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The Village People  

The Village People were a disco-era singing group formed in the late 1970s. Although the group never identified itself as gay, its primary appeal was clearly to a gay male audience. It successfully translated the interests, coded language, and iconography of the gay male subculture into music that crossed over into mainstream pop.

Because the general public was largely unaware of the meanings and suggestiveness of the lyrics and costumes associated with the group, the gay audience not only enjoyed the music on its own terms, but also relished the irony of a mainstream audience unknowingly embracing subculture values and images.

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The Village People were formed in 1977 by French record producer Jacques Morali, who was inspired to create the group after seeing performer Felipe Rose, dressed as a Native American, singing and dancing in the streets of Greenwich Village. Hence the group's name.

Morali approached Rose about forming a group and then, with his partner Henri Belelo, auditioned other singers by advertising in trade publications for "singers with mustaches."

All members of the group performed in costume to represent other masculine (and, not coincidentally, gay male fantasy) archetypes: Native American Rose, construction worker David Hodo, policeman Victor Willis, soldier Alex Briley, cowboy Randy Jones, and biker leatherman Glenn Hughes. Rose was openly gay, but the other singers never addressed their sexual orientation.

Regardless, The Village People's core audience was undeniably gay men, and their most popular hits were overtly .

"YMCA" (1978), for example, told its presumably male audience about the delights of staying at the YMCA with other young men; "In the Navy" (1979) sang the joys of being in the Navy with other young men; and so on.

The group's other major hits included "Macho Man" (1978), "Fire Island" (1977), and "Go West" (1979). Three of their albums went gold (selling more than 500,000 albums) and four went platinum (selling more than 1,000,000).

The Village People starred in a largely fictionalized film version of their origins, Allan Carr's Can't Stop the Music (1980), which featured blatantly homoerotic production numbers. One of the most memorable took place in a gym and involved a large number of muscular men going through Busby Berkeley routines to the tune of "YMCA." Although critics savaged the film, it has gone on to achieve a certain status as a camp classic.

Several of the Village People's albums were released only in Europe, where they had a large and faithful following. Their third album released in America, Renaissance (1981), was their attempt to reinvent themselves as a new wave 1980s group, after the decline of disco. The album was a commercial flop and the Village People disbanded from touring in 1986. Morali, the group's founder and creative director, died of AIDS-related illnesses in 1991.

Never taken particularly seriously (musically or otherwise), The Village People nevertheless remain one of the enduring legacies of 1970s gay male popular culture. They regrouped in 1998, with three of the original singers and three replacements (Jeff Olson as the cowboy, Ray Simpson as the cop, and Eric Anzalone as the leatherman biker). They continue touring, performing both their early hits and new material as well.

Robert Kellerman

     

    
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   Related Entries
  
arts >> Overview:  Disco and Dance Music

No popular art form is more closely identified with gay culture than disco and dance music.

arts >> Overview:  Music: Popular

Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons have had tremendous influence on popular music, though some musical genres have been more receptive to a homosexual presence than others.

arts >> Overview:  Subjects of the Visual Arts: Sailors and Soldiers

Soldiers and sailors constitute a long-standing presence in gay male visual culture.

arts >> Overview:  The Western

A distinctive American narrative genre that has developed over more than two centuries, the Western is now consumed worldwide; characteristically depicting homosocial relationships, it is also frequently suffused with homoeroticism.

arts >> Gold, Ari

Ari Gold, the award-winning recording artist, is unusual for his openness in an industry that has not exactly welcomed openly gay performers.

arts >> Levan, Larry

Regularly hailed as the world's greatest DJ and widely credited with changing the sound of dance music in the 1970s and 1980s, Larry Levan was the driving force behind New York City's legendary dance club Paradise Garage.

arts >> Pet Shop Boys

The recordings of the British pop duo Pet Shop Boys may be seen as a reaction to events that stirred the British gay community in the last two decades of the twentieth century.

arts >> Scissor Sisters

The American pop band Scissor Sisters was spawned in New York City's gay club scene; frequently addressing issues of transgressive sexuality, the band has cultivated a large glbtq fan base.

arts >> Sylvester

One of the most original and talented musicians to come out of the disco arena, Sylvester was a versatile stylist who brought depth--as well as campiness--to all his material.

social sciences >> YMCA

By the early twentieth-century, YMCAs had become popular havens for men who sought sex with other men.


    Bibliography
   

"A Straight Road to Gay Stardom." Maclean's (April 24, 2000): 9.

"With a Bump, a Grind and a Wink, Disco's Macho Men are Time-Warp Wonders." People Weekly (June 17, 1996): 60-61.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Kellerman, Robert  
    Entry Title: The Village People  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated August 16, 2004  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/arts/village_people.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  
 

 

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