Inside Prince: Is the Prince Immersive Experience Worth a Trip? by Tonya Pendleton

Inside Prince: Is the Prince Immersive Experience Worth a Trip?

by Tonya Pendleton

Immersive experiences, a relatively new way to experience the lives and works of iconic figures, have become popular around the world. The multimedia installations dedicated to a person or theme provide an interactive experience as opposed to the more passive one of a museum show or concert. Tupac Shakur,Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Van Gogh have been the subjects of recent experiences in Los Angeles, New York and Philadelphia respectively.

Prince is latest legendary artist to receive the immersive treatment and his prolific career lends itself to the format.

Running through December 31, 2022 in Chicago, the Prince Immersive Experience proves he wasn’t just a genius musician, but a cultural phenomenon who put his imprint on fashion, technology, photography, film, and design.

Upon entering the Experience, you’ll see blown-up photos of Prince reflecting the various eras of his 37-year career. In that time, he released 42 studio albums and recorded countless more he stored in his legendary vault at Paisley Park, where he lived and worked until his death in 2016 at the age of 57.

From the entrance, you head into the “Purple Rain” room, more specifically the “When Doves Cry” tableaux, which is where your immersion truly begins. The tub where Prince bathes in a room full of flowers and flying doves is more or less faithfully recreated, though you can imagine the notoriously perfectionist Prince finding fault in the plastic flowers or even the bathtub’s size. But given today’s Instagram world, the scene provides the first of several photo ops, as well as the idea that you could be anywhere as cool as Prince was in the now iconic video.

The “When Doves Cry” room at the new Prince exhibit.

In a mix of multimedia that is consistent throughout, the dramatic opening of the doors to the “When Doves Cry” room is preceded by a video that does a meticulous job of setting up Prince’s career and explaining why his legacy is important. The curators of The Prince Experience understood that despite the predominantly white male rock critics that covered most of Prince’s career, his legacy demands a more thorough take that centers him as an African American icon who wasn’t just connected to his community, but an advocate for it.

The white male critic who does get his just due here is Minneapolis Star Tribune music critic Jon Bream, who holds the distinction as the longest-tenured music critic at a newspaper in the country. Bream covered Prince over his entire career, and the indefatigable journalist’s take on Prince’s first concert at Minneapolis’ Capri Theater on Jan. 5, 1979, is one of the newspaper articles displayed to highlight Prince’s early roots in the city. In his review, Bream wrote that Prince was “cool, he was cocky, and he was sexy. Prince’s performance indicated he has extraordinary talent.” (Yes, that take aged well.) 

Perhaps the most impressive room in the Prince Immersive Experience is one that documents all 42 of his studio releases. The album art, release dates and track listing for each project is painstakingly detailed, museum style. But it would have been nice to have headphones attached to each display to play an album or two on demand. 

Prince’s albums, singles and side projects on display at Prince: The Immersive Experience.

Still, seeing all the albums in one space gives visitors a visual of how vast Prince’s catalog really is. Though his 80s work with the Revolution is considered his most fertile artistic and commercial period, in the 90s, Prince released an extraordinary run of projects including “Diamonds and Pearls,” and the three-CD sets “Emancipation” and“Crystal Ball.”

Speaking of “Diamonds and Pearls,” Prince’s double-platinum 1991 release has its own room in the Experience. Dripping in faux versions of both, the set is another chance to take a solo or group shot. 

A recreation of Prince’s Studio B at Paisley Park follows. Though the song wasn’t recorded there, “Let’s Go Crazy” is broken down into individual tracks, i.e., Prince’s vocal, Wendy’s guitar, etc. so that visitors can listen to each one through attached headphones. Though the room was dressed with such specific details as the 5-Hour Energy drinks Prince favored, if you’ve been to Paisley Park, you know it’s not quite an accurate rendition. 

But if you haven’t been, it does approximate Prince’s recording process. The 2022 Celebration at Paisley Park included a similar experience where members of 3rdeyegirl and the NPG played over pre recorded studio rehearsal tracks that included Prince giving vocal cues to the bands. 

Prince outfits displayed at Prince: The Immersive Experience.

