I’d like bring something from the comments into full view here, as it has sparked a lotta thought for me in recent days. Let’s begin w/ Brian’s response to my note about Assassin’s “Dem Nuh Want Nuh Gal” (an anti-gay anthem) ascending to the #1 on the JA charts —
Assassin – is telling gay people to run away better than threatening to find and kill them? I dunno, but somehow it’s not as scary to me as Mavado’s “Dem a Fag” on the Self Defense Riddim.
These songs aside, there is SO MUCH gay style goin on/being integrated into Dancehall (Ravers Clavers, I’m looking at you guys in particular)
to which I replied,
Wow, they’re practically vogueing in that first one. (And is that Elephant Man employing a Ricky Blaze chant? That’d be interesting. To my knowledge, stuff doesn’t typically travel that way. YouTube diaspora boomerang!)
[ok, now watching the second one…]
Ah, I see that you were pointing out the vogue style. Unmistakable, for sure.
I’m pretty curious about the current cultural politics in JA (and the JA diaspora, but there I’d expect a little more, er, deviation from the norm — not to get all Foucaultian) around what gets marked (often aptly) as “gay” style. As I mentioned back here,
a friend told me recently that while in JA this spring, his friend — an ol rasta chap — remarked about the recent trend toward tight pants, oversized belt buckles, and ‘metro’ fashion among young men, “me never know jamaica would have so much gay”
And there’s no question that part of the perception in JA — not among the “tight pants bwoy” who, presumably (and I can’t say for sure since I haven’t asked), don’t think of their style as queer — is that this effete affect is an imported, yankee, babylonian ting.
From what I can glean via YouTube, there’s some interesting friction a gwaan right now between Jamaican (/JA-American) youth who have embraced rockstar/nerdcore (racial?) crossdressing and those who reject it as battyboy bizness. Take, for example, the video you and Kevin embedded recently —
The top comment currently is by some dude (calling himself “MrJama1ca” no less!) who says/threatens —
my yuth f u come a see breeze wid dem handicappp dancing deh u will dead
& I love how the guy dancing (and the owner of the YouTube channel posting this video), 225MILO, replies —
OH GEEZ MAN!! thanks fi di advice i was bout to go over there with ma handicap moves too lol…..
I think it’s pretty clear who wins that one.
Interestingly, a quick search shows that there’s been some anxiety around this fashion turn in JA dance circles for a little while now, judging by this piece in the Gleaner from last summer.
And as I’ve noted before, this anxiety about tight pants style has also motivated some rudeboy/crunky protests in the diaspora (i.e., Brooklyn) as well. To wit (?) —
What is of most interest to me in all of this is, to put it clunkily: the increasing and vividly/video-ly mediated exchange between yard and foreign, JA and BK(etc.), and the way that Jamaican and black (youth) cultural politics have been changing as a result of this greater degree of (digital) cultural production and p2p exchange. Jamaican (countercultural) style, at least since independence, has been very much animated by cosmopolitan/metropolitan movements and strivings. It’s not surprising that as black (American) youth culture has embraced rockstar/nerdcore/racially-transgressive style — often marked by what might be labeled “metrosexual” fashion — so have Jamaican youth in Brooklyn and Kingston alike, an ambivalent development for many observers/participants but nothing truly beyond the pale as far as JA-appropriations of foreign steez go (just check 70s reggae photos for tight clothes that put today’s fashions to shame).
The fact that Elephant Man — no sloucher when it comes to homophobic calls-to-arms — can now chant along to hip BK catchphrases while dudes in tight white pants essentially vogue for the camera is, well, interesting to say the least. But that’s kinda the price of an omnivorous (if distinct) approach to global/metro culture. Note as well that the first guy dancing in the video to which Brian points not only sports a white-n-blue mohawk, but, in a nod to recent hip-hop/metro trends (as one of my Palestinian/Arab-Israeli students pointed out last week), a kufiya as well.
To make one more connection, if a bit of a stretch (pants?), how easy would it be to distinguish one of these super-stylee Ravers Clavers from, say, this Nawlins Sissy Bouncer?
And though some of us might be tempted to dismiss, as with kufiyas and jihadi-chic, such fashion statements with cynicism, I think that would be a mistake. There’s something subtle and important about these (semi-ironic) performances of selfhood (and nationhood?), something that undercuts essentialist orthodoxies and embraces more fluid, fun notions of the art of the possible. This is pretty clearly evident in another set of comments around that “handicapp” video embedded above —
Low him indeed !
