Y.M.C.A. is one of the most iconic tracks of all time. Whether you first heard it in a school classroom or at a sporting event, the song and dance are almost ubiquitous in Western culture, especially in the United States.
Since 1978, this disco classic has had a place in our hearts, but what are the hidden meanings and the story behind both Y.M.C.A. and Village People? Read on to find out!
Origins of Village People
The disco craze of the 70s attracted many members of the LGBTQ+ community, and music producers were keen to try to capitalize on that. In 1978, two producers began putting together a group to attract gay audiences by parodying stereotypes of the community and writing tracks with gay underpinnings. This led to the creation of Village People and serves as the reason for the characters such as policeman, biker, construction worker, soldier, and cowboy.
While many people still think they were an all-gay group, this was untrue. Also, looking back at it, some people think the group was exploiting the LGBTQ+ community, though they became wildly popular with that audience in spite of using stereotypical themes for the band and songs.
The Backstory of “Y.M.C.A.”
Y.M.C.A. started out as a filler song for Village People’s third album Cruisin’. It took a total of 20 minutes to write, but the instant the band heard it, they knew they had stumbled on a hit track.
The famous dance for the song has an incredibly interesting origin. While you might expect the band or music producers to have come up with it, the dance came as a shock to both.
Village People performed Y.M.C.A. on an episode of American Bandstand in 1979, but the band didn’t come up with the dance moves, the audience in attendance did. As the band got to the chorus, they threw their hands in the air—essentially making the “Y” shape.
The kids in the audience copied them, then proceeded to continue gesturing to shape out the rest of the letters of Y.M.C.A. While there’s debate over it being spontaneous or choreographed, it doesn’t matter. Dick Clark, Village People, and their producers were all impressed with the dance, and it became a staple of the routine.
So, that’s where the entire dance for Y.M.C.A. that everyone knows today originated from.
Meaning of “Y.M.C.A.”
The true meaning of Y.M.C.A. is largely up for debate, as many people think it has a lot of tongue-in-cheek connotations that weren’t ever confirmed by the producers of the song.
The biggest thing to get out of the way is whether or not the track is meant to be a gay anthem.
Co-writer Victor Willis went on record to say that it was absolutely not a gay song and that it was inspired by playing basketball at a Y.M.C.A. in his youth. He would also add that he wanted to write a track to fit anyone’s lifestyle, but was happy the gay community adopted it as an anthem and had no issues with them doing so.
Randy Jones and David Hodo had different opinions on the track though. According to them, Jacques Morali—one of the few members who was gay—wrote the song for gay people. According to them, they were a gay group and the entire album was one of the gayest of all time, so those underlying themes were undoubtedly in Morali’s mind when he wrote Y.M.C.A. and undeniably were part of the inspiration for the track. In Hodo’s own words: “So was the song written to celebrate gay men at the YMCA? Yes. Absolutely. And gay people love it.”
It’s certainly hard to argue against Jones and Hodo here. While producers will, of course, want a track to be as far-reaching as possible and avoid offending potential listeners, Y.M.C.A. is in no way explicit or offensive to a casual audience. We’ll look at some of the lines in the song to explain it better and show how it can relate to both sides.
They have everything for young men to enjoy,
You can hang out with all the boys.
This is part of the song that many people point to when they reason that this is a gay anthem. The Y.M.C.A. is painted as a place you can go to be with other boys and have a good time.
Young man, there’s no need to feel down…
…There’s no need to be unhappy
A lot of people in the LGBTQ+ community feel down or feel like they should hide who they really are to be accepted. This still happens today and is extremely sad. The song is trying to tell those people that they don’t need to be unhappy or feel so alone because there’s a specific place they can go where they are accepted and can leave all of those problems behind them.
Whether you’re looking at lyrics about finding any number of ways to have a good time, doing whatever you feel like, or leaving behind your problems, there shouldn’t be any surprise that this was picked up as a gay anthem. While the track obviously contains no explicit lyrics or overt gay references, they are still there, and the song was a lifeline to many people in the late 70s and 80s who needed another place to find some level of acceptance and spend time with their peers.
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As a contributing writer for Music Grotto, Dakotah writes and produces professional music/media content. He works closely with editorial staff to meet editorial standards and create
quality content for the Music Grotto website. Dakotah is passionate about music in a wide variety of genres, from hip-hop to country and lo-fi to metal, and he enjoys creating music pieces for Music Grotto.