someone who genuinely cares about the families out of work, kids going hungry, old people shivering in the cold -- all portrayed in the new videos.
No matter that rich vs. poor is a time-worn topic ripe for cliches. Mr. Lee transcends that with stirring black-and-white photography and an unusual selection of archival footage from the Great Depression, as well as some recent footage shot in Soweto.
But what is most refreshing about these videos is that they are intelligent. "Money Don't Matter" presents a simple story about rough economic times, minus the smoke-and-mirror show we expect on MTV. And that's a bonus for millions of children bred on a video diet of cars, girls, guns and breasts.
"I've been guilty of that, too," Mr. Lee said of TV's excessive jiggle factor. "We've got to get away from that. We have to get away from this whole 'I love you, I love you, I need you, I want you' thing.
"There has to be a better way to sell records," said Mr. Lee, now owner of his own record label, 40 Acres and a Mule Musicworks.
Music-video premieres of Prince's "Money Don't Matter 2 Night": Spike Lee's original video and the second version featuring Prince will air back-to-back at 5 p.m. today, repeating at 10 p.m., on MTV.