Moreover, as Rachel notes in a follow-up to my and Brian’s musings, change is in the air. The anti-tight-pants brigade are fighting an uphill battle, alongside racists and sexists and other policemen —
those comments remind me o the gay riotz in mexico. the haterz cant fight it tho, gays are sneakin up on yall.
and though Rachel is clearly being a bit cheeky here — they were “emo riots”, not “gay” riots; let’s not validate the haterz’ perspective — I agree that there are obvious parallels a gwaan, and not only in this hemisphere. Rachel brings West Africa into the convo too —
even mbalax videos of late seem to be more female gazey
Ah yes, teh gaze.
30 thoughts on “(Tight)Pantshall & Metro Cool, or “How Mi Look?” “Gay!””
And that’s just the third world! What about dem poor immigrant communities in Denmark?
And let’s not just dismiss the emos outright, or the otakus. There’s definitely been a broad-based, generalised turn towards less obviously macho-looking men across a whole range of different social groups, and I would personally be hesitant to call it a turn towards more “gay” attributes. As you note in your post, this sort of dress code/behaviour code doesn’t seem to be related to greater actual acceptance of homosexuals.
But why have all these straight, working-class and middle-class men across the world suddenly started adopting traits traditionally associated with homosexuals? I know there are parallels here in Europe and America (British and later American “glam”, plus metal in general), but are there any in the third world?
“just the third world”? naw, man, i’m talking about new york city! (as well as kingston, mexico city, etc.)
and i’m definitely not dismissing emos or contending that any of this activity is gay/queer, per se. i’m much more interested in understanding this as a challenge to trad/macho sexuality from within the “heterosexual community” (no such thing — NHJIC ?).
perhaps, as you suggest, there’s something cyclical to all this, what with glam/androgynous fashion having seen previous heydays, but there’s something especially interesting about the confluence here with race&nation, esp since social “deviance” of all sorts has often been dismissed/resisted as a gringo/yankee/babylon ting.
and now that i look at those pictures, eek! there’s an odd conflation there between “metro” fashion and tanning/blacking-up. yowza.
Ha! Thx, Erin. That’s some tortured parsing there — not “tight pants,” “close fit”!
Fantastic post, Señor Wayne.
I don’t know how the transnational flows work between JA and Western Europe (maybe by way of French Caribbean islands?), but the tight-pants look has been standard male dress here for a while. It’s partially connected to the nerd-core / Indie scene, but there’s also a strain of it that’s associated with the “Tektonik” dance phenomenon in Belgium and France, which involves a spastic dance style that is somewhere between krumping and the classic MidWest raver “liquid” style. Behold:
Part of this movement is also being headed by the Fluo Kids here in Paris, whose online presence ironically features pretty French girls, even though the “identifying” characteristics of the phenomenon is almost entirely about skinny boys in tight pants, kicks, and neon everything. Think of that whole Justice neo-rave thing going on right now.
Actually, I was just at the Techno Parade in Paris last weekend and I managed to take a bunch of pictures while riding on Le Rex Club’s float. I’ve got at least a few examples of this “fluo kids” look in my Flickr set, including this one, this one, this one and this guy. You can also look at my super-long blog post about it to see more pictures and get more details on the event.
Anyway, the shift to a different and less classically-“macho” look for men has been going on for a while in Western Europe—at least in Paris and Berlin, where I’ve been recently. What’s interesting is that the “but is it gay?” question doesn’t elicit a “yes/no” answer, but rather an “both/and” answer. That is, on the one hand young men from the lower working-class and immigrant banlieues (suburb with “ghetto” connotations) are following the example of superstar soccer players and getting their eyebrows arched (seriously), waxing their chests, tanning (if they’re not already naturally brown) and generally looking like a neo-dandy. But at the same time practically jump on any girl that is within grabbing distance and seem to see themselves as not particularly gender-transgressive.
On the other hand, male sexuality among young men in Paris is a pretty fluid and ambiguous things at times, as I can personally attest to; I often see groups of (presumably) straight guys hanging out at clubs, touching each other and simulating sex in ways that str8 boyz in the US would never even joke about, and yet as soon as an attractive female comes within sniffing distance, they’re all over her. But at the same time this sort of not-necessarily-gay-male-male-erotic-play spills over into straight-up gayness, and that seems to be OK and rather unremarkable. I have a couple of really good anecdotes about that, including this one from last Thursday, and a few others that you can see here and here.
OK, so all of this is to say that shit is all sorts of fluid here is Paris, and it’s not just a white-French-upper-class-dandy thing. it’s actually most intense among young men from immigrant / working-class housing projects—but the whole thing is more complex than just “ambiguous dress, hetero behavior.”
So, upon seeing the Raver Claver clips you were showing upthread, I seeing something that seemed really familiar to me.
