The six-member Village People became a worldwide sensation in the late 1970s, dominating disco music with their outlandish outfits and campy songs that found their genesis in caricatures of macho men. Their hit YMCA, for instance, is known for its tongue-in-cheek gay innuendo – and it’s an innuendo that is still omnipresent in the song to this day. They are a pop group that was never supposed to appeal to heterosexual audiences, and yet their success shattered all barriers to mass fame.
Founders Jacques Morali and Bob Belolo had a clear vision for the band from the start: they wanted to portray different archetypes of gay American culture through six members – all of whom would wear flamboyant costumes. They also knew they needed a straight member as part of the ensemble to broaden their audience base.
Out of the original lineup, only two of the Village People were out as gay: Victor Willis, who starred as the police officer/naval officer, and Randy Jones, who played the cowboy. The other members were Lakota Sioux/Puerto Rican singer Felipe Rose as the Native American, David Hodo as the helmet sunglass-wearing construction worker, Glenn Hughes as the heavily mustached Biker, and enlisted GI/Sailor Alexander Briley.
While the members of the Village People have changed over time, and there has been a revolving door for some of them, there is no doubt that this band was one of the most popular gay groups in history – a group that broke down all boundaries between a mainstream musical act and the world of gay stereotypes. But, as this article explores, the Village People’s career also illustrates the unfair double bind that gripped queer artists in 1970s America and complicates historical accounts that locate that bind strictly within the context of gay liberation.