One critic, after viewing her pelvic thrust-and-parry stage moves, accused her of “the most uninhibited display of aggressive female sexuality since Tina Turner.” It is a charge to which Vanity happily pleads guilty—with an explanation. Says the former Denise Matthews: “I’m a real romantic. I’ve never been to bed with a man I wasn’t in love with.” And what of the look that surely attracts a lot of men she doesn’t love? “I’ve had a mailman call me on the pay phone in a restaurant and tell me he wants me,” the singer explains. “What’s the big deal?”
For Vanity, 25, the only big deals that count these days are the kind you sign on the dotted line. Now amiably estranged from her ex-lover and former Svengali, the protean Prince, she has recently emerged with her first solo LP, Wild Animal, and its predictably suggestive single, Pretty Mess. The album comes from Motown, which also produced Vanity’s first big-budget film, The Last Dragon, a martial arts fantasy-romance due to be released next March.
The movie seems as much a consolation prize as a career maker, however. Back in Minneapolis Vanity had helped Prince script Purple Rain and had been slated to play the female lead, a role based in part on her own life story. But before the cameras rolled, so too had Vanity—off to California and a solo career. “I needed one person to love me, and he needed more,” she says of Prince, conceding that she hasn’t even seen Purple Rain, because “it would bring back old memories, and I don’t want to cry.”
The illegitimate child of a black father and a white mother, Vanity had at first hoped that modeling would loft her out of her native Niagara Falls, Ontario. On her own at 16, she scratched for modeling assignments, made several low-budget movies (including Terror Train with then queen-of-the-Bs Jamie Lee Curtis) and finally turned up alone and despondent at the 1980 American Music Awards show in L.A. There she met Prince, who called her at 3 a.m. The couple dated for several months, and Prince, learning that she could sing, eventually invited her to Minneapolis to front a racy all-girl group he was forming.
“He wanted me to call myself Vagina. He said people would know me nationwide,” she discloses with a smile. “I said, ‘No kidding.’ ” They settled on Vanity, and Vanity 6, clad in scanty camisoles and singing tunes like Drive Me Wild and Nasty Girls, soon cracked the black Top 10.
Last year, when the Purple Rain crowd threw Vanity a farewell party at the now-famous First Avenue Club in Minneapolis, Prince did not attend. Still, “everything has worked out great,” insists Vanity, who now sports a new Jaguar XJS, a new boyfriend (recent college grad Robbie Bruce) and a pile of new scripts to consider. With her old mentor now readying a tour to hype his Purple Rain LP, Vanity is concentrating on a reign of her own! “I never thought, ‘Oh God, I’m in Prince’s shadow,’ ” she says firmly. “He’d been performing for years and he was my teacher. I miss his humor. I always felt we’d be like Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor over the years. I can honestly say I love the kid.”