"Pop Life" was recorded before Prince's previous album, the soundtrack to his movie Purple Rain, was even completed. It was the first sign that Prince was getting tired of the celebrity game - the lyrics are about the trappings of being a celebrity in the music business, the drugs and pressure he was feeling. At the time, Prince was one of the biggest artists in the world.
Near the end, the song collapses on itself in a strange passage of bumps and crashes, underlain with boos and catcalls followed by cheers. The story is often told that this was taped during Prince's 1981 disastrous opening slot for the Rolling Stones. According to this legend, what you hear in the sample is the crowd booing him off the stage, then cheering as Prince leaves. However, Prince Vault
claims the samples actually come from a sound library set by the company Sound Ideas.
In June 1985, around the time of the release of the album, Prince announced he would no longer do live performances, a promise he only kept throughout the end of that year. He was touring and playing live again, though sporadically, to promote the Parade album and the film Under the Cherry Moon in 1986.
Elvis Costello planned to do a cover version of this song with altered lyrics as part of his 1997 greatest hits package Extreme Honey. However, Prince refused him permission to do so and instead Elvis borrowed the chord sequence of this song for the one original track on the album, "The Bridge I Burned."
In common with half of Around The World In A Day, "Pop Life" was a solo recording with add-ons, completed at Sunset Sound Recorders in California with Prince's staff engineer Susan Rogers and in-house engineer Peggy McCreary.
"Pop Life" was the first song recorded for Around The World In A Day. "It was a bright, sharp, funky elbow in the ribs to anybody who regarded their cup as being half empty. He could be a finger-wagging scold, and that's what 'Pop Life' is all about," Susan Rogers told Uncut magazine. "He really despised self-pity: 'woe is me, I have to do drugs to get over the pain.' Which is ironic, given what we know now of Prince taking drugs, not recreationally, but to literally survive physical pain. But at that time in his life he didn't understand that at all and he had no sympathy for it."
This was the second single from the Around The World In A Day
album, following "Raspberry Beret
." When the album was released, the plan was to have no singles at all, but radio stations, MTV and the rest of the industry machine proved incapable of choosing which songs to play on their own.