Watch: The Village People's Victor Willis: 'Y.M.C.A.' Is Not a 'Gay Anthem!'

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday September 23, 2020

This 2007 file photo released by Victor Willis World shows former Village People lead singer Victor Willis in costume
This 2007 file photo released by Victor Willis World shows former Village People lead singer Victor Willis in costume  (Source:AP Photo/Victor Willis World, File)

If you were under the impression that "Y.M.C.A.," the Village People's smash hit from 1978, is a "gay anthem," founding member and song co-writer Victor Willis has news for you: It's not. What's more, he's threatened to take legal action against anyone who says that it is.

Willis said in a Sept. 20 Facebook post that "false accusations" have it that "Y.M.C.A." is about hooking up at the famed global organization's hostels. Noting that he "wrote 100% of the lyrics" to the song, Willis declared, "I ought to know what my song is about."

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Willis went on to vow, "I will sue the next media organization, or anyone else, that falsely suggests Y.M.C.A. is somehow about illicit gay sex."

Though he did not point to any social media post or media outlet specifically, an Aug. 4 article at the BBC celebrated the group's music as being built around "tongue-in-cheek gay innuendo, sparsely covered by a flimsy veneer of hyper-macho drag."

That article went on to hold up "Y.M.C.A." as a prime example:

Their signature song YMCA — one of the most famous of all time, most recently appropriated by Donald Trump supporters, who have turned it into M-A-G-A — is about cruising for sex in a mens' health club; others celebrate traditionally male-oriented institutions such as the navy and the police.

But Willis (who recently demanded that the Trump campaign stop using the song) insists it is not so. In a response to a supporter's comment to his Facebook post, Willis offered more detail:

"There is no Gay subtext to Y.M.C.A. Did Village People record songs with a Gay subtext? YES we did! But YMCA is not one of them. In fact, the Gay songs all appeared on the first album."

But what can be cited as a counter-argument against Willis is footage of the original video, which features the group singing the song with the iconic gay club The Ramrod in the background. The Ramrod was one of the leading West Side gay clubs that were packed in the late 1970s where it wasn't unusual for men to hook up on the premises.

"Y.M.C.A." was the only single from the group's third album, "Cruisin'." Willis said in his Facebook comments that after the first album, "Jacques Morali and I moved our music away from" gay subtexts, and added that "the second, third, fourth, and fifth albums were far more successful than the first album because the music was moved away from that narrow focus."

This is not the first time Willis has spoken out about the popular interpretation of the song. In 2017, he told the press, "It was not written to be a gay song because of the simple fact I'm not gay," although he then went on to say: "I'm happy the gay community adopted it as their anthem, I have no qualms with that."

Revisit the original video of "Y.M.C.A." below.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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