Monday, November 29, 2021

How ABBA Became Favorite Gay Icons: An Amazing Story

Somewhere right now, ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” is playing in an LGBT club, bar or house party. Gays (and their happy heterosexual friends) wave their arms, take ingenue poses, and unashamedly sing along to the sweet 45-year-old pop standard that has become synonymous with queer nightlife. This is our take on what fans do in ball games when their team wins, but with a camp of abundance ignited by the song’s brass harmonies and handy references to female royalty. Trump and his followers may have been claiming both YMCA and Macho from the village people for a while, but they will never take that away from us.

Thanks to numerous stage and screen incarnations of “Mamma Mia!” With fabulously colorful costumes from gay designer Ove Sandström and impeccably crafted songs more popular in hindsight than their heyday in the 70s and early 80s, ABBA has been at the center of the LGBTQ musical universe for decades. Ostensibly upbeat, but filled with drama and spiced with Scandinavian melancholy, the pop music of the Stockholm mixed quartet has projected the brilliance of countless gay and gay friendly performances from Kylie Minogue to Lady Gaga, from Adam Lambert to Lil Nas X – an exceptional achievement for a band that didn’t release an album 40 years. With the release of Voyage, its first new album since 1981 and a teaser for next year’s London concerts featuring 3D avatars, this week, ABBA is to many gay fans what the Rolling Stones are to straight people – archetypes whose appeal goes beyond time, place and age. While even icons like Madonna polarize opinions, almost all the colors of the gay rainbow converge on ABBA.

This has not always been the case. When Donna Summer was the undisputed dance queen, ABBA didn’t have many gay clubs, you know what: Disco’s master mixer, Tom Moulton, thought The Dancing Queen was perfect and so he turned it down. make a remix. (He has since regretted it.)

From the earliest underground clubs to Studio 54, the LGBTQ-oriented discos of the 70s were based on black and Latin beats. Yes, there were exceptions: Larry Levan – the influential gay black DJ at the legendary and mostly Black / LGBTQ Paradise Garage in New York – adored Cher’s “Take Me Home”. But gay DJs and their audiences mostly favored the underground divas and little-known orchestral maestros they discovered and popularized, rather than the successful pop singers that came across on AM radio.

This changed in the early 80s when the mainstream, media and US record companies declared the disco dead. This challenged the DJs who, since 1977, had a rhythmic stream of “Saturday Night Fever” to draw inspiration from. Street clubs have moved on to eclectic funk and a new wave, but the storehouse of fast, fun dance arias has almost dried up. Raul Rodriguez, a DJ at a New York, New York nightclub, came up with an ersatz solution when he expanded a track from ABBA’s 1980 album “Lay All Your Love on Me” in his home studio with cassette tape and razor blades. “BAM BAM BAM” – his special impact edits. “The first time he did it, it was a mistake,” recalls Robbie Leslie, veteran DJ of Saint, the greatest gay disco of the 80s. Rodriguez turned his chatterbox into a thundering attention that filled the air with both fists and poppers.

ABBA performance in 1978.

(Peter Bischoff / Getty Images) #

Similar to Leslie’s equally beloved mix of Jimmy Ruffin’s “Hold on to My Love,” Rodriguez’s transformation into ABBA only appeared on Disconet, a gay-owned remix service. You couldn’t just walk into a store and buy it: in the days before there was streaming, it could only be heard in clubs like Saint, where it remained in rotation for years. This forced the release overseas of a 12-inch relatively common LP, Lay All Your Love on Me, which retained the exclusivity of Rodriguez’s version, while its longevity proved that dancers, especially gay men, still crave fast, energetic club anthems. In 1982, North American label ABBA released its sister high-temperature tune “The Visitors” as a single, but again the subscription-only gay remix service Hot Tracks provided an extended version.

After ABBA recorded what would be decades of its final sessions that year, British producers such as Stoke Aitken Waterman filled the void with originally gay-oriented tracks “hi-NRG” that went mainstream through Dead or Alive. Bananarama, Minogue and Summer herself. while everyone from Latin scoundrels to the Pet Shop Boys copied Rodriguez’s machine-gun edits.

