The shit storm UK pop duo Bros have had to stare down over the past 30 years could have broken lesser men. Born out of the ’80s pop laboratory that placed flash, excess, image and 10,000-watt star quality dead centre, 18-year-old south London twins Matt and Luke Goss (and their pal Ken) revelled in the excitement of their celebrity, and the opportunity that it gave them to travel the world and be creative. They shared this with an adoring audience. Unfortunately their success, as so often happens, also produced a persistent strain of spiteful criticism and a ferocious eagerness from their detractors to bring them down.
The UK press has made it their business to this day to find every nasty, unkind, ill-mannered and disrespectful angle it could muster to support their opinion that Bros were a joke. Similarly, social media commentators have used the opportunity of Bros’s 28-years-in-the-making reunion gigs this past weekend to accuse them of profiteering, selfishness, arrogance and exploiting fans. Hardly surprising then that Matt and Luke moved to America a long time ago.
During a recent interview, Luke in fact made a point of thanking presenters of ITV This Morning for their unexpected support – probably because Bros are not used to media support in their home territory. Imagine coming to perform in your own country, to your own community, and not being assured of support or kindness other than that from your fanbase.
The general newspaper and digital media coverage has been super-predictable: despite hundreds of positive Twitter comments, The Sun uses a handful of negative comments on the ITV appearance as their mocking headline; The Guardian review of one of the O2 gigs drips condescension with snide comments like “the band hardly struggles to cram in all their hits”; the Financial Times proves how clever and above frivolous pop it is by using “döppelgangers” correctly in a sentence.
A friend and I recently debated why the Bananarama reunion tour – due later this year – seems to have been met with nothing but enthusiasm and celebration, whereas Matt and Luke’s has been constantly dogged by an undercurrent of smug, sarcastic glee and an air of suspicion. The only conclusion we could come to was that Bananarama presented themselves as somewhat poise-free girls next door who weren’t particularly good at their craft yet possessed a great deal of charm and likeability, whereas Bros and their management styled them in a way that perhaps made them seem more serious, untouchable and therefore easier to take pot shots at. Bananarama set themselves up as nothing special, which the public seems to have warmed to, while Bros set themselves up as stars, which the public loves to see fall.
There is a poignant irony lurking amidst all of this. If you paid enough attention to Matt and Luke back then, or over the subsequent decades as they carved out successful careers for themselves in America (Matt as a Vegas singer; Luke as an LA-based action-movie star), you might have noticed that beneath the chiselled cheekbones and trappings of celebrity, they were always gentle, warm, soft-spoken, loving boys who are exceedingly kind to their followers. They frequently displayed their affection for one another and their fans and, as far as I can remember, never had a bad word to say about anyone. Quite why few commentators other than their fans noticed this, or choose to ignore it, is beyond me.
Pressed to make sense of it all, one wonders who the villains in this story are: two young boys who, fuelled with excitement to make their dreams come true, grabbed stardom with both hands and gave their fans a ride they would never forget, or ill-tempered observers who take pleasure in hurting others with bitter mockery and malicious muckraking. I know which way my vote goes.
What a glorious vindication then for Bros – and their unfathomably loyal fans, who waited 28 years to nail their colours to the mast once more – to be able to revel in their mutual love of music at London’s O2 arena on August 19 and 20. What a great opportunity to focus on Matt and Luke’s fierce determination to spread gentleness and happiness, rather than on a certain kind of journalist’s bloody-minded insistence on superior, self-satisfied sarcasm.
Talking to enthusiastic Brosettes before and after the gig I attended was a beautiful thing. Decked out in their tribal garb of leather jackets, ripped jeans, James Dean insignia, red neckerchiefs, and black Doc Martens with Grolsch bottle tops attached, their joy was infectious and life-affirming.
Myself an honorary Brosette (I could never quite wrap my head around the clumsy male moniker of a “Bro”), I was unable to be physically present for the first bout of Brosmania in the ’80s as I grew up in South Africa, but to my surprise, many of the Brosettes missed out on the first round of gigs too because their mums wouldn’t let them go. This was their and my opportunity to share an experience we thought long passed.
All that glitters
On to the show. A stylish and ever-cool Matt could have given Kylie a run for her sequinned hotpants, bedecked as he was in rhinestone eruptions the weight of which could have crippled a less robust trooper. Luke was our rock god for the night, resplendent in black threads, tributary Soundgarden T-shirt and plastered fingers to protect those drummer’s hands.
Together the boys and their band ripped through the hits (I Owe You Nothing, Too Much, Drop the Boy), the fan favourites (Are You Mine?) and two new tracks (the Stevie Wonder-tinged family-first feel-good Love Can Make You Fly and the reconciliation-focused Garden of Forgiveness, which the boys used to highlight their photos of present and departed family members). This led effortlessly into the single honouring their late sister Carolyn: 1989’s Sister. Robbed of its haunting chorus, and augmented instead by crashing drums, I felt something had been lost from the original, but it was a powerful moment nevertheless.
Sadly absent was the funk workout of 1989 hit Chocolate Box and my two favourite album tracks: Money from 1989’s The Time, and Never Love Again from 1991’s Changing Faces. Instead, the set list was understandably built mostly around the multiplatinum-selling 1988 debut Push (all tracks performed except Love to Hate You) and its lesser-known tunes that became anthems for the 1989 Bros Live In 2 Summer Wembley gig (It’s a Jungle Out There; Ten Out of Ten).
I won’t let you down
Frequent George Michael collaborators, bassist Deon Estus and vocalist Shirley Lewis (Luke’s wife), joined Matt and Luke on stage for a warm tribute to a fellow fallen soul boy on George’s Freedom 90.
The synth stabs of The Big Push Overture (a 1988 instrumental b-side made up of Push favourites) were an appropriate aural backdrop to a stage-screen display of the Brosmania photo album: japes the lads got up to back in the day, and plenty shots of the ever-loyal Brosettes.
A mercifully punchy ending of signature tune When Will I Be Famous? provided a welcome relief from the usually overblown and drawn-out encore procedure. Sweaty and satisfied, the Brosettes had nothing to complain about. Now if only someone could make those social media commentators and journalists that happy….
Set list: I Owe You Nothing / Shocked / I Quit / Are You Mine? / Changing Faces / Too Much / Cat Among the Pigeons / Garden of Forgiveness / Sister / It’s a Jungle Out There / Liar / Love Can Make You Fly / Ten Out of Ten / Drop the Boy / Freedom 90 / The Big Push Overture / When Will I Be Famous?