A room dedicated to Prince’s fashion showcasing two of his performance outfits leads into a simulated “Glam Slam” club room with a live DJ spinning Prince tunes. When I was there, a woman was taking full advantage to get her own personal party on – a tribute to the out-of-body energy Prince’s music can generate. 

Another “Purple Rain” room — and photo op — is the recreation of the alley at First Avenue where Prince parked his motorcycle in the film, complete with the venue’s Hall of Fame wall, a mocked-up story about a fictional “Battle of the Bands” and other clever Prince fam easter eggs. 

The Purple Rain room at Prince: The Immersive Experience.

Artifacts including Prince’s signature Cloud and Hohner guitars and a keytar, the keyboard/guitar that Prince received a patent for, are on display as well. By virtue of a clever Bose collaboration, at the Experience’s end, you can generate your personal Prince playlist by using a kiosk with their headphones attached. 

To my surprise, the song it pulled up as the lead for my playlist was the deep cut “Purple Music,” from the “1999” special deluxe edition, which I admit sent me into somewhat of a purple trance for a sec, or more accurately, for as long as the song played. While Prince may have frowned on such canny commercialism, Bose missed an opportunity to sell its limited edition purple ‘pill’ speaker to a captive fanbase, although you could sign up onsite to win one. 

Prince – Purple Music

The Experience then returns visitors to the entrance where you could move on to the merchandise store. Though this year’s Paisley Park Celebration was deficient in new and creative merch options, the Immersive Experience had a nice mix of Experience-specific wear and fun stuff like a “Raspberry Beret” clouds sweatsuit, a “Let’s Go Crazy” flowered T and shorts, and other tchotchkes ranging from relatively cheap to break the bank expensive. The store is open to the public, whether you do the Experience or not. 

The Prince Immersive Experience can’t replace seeing Prince live or enjoying his creative force in real-time, nor give you as thorough an immersion as if you went to Paisley Park. But what it does extremely well is translate an iconic, yet mysterious, artist to a general audience. 

It also pleased the group of Prince scholars I attended with, and they’re a tough crew. My main quibble was the lack of Prince’s live performances, a centerpiece of his career and legacy. It may be that the Netflix embargo on footage due to the upcoming documentary precluded it, but it still felt like a glaring omission. Video of Prince’s iconic Super Bowl XLI halftime show performance would have helped, since it’s owned by the NFL and readily available on YouTube, but given the often thorny landscape of rights and clearances, it could have been too expensive or difficult to include. 

The Prince Immersive Experience is worth even a casual fan’s time and money, and is a great way to show a younger generation why Prince was so significant. In addition, it’s conveniently located on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, which means immediately adjacent opportunities to sight-see and spend even more of your money. 

Chicago is a great town, with a lot going on (I squeezed in a visit to the Art Institute of Chicago, and the WNBA All-Star Game, which conveniently took place the same weekend I was there) so it’s always worth a visit. Chi-town loved Prince when he was alive and now that he’s joined the ancestral realms, the Immersive Experience reflects the city’s appreciation for the very significant legacy he left behind. As we don’t know what programming and experiences the new Estate supervisors will put in place, this is a good chance to see something that has been vetted by Prince superfans/scholars. 

The Prince Immersive Experience, put on by Superfly and The Prince Estate, is up through December 31, 2022. Tickets range from $29.50 to $65 for General Admission to Gold Experience, which includes an “Around the World in a Day” poster and skip the line access. No word yet on any new cities or attendance numbers but if the enthusiasm we saw from fans young and old is any indication, hopefully, Chicago won’t be the last stop.  

<p><img class="wp-image-36067 alignleft" src="" alt="Tonya Pendleton" width="120" height="120"><span style="font-size: small;"><a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Tonya Pendleton</a>  is a veteran multimedia journalist in news, sports, lifestyle and entertainment reporting. She’s written for Essence, Ebony,, The Source, XXL, Jordan Magazine, the Philadelphia Daily News, The Washington Post and more. In her current incarnation as a writer/editor with and as “Things To Do” curator for NPR affiliate WHYY, she crafts content for a local and global audience. The  Philadelphia resident was born and raised in New York City and is a graduate of The New School.  Follow Tonya Pendleton on <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Twitter</a> and <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Instagram</a>.</span></p>

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