This article was first published in Attitude issue 316, December 2019
Toni Basil, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, the… um… Crazy Frog?
Sometimes you just need one massive hit to be remembered for ever. Now it wouldn’t be strictly true to accuse Nineties pop trio Right Said Fred of being one-hit wonders – they have two Ivor Novello awards, but it seems likely that “And I’m Too Sexy for this Gravestone” will be written on Richard Fairbrass’s tombstone.
And what a legacy that song is. Have a listen to I’m Too Sexy now. Even better, watch the video. If you’re a younger reader, and aren’t familiar, 'I’m Too Sexy' was a 1991 novelty single (I mean, it was), an ode to being, well, really ridiculously good looking.
Brothers Richard and Fred Fairbrass had been working on the fringes of the music industry since the Seventies (they were older than they looked), Richard performing with Boy George and David Bowie in different capacities.
He and his brother originally envisaged I’m Too Sexy as a rock track inspired by Fred’s dalliances with a self-absorbed model.
It was the Nineties: the heyday of Cindy, Naomi and Linda. The notion of the supermodel was only just coming into the vocabulary, and the band seemed to catch the wave at the exact moment — coming a few months after George Michael had elevated a handful of models to super-stardom in the Freedom! ‘90 video.
The brothers’ song is undeniably catchy and difficult to define. Is it a dance track? The guitar and bass suggest otherwise, and it’s hard to dance to. The lyrics and Richard’s Despite possibly appearing deeply dippy, Right Said Fred forged a spot in LGBTQ representation Culture Club sing-speak delivery were certainly a novelty (“Poor pussy. Poor pussy cat”).
While Richard Fairbrass is bisexual, the aesthetic of the band was very, very gay. It does look as if they styled themselves out of the lost-and-found box — progressive for 1991. The harnesses, fish-net tops or, in fact, just pecs were a bold move.
At the time, I was a small child and thought this was perfectly reasonable pop star attire (see also London Boys). It was only as an adult that I realised the leathers had other connotations.
By the time they achieved their first number one, 'Deeply Dippy', in 1992, Richard had disclosed his sexuality to The Sun. Although Madonna once publicly stated she’d quite like to boff him, Richard was in a relationship with make-up artist Stuart Pantry all through the band’s chart reign. Richard was a key figure in the nervous, tentative steps queer people made into the mainstream in the Nineties.
Gaytime TV, which Richard co-hosted, was one such fumbled experiment for the BBC. The late night magazine show created a strange ghetto on BBC2 where gay people could talk to other gay people about being gay, seemingly based on the notion that’s all we ever discuss.
Novelty or not, 'I’m Too Sexy' is said to have sold more than six million copies and the band’s debut album went gold in the UK. Taylor Swift even borrowed the beat for her 2017 single 'Look What You Made Me Do'.
Looking back, what’s clear is how much fun the band was having. It wasn’t subtle, but Right Said Fred — most notably Richard — should be recognised as another stepping stone on the way to cultural representation of queer people in the media.