“There was a tidal wave of gay pop music in 1984, the charts were the gayest ever,” said Alex Petridis, Music Editor as the Guardian at the Stoke Newington Literary festival on Sunday.
In a “Juke Box Fury” discussion hosted by Richard Boon, a panel of guest judges Petridis and the contributors Jude Rogers, columnist and music writer for The Guardian and Observer, Peter Paphides, previous chief rock critic of The Times, and Dorian Lynsky, a music writer for the Guardian, all discussed their music inspirations.
Boy George, Mark Almond, Pet Shop Boys, Bronski Beats, Adam Ant were amongst some of the icons whose highly sexualised lyrics were discussed. Pop music was perceived by the panel as “ambitious” in desensitising the public and breaking the social stigma around the gay community.
Prolific artist Adam Ant’s bondage stage routines, and subversive sexual interests in sexual behaviours ranging from transvestism, voyeurism, exhibitionism, attempted to challenge traditional sexual conventions is what Petridis said made Adam Ant “fucking brilliant,” he described how he went to school in the 1980’s after watching Adam Ant on Top of the Pops to promote his claim, much to his disappointment, “[Adam Ant] was not my ticket to enormous popularity I wasn’t merely gay I was a gay lord.”
Rogers reminisced about buying Small Town Boy, a 1984 release by Bronski Beat, on a Hit 84 in a cassette shop sale at the age of 16. Rogers describes how she was unaware of the homophobic attitudes in British society due to her naivety around sexuality, “I didn’t quite understand the story behind Small Town Boy. I knew I had to work it out.”
The song narrates the story of a young man, Jimmy Somervile, leaving his “small town,” Glasgow because of his sexuality. “Mother will never understand/ why you had to leave/ but the answers you seek will never be found at home.” Somervile’s lyrics addressed family rejection.
The panel perceived music as a “gateway into the adult world where relationships are ambiguous,” popular culture was regarded to bridge the gap between adulthood and childhood. Lynsky said, “music gave me a little glimpse into the adult world.”
Lynsky recalled how his 13 year old adolescent self was unaware of the sexual inferences in the 1987 song “Rent” by The Pet Shop Boys. Written by the pop duo Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, the song divulges into the relationship of the submissive “rent boy” dependent on his paymaster.
John Knox, an audience memberfrom Stoke Newington said, “it was true at the time there was these people that would appear on TV and children’s programmes and they would play their music with all these sexual undertones, of gay sex and things and it would not be apparent to the hosts. There was this disconnect between how people saw these things, their beliefs and the innocence of music, without realising whom the subjects were. Looking back it was really strange.”
Popular lyrics in the 1980’s naturalized the gay experience by increasing awareness, Lynsky said, “pop music made being gay a none gay issue.”