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When hi-NRG ran out of steam, English Erasure released in 1992 “Abba-esque”, a love letter to cover versions. His gay vocalist Andy Bell and his synth buddy Vince Clarke even recreated the video “Take a Chance on Me” from their original material in drag and drop, and the results hit the top of the UK charts. The originals appeared that year at ABBA Gold, which is now one of the best-selling tickets of all time. In 1994, these old pieces were used extensively in Muriel’s Wedding, which gave gay lover Toni Collette a big break, and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, a transtastic road comedy. At the height of the AIDS epidemic, ABBA has been reborn in the epitome of disheartening kitsch.

But if pompous outfits and chewing gum hooks were the only gear ABBA gave LGBT culture, its gay appeal would plummet after the life-saving emergence of antiviral cocktails. Under the glitter of satin and glitter, ABBA has always hid conflicts and contrasts to rival the world’s most renowned songwriters. Time after time they found conflicting coincidences – amplified instruments were opposed to romantic rejection (Waterloo), dejected lyrics paired with a cheerful melody (Mamma Mia), strong choral harmonies that capture moments of solitary weakness (SOS), catchy while cracking up (“Visitors”) – the controversy continues and continues.

As odd as it sounds, champion connoisseurs often point out and reconcile these inconsistencies. Consider how the Supremes gleefully brought emotional enslavement to life, both civil rights and Stonewall soundtracks. Or Laura Niro, who ran AM radio with streamlined covers from 5th Dimension and others, while her own intricate albums turned her into an iconic LGBTQ hero long before she was left with a female partner. Or Lou Reed, a rebel on multiple levels who took over Andy Warhol’s run-down factory with religious devotion. Our survival strategy has always been to confront hate with love; we show fun to tolerate its opposite.

However, at the most fundamental level, ABBA’s heterosexuality is more obvious than that of the most outspoken rock guys. Even before the group’s breakthrough for Eurovision in 1974, Agneta Feltskog and Bjorn Ulveus were romantic partners; so were Anni-Fried Lyngstad and Benny Andersson. Both couples got married and their musical nuances multiplied, culminating in the harrowing 1980s song “Winner Takes All” when Feltskog and Ulvaeus ended their breakup; Lyngstad and Andersson also divorced the following year. “We will never get better,” Ulvaeus told me when I interviewed him in 1994. “Why do we need?”

As the abbreviation of the first name suggests, ABBA was a supergroup from the very beginning: the guys played in successful groups; the girls were solo stars – while still a teenager, Feltskog composed some of her hits. Ulveus and Andersson composed, produced and played the songs, but the synchronicity of Feltskog’s and Lyngstad’s vocals moved them so furiously that sexual liberation hymns such as “Gimme! Give me! Give me! (The Man After Midnight) “seem strange, custom made. Lesbian separatists and gay misogynists may grumble, but most of us love ABBA’s unrivaled gender parity. and equality. Strong women and sensitive men who love and respect each other are central to the group’s alchemy, as well as its enduring LGBT appeal: we are who we are and who we want the world to be.

And this contributed to their reconciliation. “It was a union of heart and mind. Things like this are rare and so hard to find, “Lyngstad recalls of the band’s past in the song” Voyage “” I Still Believe in You. ” Her voice has become more fragile than before, however, she displays solid knowledge. “Is it in me?” she asks loudly with Feltskog, and at this moment their merger overcomes the uncertainty.

Even after these decades of divorce and separation, the ABBA members team up with such grace that they all achieve strawberry place; literally, a patch of strawberries. This is a Swedish concept that director Ingmar Bergman captures in Strawberry; a secret place where the fruits of the heart grow freely. It’s ABBA’s gift to LGBT culture – an oasis in the mega-mainstream that Rodriguez and other gay pioneers have helped improve.

Barry Walters is the author of the forthcoming book Mighty Real: The Music That Built LGBTQ America.

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