Oh, and upon review, I apparently don’t know how to use proper auxiliary verbs. What PhD thesis?
Thanks for all the good words, Luis, missing aux verbs notwithstanding.
Interesting to see you bring tecktonic/fluo-kids into all this. (I linked to a bunch of tecktonic stuff a little while back — pretty interesting scene! Nice moves! Dancing in public!) I agree that there’s a nu-rave dimension to the stylings of Ravers Clavers, etc., esp the embrace of dayglo hues (and many odd juxtapositions thereof). I guess, esp given the rockstar angle, I hadn’t quite associated tight pants with that movement myself, tho it is notable that nu-rave hasn’t been accompanied by a return to sooooper baggy jeans (which seem to lend themselves to liquid-style moves even as they obscure the legwork).
I’m much more intrigued by the connection you draw between metropolitan celebrities (and their metrosexual fashion) and the adoption, without a sense of undermining one’s macho-ness, of such trends among lower-class youth and the (working/middle-class) masses more generally. In that way, you further affirm Rachel’s notion that gays are “sneaking up” on mainstream (and even counter-)culture. The fact that a lot of the world’s fashion elite are gay is not insignificant, esp as their sense of taste and style trickles down to the street (when it’s not inspired by the street, I should add — don’t want to oversimplify or imply one-way streets). It reminds me of a chant I heard during a gay pride rally at my college many years ago. “We’re here, we’re queer,” began one strident student, who then twisted the chant to end with, “we design all your clothes.”
It also recalls a scene I witnessed at a local cafe here in Cambridge a couple months ago. Three very coiffed young men walked into the place just in front of me. They had plucked eyebrows, shaved bodies, very closely attended-to facial hair, reeked of cologne, and were sporting big belt buckles and those faded-print t-shirts that have been all the rage in the last year (and now are sold at Target). They were basically, in my estimation, Italian-/Irish-/American chavs, betrayed by their class-specific accents among other things. (And I [can] say so b/c I used to roll with a crew in high school who might have been done up similarly if it wasn’t 15 years ago, long before the advent of ‘metro’ fashion. Still, we permed our hair and shit like that.)
What was interesting was the way these guys still maintained a very macho pose despite their quite careful self-presentation. But the kicker was the way they ordered their coffee, which completely confused the barista — this being the kind of place where one doctors one’s own coffee (I drink mine black). If I recall correctly, the guy in the lead barked an order that went something like this,
That was really too much. I almost laughed out loud — not unlike the time at the liquor store across the street when I got to overhear a [black] customer ask the [Indian] guy behind the counter, “you got thug passion?” Anyhow, that’s kinda tangential, but the interesting thing is how these kids — of the french-vanilla coconut order — clearly reconciled neo-dandyism with their ideas of themselves as pretty straightforward masculine dudes. There were no attractive females within sniffing distance, though, so I can’t say for sure.
Would these coffee-buying people have been some sort of northern outcrop of the guidos? (Although rachel informs me the term is pejorative. I don’t know what alternative word to use.)
i get the hesitancy to use the word gay, but im all for it. It gives credit where due. Its a 2 way thing between street and elite (but lets be clear, gays are often also hella on the street) i dont think it would be so big pre queer-eye culture. Its way mainstreamier than just electroclash/nurave/emo folks, its kanye, ricky, justin, etc. a pretty visible shift for americans (prolly less so for euros)
“What was interesting was the way these guys still maintained a very macho pose despite their quite careful self-presentation.” when i call it gay i dont mean gay in that fashions gone fruity, its that refined neo-dandy (i love that term LMGM) im-a-renaissance-man-of-fine-tastes careful manhood thing that gay men do so well.
oh hey i htmfailed [fixed it! -w&w]
I think the term “guido” might apply to these guys, Birdseed, tho, yes, that term is definitely a pejorative on the order of “guinea,” “wop,” etc., tho, as with a lot of such pejoratives (e.g., queer), it can definitely be pridefully embraced / reaccented. But the last thing I want to do, BS, is reinforce your sense of tribalism. These labels, like all, are tricky/sticky.
And I hear ya, Rachel. Thanks for the clarifications re: ‘street’ and ‘fruity.’ Still, I gotta say that there’s something tipping from careful into fruity when we’re talking about certain grooming practices — i.e., “manscaping” — or maybe that’s just me revealing my biases (and reveling in my hirsuteness).
Ha! That’s a great anecdote. File that away for an article or something.
