Follow Up: Years & Years Represent More Than A Wonderful Return To ’90s Style Synth-Pop, Much More.
In my first installment of the SaturNae Soundcheck, which I posted this weekend after much editing after a lost battle with my blog’s admin dashboard, I alluded to a much more in-depth version of the post that had expanded on my discovery of and subsequent infatuation with the band, Years & Years. I didn’t want my words to go unread, because I believe there is a very important role this band is playing in the modern music scene which perhaps even its members are not aware of, and it would be a shame to leave it unsaid.
In a draft of this post that decided to vanish itself into the ether, I went on and on about all the ways this band, Years & Years, had changed the music scene, how 25-year-old Olly Alexander was in danger of becoming my adoptive son whether he liked it or not, and how I was going to find a way to force everyone’s computers to start up on the band’s website, YearsAndYearsOfficial.com, until they could prove they’d purchased the album.
When I first stumbled upon the song, King, late this summer, I was instantly enraptured by the style of music, and more specifically, by the lyrics young Olly Alexander delivered in his trademark tenor. I was astonished to learn how young he was, believing that such a relate-able, mature, complex set of feelings had to have come from the often tread upon and tortured soul of someone much older and experienced in the arena of love. Digging a bit further into the band’s online presence, I soon gathered that Olly was gay, which stood to reason, and I went on to buy the album, Communion, only to fall in love with one track after another. If I were held at gunpoint and made to choose a favorite from the equally laudable songs the band has recorded on this album, I am not kidding when I say I’d be hard pressed to do so. I’d likely have to take a bullet, hopefully to the right arm so I could get out of a few weeks’ work and have a very macho, manly scar to show off at the club.
Having established that the music is unequivocally superb, allow me to express what has since become evident to me as the overarching reason for my new obsession with Years & Years, and, though probably off-putting to him were he to stumble across this blog post, with young Olly Alexander in particular.
When I was growing up, discovering my own awkward differentness from everyone around me, and feeling completely alone and cut off from the world because of what I would come to identify as my sexual orientation, I was desperate to connect with someone, anyone, who might offer an example to me of what being gay was about and how it would look in context outside of my own small sphere of influence. I would have given anything to have had a role model with whom to relate, and I believe with all my heart that having had one would have made those awful teenage years much easier to bear. But I didn’t. It wasn’t until I was already through the worst part of growing up and coming out that role models started popping up on television or print media in ways that were positive rather than scandalous. It very well may have been Ellen DeGeneres’ famous on-air coming out that broke the seal for others to follow in her wake. By that time, I’d found my footing, and whatever damage was done by having figured out my sense of self without a guidepost was already done.
I remember how difficult it was experiencing love, or what I thought was love, each time I stumbled through it. I would pour myself into songs that reflected how I was feeling after each train wreck of a crush had ended, always having to swap pronouns to make it fit my experience. No songs were being written or sung by out artists then. Even George Michael maintained the boy/girl charade in his cover of “I Can’t Make You Love Me If You Don’t”, which was one of my most cried-to songs EVER. But that’s no longer the case! I can listen to any song on Years & Years’ Communion and know exactly who Olly is singing to. There’s no pretense there. These are songs I can identify with and whose authenticity I can feel all the way to my core. These songs embody the cuts and scrapes of a gay heart! I don’t have to substitute a single “he” where a “she” is being sung, because Olly isn’t hiding himself to sell records. When he sings, “My longing drives me crazy for you.”, in Worship, I know that feeling and exactly who it is directed at! In “Take Shelter”, when he sings “do what you want tonight, it’s alright if you want to get used”, I’ve needed that exact affirmation! The lyric is what it is without apology or disguise, and for that we all should be celebrating!
So, when I look at what the world has to offer young gay and lesbian kids today – marriage equality – anti-bullying campaigns that actually make a difference – gay/straight alliances in high schools – and more celebrity homeaux than you can shake a stick at – I’m overjoyed and venomously jealous of all the brilliant progress that has been made in the 20+ years since I was in their position. That’s where Olly and his band come in. Olly represents the last of my kind in a way. At 25, he grew up with a handful of positive gay role models, but probably none that were in open, loving relationships that looked anything remotely like the hetero-normative marriages we were actively fighting so hard to gain legal access to for ourselves. And now he and his boyfriend, Neil Milan, are in a position alongside the likes of Neil Patric Harris and David Burtka, and Ellen DeGeneres and Portia De Rossi, to provide exactly that kind of example to those kids today who already have an improved world to grow up in, but who need that last piece of the puzzle, in my opinion, to get a sense of what they can choose to grow toward.
I guess my über fanboy status is really my inner teenager screaming out across the decades to hug Olly’s neck and to thank him for finally showing up. I wish him all the success and fortune he deserves, and I want Years & Years to continue pumping out album after album of excellent music that takes synth and electronica to new heights while fostering an inclusive atmosphere of acceptance and love for all of us for years and years to come. (You didn’t think I’d let an opportunity to cliché pass me by, did you? Come on, people!)