The Real Meaning Behind Prince’s ‘1999’

It’s hard to believe it’s been five whole years since we lost music legend Prince on April 21, 2016. The Purple Rain singer was only 57 at his time of death after accidentally overdosing on fentanyl, according to The New York Times. But in the wake of his death, Prince’s music is still honored around the world.

In fact, Prince’s estate rereleased his 1999 album in November 2019, 37 years after the album first hit airwaves and “made him a rock star before Purple Rain made him a mass pop star,” as The Times puts it.

 “I think the idea is to shine a light on the entirety of Prince’s creative legacy,” the archivist for Prince’s vault, Michael Howe, told NPR following the rerelease. “There were at least a couple of times during his life where he mentioned that he thought the contents of his vault, or some portion thereof, would be released at some point after he was gone. So using that guiding principle, we use our best judgment to present the things that we think are appropriate for specific creative eras of his life.”

Although Prince left us with plenty of never-heard material, there are a few things we don’t know about some of his beloved songs, including “1999.” Keep scrolling for the real meaning behind the iconic track.

The meaning of '1999' isn't what you may think

Prince’s “1999” was first released in 1982 and was a direct reflection of the times. You see, the early 1980s marks the closest the world has ever come to nuclear war, according to scientists, per Wired. But with people panicked over a possible Armageddon, Prince chose to look towards the future with the year 1999 being nearly two decades away at the time. According to Song Meanings and Facts, the song acts as a metaphor for three big ideas, two of which are the fright over nuclear war, and the religious significance of the year 1999 being the end of the world, “since in this song Prince alludes to a general feeling of pessimism people were feeling about what the near future would bring,” the website explained.

However, the primary meaning behind “1999” is about “recognizing that this year would logically be one of the biggest party dates in history, since, once again, it is ushering in a new millennium,” according to the outlet. “So that is what the artist means when he states his intent to ‘party like it’s 1999’,” they wrote, adding the track “is in direct defiance of the depressing ideas that the world is coming to an end.” And while Prince acknowledges that ‘we could all die any day’ in the song, his anthem was intended to help people live in the moment instead of fearing the future. Now that is a message we can get behind.

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