I think what both of our sets of stories and analyses point to is that, for young men learning to inhabit their assigned gender, the content of what counts as properly masculine gender performance can be variable (and perhaps thoroughly non-universal), but what is repeatedly true is that it should be intense. As it seems in my examples, it may not even matter all that much whether same-sex practices interfere with gender normativity (i.e., man-on-man action doesn’t necesssarily mean that you fail to be fully “male”). But nevertheless, during an uncertain period of life where these people are no longer boys but not yet men (Victor Turner, liminality and anti-structure? I dunno…), there seems to be an emphasis on hyperbolic performance of some kind. Ironically, if these were girls doing similar things, they’d be neatly categorized as histrionic personality types and left at that (in other words, we already have a language of classification and domestication for flamboyant femininity…but what about drag?).
So, in sum, what counts as properly masculine shifts over time and place (and often creates conflict), but what matters is that it is eye-catching, loud, bright, intense or otherwise salient. I, for one, salute our future neo-dandy overlords. [/Ken Brockman voice]
Oh, and this seems really important for what we’re talking about here.
Oh, and speaking of hirsuteness, Wayne, an irony with this mostly youth-related, full-body-waxing, eyebrow-arching twinkification of ghetto-thug masculinity is that the gay communities (at least in Western Europe) have been returning to a 70s-era aesthetic of body hair and facial hair. In other words, hairy chests and muscle-bears are back…among 25+ gay males in Western Europe.
Oh, and one more thing: the Berlin techno / queer club, Berghain + Panorama Bar, makes this whole conversation about the intersection of gender and sexuality a lot more complicated.
I went to a ball in Hartford a few years ago where, at the end, the MC let this 15 year old Jamaican kid come out and do a runway routine to Cecile’s “Stop Looking at My…” (R.A.W. Riddim). Never seen anything quite like it since. Here are some more faghall (too much?) videos
Let us not forget the infamous “Dutty Wine, Columbian Style” video that really shows not only the titular Colombian connection, but some intense batty bizness. Seriously, no str8 guy can/would bust a wine like this one
Just found these gems – “Bashment Barbie Celeste” JA via London. The “Casual, Sexy, Ghetto, Glam” diva is one of the only drag queens I’ve ever seen (online or off) who does routines to diva dancehall (got that mixtape comin up for yall).
Official Site: http://celesteonline.com/
Here she is givin Lady Saw’s “I Got Your Man” a makeover. Of particular interest to me in this clip is the snippet of Lady Saw’s “Pretty Pussy” (Trifecta Riddim) playin in the very beginning
Pussy & cunt(y) are really important words that hold tons of transformative potential in vogue/drag. Kevin Aviance’s old school anthem spells it out the best
Gay dancer gettin down to Lexxus’ “Good Hole.” I think i have the same sleeveless hoodie. Hmmmm……..
I’m a bit hesitant at pointing out amalgamations, but I feel that it may be necessary.
The “tight pants look” that is all over neo-rave (which I tend to call modern disco) and indie-blah rock fashion whatever trickles down from 60’s and 70’s punk/rock fashion (and it is safe to say all those scenes are very much intertwined)… And I hate the fact that i am mentioning them, but didn’t the Beatles wear tight pants already? So did the Sex Pistols or the Ramones… And this had no correlation with any kind of gay fashion… Of course, one could argue that those are probably not as skinny as the modern versions, but the sense of fashion before rock’n’roll called for more roomy legs. The way baggy jeans, on the other hand, descend to us from skateboarding and rollerblading, down to skatecore and pop punk. Take a look at Madness’ video for Baggy Trousers to see how much baggier it has got since 1980.
As for the neon colors, put the blame on the 80’s to early 90’s and the actual rave and techno scenes… And when you mix those currents, you get fluokids.
I am pretty sure that in the end, tight pants are as much related to gayness and gay culture as baggy pants… This picture from the 1995 Love Parade in Berlin shows no tightness whatsoever, whether in the pants or the tops.
Also the “guidos” mentioned on the internet are really caricatures of the “guidos” of italian descent IRL, whom very few people call “guidos” nowadays except as an artefact. Guidos such as those mentioned above are tanaholic hypergymnesiac socialites that are regularly made fun of, though without any real racialist comment.
There are so many more comments that could be made on this issue, but I wanted to add my genealogical two cents to the discussion, as well as thank Wayne for his piece, which is indeed very interesting. Do you remember when T.O.K. came with Chi Chi Man on the Sashi Riddim? Back in the day they were all athletic gear, and today they have adopted the (pseudo)classy African-American fashion… But they are remain quite unknown Stateside…
i had no idea about any emo/nerd styles in black kids (boys) until i read this post. great stuff. and right away, i spotted three kids rocking this style – not anywhere near each other – nerdy glasses and office shirts, not-too-baggy jeans and crisp sneakers. except, two had skateboards and one had a dookey gold chain.
hey maybe and gnou — thanks for the comments. yeah, i should note as well that several of the kids i’ve seen rocking this style around cambridge, MA, have also been toting/riding skateboards, so there’s definitely all kinds of cultural confluences a gwaan.
amazing wayne and rizzla!!!!! amazing!!!!!
the aforementioned style been poppin’ in harlem and BK about 2 years now!
