Helmed by the distinctive falsetto of vocalist Jimmy Somerville, openly gay pop music trio Bronski Beat couldn’t help but stand out amongst the tremendous number of synthpop bands beginning to saturate the market in the early-mid 80s. Much like the distinctive sound of Pet Shop Boys’ vocalist Neil Tennant, Somerville’s voice is instantaneously recognizable.
Though the band scored several UK top 40 hits, including “Why” and “Hit That Perfect Beat”, many would consider Bronski Beat’s most celebrated song to be the 1984 single “Smalltown Boy.” Although the emotionally charged lyrics specifically documented the struggles of growing up gay in the United Kingdom, the track immediately struck a nerve with the LGBT community around the world. The song tells a story that runs parallel to the experiences so many in our community endure. As children and young adults, many of us experienced feelings of fear, guilt and shame lurking just below the surface, so the connection to the lyrics is both authentic and profound.
“Pushed around and kicked around, always a lonely boy,” Somerville sings. “You were the one that they’d talk about around town as they put you down.” Bronski Beat’s deeply meaningful lyrics complimented the slightly upbeat musical arrangement really well, and, in so doing, helped the song reach a substantial audience.
“Smalltown Boy” means a lot to me, and it still does. The track perfectly sums up the uncertainty that comes with growing up gay. It is more than just a pop song, it’s something much greater than that.