Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s 1983 single “Relax” is so gay. Specifically gay sex. It’s amazing that when the song first came out, the band actually tried to deny its obvious prurience. Two years later though, co-songwriter and bassist Mark O’Toole wrote in the liner notes of their follow-up album, “when people ask you what ‘Relax’ was about, when it first came out we used to pretend it was about motivation, and really it was about shagging.” It wasn’t the most forgiving time for explicit homoerotic sexuality, but the band was never apologetic, and really pushed the boundaries.
During an infamous Top of the Pops performance, frontman Holly Johnson actually tore up a copy of The Sun, the tawdry rag that had been harassing his parents at home for quotes about their gay son. “Relax” also had a 16-minute-long “Sex Mix” that was just a bunch of samples of water noises—apparently even gay bars refused to play it. Then there is the original music video for “Relax,” an unintentionally hilarious ode to gay hedonism, which was almost immediately banned.
Johnson says the video got pulled when “a big wig in the ‘Big Brother Broadcasting Company’” found his kids watching it. Later the record company asked them to make a second video, the one everyone now knows as the “Relax” video. The second video is dated, naturally, and Johnson describes it as “almost like a satire of a regulation pop video—you know, guys in makeup and laser beams, lots of looking at the camera.” To be fair, the song does contain the line “hit me with your laser beams,” but I think that might be referencing something a little less… literal.
The video is utterly ridiculous of course, but what strikes me is the relative tameness of the queer debauchery. Drag queens and leather daddies, some people in cages and on leashes, a lot of mesh tank tops and gratuitous contouring blush, an actual tiger, and a hedonistic old queen overseeing the entire spectacle while being shaved. Completely insane? Yes. Is there innuendo? Definitely (especially the rather obvious reference to water sports). But there’s nothing hardcore, and it’s hard to believe that a video featuring this kind of hetero sybaritism would have gotten banned.