Photo: Ebet Roberts/Redferns
How Culture Club's Debut Album 'Kissing To Be Clever' Envisioned A More Inclusive World
Forty years after its release, Culture Club's 'Kissing To Be Clever' is a study in optimism, Caribbean influence in pop and the power of image on MTV.
The "second British invasion" was well underway in the U.S. when Culture Club’s debut album, Kissing To Be Clever, was released in late 1982. In Britain, punk had given way to new wave, synth pop, and the androgynous-leaning New Romantic fashion movement, pioneered by David Bowie and Roxy Music. Musically, groups like the Police and the Clash were incorporating Jamaican influences into their post-punk sound. So when Culture Club’s reggae-pop hit "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me" was released, it fit right in.
The difference between Culture Club and the other bands drawing on Jamaican reggae, however, was its internal diversity — including the famously gender-nonconforming, openly gay singer Boy George, a Jewish drummer (Jon Moss), and a Black bassist (Mikey Craig). The name of the group explicitly referenced the members’ diverse backgrounds and identities, while the themes of Kissing To Be Clever (and later albums) suggest a certain optimism that marginalized social groups could come together to create a more just, accepting world.
The album itself is very compact — the original UK release was only nine songs and 34 minutes long; its second hit "Time (Clock of the Heart)," didn't appear on the initial release at all — though most albums at the time clocked in at well under an hour. While the album's first two singles — "White Boy" and "I'm Afraid of Me" — didn’t do well, "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me" topped UK charts and hit No. 2 in the U.S. The song was moved from the final album track to the first tune for the U.S. release on Dec. 13, 1982.
Contrasting the head-scratching lyrics of many of the album’s songs (see, for example, "I’ll Tumble 4 Ya"), "Do You Really" was a polished, relatable and straightforward song of heartbreak, set to a lilting reggae beat. The song is also one of the few on the album that really showcases Boy George’s soulful vocal tone, and the frequent catches in his voice help convey a real sense of heartbreak. Decades later, Boy George revealed the song was about his ex-boyfriend, Culture Club drummer Moss, and the ways George was ostracized because of his open sexuality and refusal to conform to gender norms.
"Do You Really Want To Hurt Me" was nominated for a GRAMMY for Best Pop Performance By A Duo Or Group at the 26th GRAMMY Awards.
Culture Club's success was also intimately tied to the emergence of music videos, and specifically MTV. Debuting in 1981, the channel played an instrumental role in launching the biggest pop stars of the '80s, and the second wave of British invasion bands were similarly able to capitalize on the early success of MTV — 1982 saw Human League's "Don’t You Want Me," the Clash’s "Rock the Casbah" and Duran Duran’s "Hungry Like the Wolf."
The video for "Do You Really" was quite evocative, and arguably the song wouldn’t have been a hit without it. After all, the band had only gained widespread attention after an appearance on the TV show "Top of the Pops," which prompted British tabloids to salaciously feature the band’s androgynous frontman on their front pages. But the video also had something to say that the lyrics couldn’t convey: it depicted Boy George as a societal outcast in different historical periods, and suggested his rejection by the mainstream was similar to the marginalization Black people were facing at the time. Just a year earlier, London had been rocked by the Brixton riot, protests led by the Afro-Caribbean community against the racial profiling and disproportionate targeting of Black youth by the Metropolitan Police.
The video also includes a courtroom scene with a jury in blackface, which director Julien Temple said was meant to "send up bigotry and point out the hypocrisy of the many gay judges and politicians in the UK who’d enacted anti-gay legislation." Using blackface certainly seems bizarre by 2022 standards and didn’t go over well in the U.S. "In the UK at the time, blackface was completely acceptable. Al Jolson-style entertainers like that were part of our ‘music hall’ tradition. But in America, people got really upset. We didn’t know it was a faux pas," Boy George later reflected.
