David Bowie and the Radical Androgyny of 1970’s British Glam Music

Posted: September 19, 2011 in metrosexual

Gary Kemp: My teen crush on David Bowie | Music | The Guardian

For many my age, David Bowie’s seminal performance of Starman on Top of the Pops in 1972 became the benchmark by which we would for ever judge pop and youth culture. It was a cocksure swagger of pouting androgyny that appealed to pubescent working-class youth across Britain – a Britain still dominated by postwar austerity and weed-filled bomb sites. For us, the swinging 60s had never happened; we were too busy watching telly.

In 1971, that telly went colour, and pop music redressed itself accordingly. The instigator was a square-jawed puck from east London. Bowie may have been my first love, but Marc Bolan was the first name to adorn my exercise book in glorious bubble writing. He was also the first to wear girly shoes and a satin jacket on Top of the Pops.

As a youth, I worked my way through the cavalcade of glam led by Slade, Sweet and Gary Glitter (though, even at that age, I could spot the uncomfortable look on the face of a hefty northern bass player bursting from a turkey-foil jumpsuit worn simply to sell records). With Bowie, it was different: he had integrity. My school playground was soon bristling with his bog-brush hairstyle, and the more daring among us went orange.

An effeminate, pale young man in eye shadow had somehow connected with working-class flash: even the hardest suedeheads were morphing into snaggletoothed Bowie Boys. Gender-bending was suddenly far more rebellious than drugs and violence. I squeezed my feet into multicoloured platforms and, suddenly as tall as Dad, clomped around the house in baggies and a scoop-necked T-shirt spangled with blue stars.

Mark Simpson points out that David Bowie never really made it in America until he repudiated his Genderqueer (my words) image. Simpson draws a parallel with the anti-metrosexual retrosexual backlash in late Noughties America.
It almost seems as if American. There is a lot to this. America is Male Femme phobic. One of the more interesting expressions of this is the Butch Retrosexual image which now dominates the Gay San Francisco street scene. There is a Valorization of Muscular Machismo in both gay and straight male street culture.

  1. Anonymous says:

    I see your point (and Mark’s) but I think it is a bit simplistic. Look at Justin Bieber he is American! I have written a bit about retrosexual v metrosexual I will look for some links.

  2. Jasper Gregory says:

    Is Bieber a gender thing? I have never actually seen him. I feel like America allows a bit of gender play in Mass Media figures, but it cracks down hard on male femininity in practice. In some ways it felt safer for me to come out as transgender/genderqueer than to stretch the boundaries of being a man

  3. Bieber is a gender bender!


    I just don’t think it is only America that cracks down on ‘male femininity’. The article in a Spanish newspaper that Mark posted on his blog recently was very ‘femme’ and homophobic for example. But as it was me who spotted this, Mark kept quiet about it! He’s a bit proud.


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