In 2008, Prince covered Radiohead’s “Creep” at Coachella. Camera phones, affordable 3G, and social media had gone mainstream by then, but it would be years before most of us were finally able to see the eight-minute clip. Prince, protective over his work in a way that now feels prescient, monitored YouTube and Instagram and had footage taken down by claiming copyright violations. He was often called a technophobe for taking a hard line on the digital platforms that were actually upending the music industry, but he recognized that genius was a commodity to protect. “There is nothing minor about you,” he said in his acceptance speech for Artist of the Decade at the 2000 Soul Train Awards. “You are a blessed people, you are the most talented on Earth and you are still grateful. That is why upon winning in their game, you always thank God.”
He may have been particular about his business, but he wasn’t miserly. If you ever basked in Prince’s purple charisma live—I did, just once, in 2011—you'd know. From hour-long encores to audience members dancing on stage, celebrity guests, and unexpected covers, Prince could hold down a show. So I think we thirsted after the Radiohead cover not because we couldn't have it, but because it was the rare reminder, outside of being at a Prince concert or hearing him speak at an awards show, that he was watching us too.
“Creep” might be Radiohead's most mawkish song but, like Coldplay’s “The Scientist” or Lauryn Hill’s “To Zion” or Adele’s “Someone Like You” or Prince’s own “Purple Rain,” it’s unique in its ability to speak to the inner voice of literal billions. These are songs we privately cry to, together. Vulnerability can be isolating, but it’s not a solitary condition. And watching him cover “Creep” feels like a profound moment in Prince fandom. We didn’t know him like we wanted because he didn’t participate in the sinkhole of modern celebrity; maybe when he was feeling something, he'd play his guitar about it. His ineffable courage in being black, alpha, flamboyant, ageless, feminist, genius, private, and sexy, was so great we thought he couldn’t possibly be of our time—our world, even. But that video of Prince covering “Creep” at Coachella stands out because, from the soft opening riff to his closing, fishhook of a solo, it was a reminder that he might know what it was to be merely mortal like us.