This just in, Termanology has a new track out called “Tight Pants Are For Girls” —
note that term speaks his critique via JA patois in the first verse: “and all you battyboys, shut your bloodclot mouth”
this comment on the youtube video is vexing & perplexing, since when is autotune an emasculating effect?
for my money, i prefer this comment @ nahright —
indeed. saving hip-hop is so 1998. (or is that 1988?)
Hi, Gnou, and Wayne, you’re on the right track with tight jeans, punk rock, and skateboarding.
Hip hop and Dancehall’s fashion homophobias are misplaced. Gay fashionistas are not responsible for the post-millennial tight jeans craze, either in popular culture or in Hip Hop. Rather, it’s skaters who wanted to look like the Ramones (though this band’s look is rumored to have come from bass player Dee Dee’s spot as a male hustler on the corner of 53rd and 3rd so maybe gay culture does ultimately deserve the credit) that first started wearing tight jeans circa 1999/2000. Jim Greco’s 2000 vid spot from “Baker 2G” clearly shows this trend.
Skateboarding and hip hop have been on intimate terms since at least 1993, when the seminal video New World Order was released by World Industries. It featured an (awesome) all-hip hop soundtrack and completely non-white skate team, made up predominantly of Latino and black skaters, and a full-on hip hop aesthetic. See Shiloh Greathouse and Slick Rick tear it up here (also catch a note of the Black Sheep), while Shiloh wears huge jeans.
But there are direct connections between “rocker” skaters like Greco and those, like Terry Kennedy, who would bridge the cultural gap between tight and baggy pants directly. Kennedy skates for Baker skateboards (like Greco) and for Pharell’s Ice Cream line, and was featured in fellow-LBC native and Skateboard P collaborator Snoop Dogg’s “Drop it Like its Hot.” For what it’s worth in terms of hip hop cred, Kennedy also survived being shot in the arm and jaw in 2005, was recently featured in hip hop documentary “Beef IV,” where he talks about his feud with Lupe Fiasco, and released a terrible hip hop record. You can see Terry Kennedy skate to hip hop while wearing relatively tight jeans here in 2005’s “Baker 3” video.
How and exactly when (around 2006, I reckon actually) this spills over to NYC hip hop kids, the Cool Kids, and Jamaica, I’m not precisely sure, but skateboarding is where the trend started, and definitely where it first mixed with hip hop. Skateboarding might be slightly less homophobic than hip hop, but not by much.
Christyle’s local “Swagga Like Us” version includes my favorite recent hip hop tight-jeans-homophobia. Skip to 1:47 to hear about “chi chi mon jeans.” The video also includes Brooklyn and skateboarding (0:18).
Remember when baggy jeans were coming out and old people complained? These dudes are those dudes now.
Also, doesn’t anybody remember Lee jeans? Jeez.
Oops, sorry. I thought I could embed video. Just check youtube if your intersted.
Jim Greco, Baker 2g, 2000
Shiloh Greathouse, New World Order, 1993
Terry Kennedy, Baker 2, 2005
Christyle, Swagga Like us Version, 2008/2009
Terry Kennedy vs. Lupe Fiasco, Beef IV, 2008
The Ramones, Judy is a Punk, 1974
Also, Weezy’s been wearing Supra skate shoes for a minute now.
To me, the interesting thing here is that skateboarding is influencing hip hop, while in the 1990s it was hip hop influencing skateboarding.
Also, hipsters, who actually are almost all white, took to tight jeans before hip hoppers (though they have been drawing on the same punk sources as skaters), and bear much of the responsibility for this cultural exchange (especially in NYC). So here, urban African American youth (not to mention Puerto Rican and Jamaican youth, and who knows who all else) are embracing a white subculture’s definition of what’s cool — when was the last time that happened? “Maybelline” or “Planet Rock” maybe, but also maybe never.
Are these definitions even meaningful anymore? Is a white, hipster wearing tight jeans while DJing hip hop records in 2004 not also a hip hopper ?
Post-racial and “the end of racism” talk is some garbage, but it’s hard not to feel like we’re at the dawn of a new era.
This is some serious post-hip hop generation digital age internet happenings.
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