melted_snowball: (formal)
[personal profile] melted_snowball
Lost amidst the (deserved) hubbub about the Internet RickRolling phenomenon, wherein the video of Rick Astley's 1987 hit "Never Gonna Give You Up" is linked in (seemingly) unconnected internet discussions, is the seminal nature of this #1 hit, and particularly its video, in the prominence of homosexuality and the gay gaze in 1980's Britain. It is also a classic document of just how far interracial gay relationships were and were not able to go at that challenging moment in gay history, right when AIDS was first decimating the community.

Let us note, just for starters, how Rick himself has just a completely incompetent white-guy shuffle through the entire video, and that the blonde bombshell in the first bit of the presentation is similarly not much of a dancer. Note, also, the phallic shadow that comes 30 seconds into the document: clearly by being only in the shadow, we are hinted at what he will never give up, but in the standard lexicon of 1987, there is no complete openness here.

Further: "We're no strangers to love: you know the rules, and so do I" clearly is a reference to the Love that [then] Dared Not Speak its name: if Rick could find the stranger love, he would, of course, never give [it] up or let [it] down.

However, the seminal moment in the entire piece comes at 51 seconds in, when the black dancer, with the ambiguous facial expression, first appears. What is he doing? Polishing the bar. Polishing the bar?! The sexual tension is thick, particularly given that we never see this dancer alongside Astley himself: instead, almost as in a game, the dancer does ever more impressive stunts trying to level the playing field, including the full split at 1:20. But Astley is "too blind to see", instead focusing on the ass of the woman dancer at 1:21-1:22.

The transgressive flirtation continues, when the dancer does a front flip over the [!] polished bar while smiling, immediately followed by the most flirtatious smile of the entire piece, from Astley. Again, the female dancer's ass, again the phallic shadow. The pattern keeps spiralling, to a conclusion we all anticipate, but, again, in the 1987 millieu, we cannot fully consummate.

Except, we learn that maybe Rick doesn't only go for the truly transgressive black guys: a white guy with chiselled features and bleached hair appears at 1:57. He takes the rule of the fascist ├╝bermensch.

But liberation happens, or begins to! At 2:10, the black dancer appears in the outside set, the fenced playing field. Freedom, of a sort. And Astley doesn't know what to do; at 2:20, he briefly shows us the lining of his jacket, in a thinly veiled attempt to tittilate to the boiling point. Is he worried that the black dancer will run off with the white dancer, and he wants to remind us that he's the one with the record contract and the nice (for the '80s) clothes.

The true lesson of "Never Gonna Give You Up", then, is that economically powerful gay white men are starting to exploit their privilege, but are unfamiliar with exactly how: Astley keeps repetitively chanting "Never Gonna Give You Up", almost like a mantra, but is not entirely certain of what he will be giving up or getting. He knows the rules, but not the entire game. He keeps grinning everytime one of the dancers' asses appears, but then goes back to that perfectly coiffed hair and that marvellous, striped shirt with a polo collar, safely separated from the black dancer by that eternally polished wood bar. He may glance, and he may grin, but we all know what he wants, but just can't quite bring himself to reach.

Truly, this documents the mid-80s gay experience in a tragic, yet seemingly upbeat way. Rick wants to give himself up, but instead promises only that he will never let us down. How tragic.

And, of course, it's obvious why he worries his daughter will be embarrassed, twenty years later. So much gay pathos, in a perfect three-and-a-half-minute pop song.


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