It’s no secret that gay boys love Bananarama. Visit any FB appreciation page or comment forum and it’s literally seething with them. They not only passionately love “their” girls, but are fiercely protective of them and explosively rejoice in any new songs, product, or forthcoming performances.
Since the announcement two weeks ago that the original line-up of Sara Dallin, Keren Woodward and Siobhan Fahey had reunited against all odds to tour at the end of the year, discussion groups and social media contributions have been so intense that even I, as a long-time besotted gay fanboy, have had to take a step back every once in a while. Cue smelling salts and palm to temple.
What inspires this ferocious devotion and why exactly do Bananarama elicit such strong emotions from gay men? Sit back … I’ll tell you what you wanna know….
1. They inspire confidence in shy boys
Back in summer 1982, 20-somethings Sara, Keren and Siobhan sang on one of their 25 Top 40 hits: “He used to be a shy boy, until I made him my boy.” This might as well be emblazoned across the chest of any true-blue gay ’Nanas fan. Growing up gay in the homophobic ’80s was no walk in the park (and if it were, it could become a bad dream). Insecurity and shame were rife in a community that was still struggling to accept itself in the face of verbal abuse, beatings and legislation. Bananarama, themselves shy and painfully insecure, taught us that we could hold our heads high, be proud, and dance the pain away. As Siobhan quoted in a recent radio interview: “Hard times call for furious dancing.”
Fuelled by their love of music (and copious amounts of alcohol) in the early days, the Rams (a moniker gifted them by Smash Hits magazine) invaded the London club scene and, fearful though they were, overcame their natural social awkwardness to connect with luminaries in the music world who they could collaborate, write and produce songs with. They styled themselves and made up sometimes laughable dance routines – all of which their public ended up loving them for. In so doing, they taught gay boys that being yourself, in all its imperfection, is just dandy.
Starting out post-punk, when it became legitimate for anyone to make music, regardless of training (or lack thereof), the girls stuck stubbornly to their guns. Frequently labelled as difficult by men because they were determined to go their own way, they taught the gay community that holding true to what you know is right for you is always the right course of action.
Feisty as they were, Bananarama also came up with plenty songs about longing. Back in the bad old days of repression, when gay men often had to go on a long, lonely, isolated journey of self-exploration before ending up in a community with other like-minded souls, they frequently ended up hung up on those unattainable straights. So we know a thing or two about the power of yearning. “I’m just thinking ’bout all those lonely nights, when I waited for your call….”
A peek into the Bananarama back catalogue (Last Thing on my Mind, Every Shade of Blue, Move in my Direction, Love Don’t Live Here) reveals a cornucopia of tearstained motifs, dramatic gestures, over-the-top gesticulating, and amping up emotion to string-laden ABBA proportions. Include in this category any video Siobhan went on to make post-Bananarama when she formed Shakespear’s Sister.
From their music video for Venus (casting themselves as Aphrodite, Satan and Dracula), to I Heard a Rumour (Carmen Miranda, Annie Oakley), Love in the First Degree (jailbirds and, yes, literally birds in jail), to I Can’t Help It (bathing in satin sheets, vats of goats milk and actual bananas), they demonstrated that nothing was off limits and that there was no such thing as too camp. They also taught us that hen nights were not just for girls.
Circa 1986 (Venus again), the Rams took to wheeling out a bevy of oiled hunks in tiny trunks any opportunity they got. None of their gay followers complained.
8. They invited all of us to their kitchen disco
When you dance to a Bananarama song in your kitchen, living room or at an office Christmas party, it encourages that feeling of wild abandon, with no obligation whatsoever to be cool. Show me one gay man who doesn’t like flailing his arms around in a badly synchronised party for one and I’ll show you a lunatic.
Like all the best divas (Madonna, Cher, Tina, Kylie), Bananarama are survivors. When Siobhan left in 1988 (apparently taking the “h” in Sara’s name with her), not one of them rolled over and quit their day job. Sara and Keren pursued a touring schedule and subsequent Bananarama albums and singles for another 30 years, while Siobhan did the same, first as Shakespear’s Sister, then solo. Having faced decades of struggle, gay men can relate to the politics of survival.
When the girls went their separate ways, it was after years of being almost claustrophobically close in their working and living environments. It was time to find and assert their independence. But the years apart taught them that nothing can replace the bond they share. No one else but the three of them went through that experience. Siobhan again in a recent TV interview, quoting her sister, quoting someone else: “New friends silver; old friends gold.” And like any good episode of Sex & the City demonstrated to the gay community and beyond, in the words of Carrie Bradshaw: “You’ll never get through it without your friends.”