On Song: Years & Years 'Real'

by - Tuesday, September 22, 2015

"I broke my bones playing games with you / The type of fun that makes me feel blue..."

I'm hardly the first music blogger to take a shine (no pun intended) to Years and Years. Hailing from London and experiencing a rise to electro-pop fame very similar to the career trajectory of the likes of Disclosure and Chvrches, their catchy-as-Balearic-measles music makes it's intentions very clear - it's been practically beginning to be played on the radio from the very start. 

However, it's not the 'Desire's and 'King's that I really love about Years & Years. For me, there is one song in particular that really stands out on their debut record Communion, and that song is 'Real'. Pop music always hits me the hardest when it's heart-shatteringly honest, and while this may be a simple love song on the surface, it weaves a more important message within it's narrative. 

I'm a heterosexual girl brought up in a liberal household - I'm entirely attracted to males but can't imagine that it would cause too much of a problem for my friends and family if I wasn't. I feel very lucky in this way - I've seen friends struggle with gender and sexuality very much in a world that so often asks us all to fit in one box or another rather than anything in between. While this is steadily improving, one huge gap for me has always been the lack of honest depiction of non-straight relationships in pop lyrics. 

 Sure, we've had a great many gay or bisexual popstars and still do currently (Sam Smith, Lady Gaga and Demi Lovato to name some recent examples), but these artists often save such discussion for interviews and avoid using an gendered pronouns entirely in their music. Obviously gender shouldn't matter but it does worry me that, for example, a gay male artist might might be coerced into using "you's" and '"they's" in their songwriting simply because it is deemed more commercial than saying "he". It's something that Years & Years singer Olly Alexander has spoken openly about with Digital Spy

"It was important for me to get some male pronouns in some of the songs, so I did it for 'Real' and 'Memo', and then one song on the deluxe. It is kind of sad to me that we don't have gay popstars singing about men using a male pronoun, but that could change hopefully...

"I'd like to hear a gay artist express their sexuality in a really open way. That's something I've sort of tried to do a little bit on this album, but to be able to talk about sex is possibly new for gay artists, so I'd like to see that in the mainstream."

The subtle addition of 'boy' in the lyrics is a simple and pure piece of songwriting, but it really renders 'Real' a likeability and character that is perhaps lacking in some of the other songs on the record. Aside from it's sexual politics, it's just a great song - quietly romantic, blending euphoria with an inate sadness that sits at odds with it's vaguely creepy video. Weary synths that give way to a glittering chorus that makes you feel like falling...makes you feel the lapping waves of lust that flood an intoxicated brain when it spots the object of their affections in a nightclub. The knowledge that while the thrill of the chase it great, it's not going to hold your hand on the long walk home after the lights have come on. It's a feeling we all know well, whatever our sexual preferences or gender, whatever our age or ethnicity. It's heavy with familiarity that will bring back a kaleidoscope of lovestruck emotions... and surely that's what all great pop music should do?

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