Notwithstanding this artistic decision, this and later Culture Club videos ("I’ll Tumble 4 Ya," and "Karma Chameleon" from 1983) were also notable for their racial inclusivity and many signifiers of Black history and culture. There are Black background singers on "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me," a nod to the influence of soul and gospel on Boy George's vocal style.
Although "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me" was a major hit, many of the songs on Culture Club’s debut album are forgettable and their messaging unclear. The only other hit on the original release of the album was "I’ll Tumble 4 Ya," a frothy, percussive dance track featuring synth horns. In contrast, "White Boy," is a muddled critique of racism whose bizarre chorus is "You’re white, dance like an enemy." Likely inspired by the success of Blondie’s 1981 hit "Rapture," Boy George also raps on the song. "White Boys Can’t Control It" at first seems like a thought-provoking song in which a white man (Boy George) reflects on his own white privilege, but ultimately the lyrics are, again, not cohesive enough to feel impactful.
Yet the record is notable for its inclusion of a breadth of genres. "You Know I’m Not Crazy" has a samba-inspired flavor, while "Love Twist" is another Jamaican-inspired song whose interlude consists of dub reggae-style toasting, as well as the use of distortion and echo. "I’m Afraid of Me" also has a distinct Caribbean accent, this time in the vein of Lionel Richie’s "All Night Long."
Watch: Watch Culture Club Win Best New Artist In 1984 | GRAMMY Rewind
Overall, Kissing To Be Clever was an exercise in cultural inclusivity and drawing connections between different marginalized groups. Although the album’s lyrics often left something to be desired, Culture Club were ahead of their time in terms of subversive imagery and experimentation with Latin and Caribbean sounds. Culture Club wasn’t the first British group to incorporate non-Western music into its music — in addition to aforementioned groups, Peter Gabriel had founded global music festival WOMAD by then — but it was undoubtedly one of the most successful ones of the mid-1980s. The group took home a golden gramophone for Best New Artist at the GRAMMY Awards in 1984, which cemented its popularity. The later 1980s would see other rock musicians — notably Paul Simon and David Bryne — take more serious forays into the world music arena.
It’s also interesting to note that there’s an air of hopefulness and openness in Culture Club’s music and videos that seems unimaginable from the perspective of 2022, with the increasing social and political polarization around the world. Whether ushered in by Brexit or the presidency of Donald Trump, we’re in an era of revitalized bigotry in all shapes and forms, including homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-Black and anti-Asian racism. Sadly, this isn’t the future Culture Club envisioned in Kissing To Be Clever.
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Hot Since 82
Photo: Courtesy of artist
DJ Hot Since 82 Talks Healing Through Debut 'Recovery,' Boy George Collab & Nu Disco Meets 'Star Wars' Track
The album is "about picking yourself up and getting yourself in a better headspace ... it's more of a healing album," the "Nightfall" producer recently told GRAMMY.com
British DJ/producer Hot Since 82 (a.k.a. Daley Padley) swiftly become a dance festival and club staple around the world with dark and moody tracks that were crafted with a sweaty dancefloor in mind. His rise came shortly after he began releasing bangers in the 2010s—there was his 2013 emotive melodic house jam "Shadows," his massive remix of Green Velvet's summer 2013 dancefloor epic "Bigger Than Prince" and 2015's tech house gem "Veins" (still one of the top purchased tracks on his Beatport), to name a few. He's since served up clubby remixes for RÜFÜS DU SOL, Foals and Joe Goddard of Hot Chip. He's also released many more singles and completed three residencies at Ibiza's legendary dance club Pacha.
Yet a lot has changed for him in recent years. He faced a huge tragedy when his best friend died by suicide in 2017, just two weeks prior to kicking off his debut Ibiza residency. To help himself cope with the loss, Padley created a beautifully emotive EP in honor of his friend: 2019's 8-track, whose proceeds he donated to U.K. mental health organization MIND. Not long after, he began working on his debut full-length album, Recovery, released Nov. 27 on his Knee Deep In Sound label.
"[The album] was more about picking yourself up and getting yourself in a better head space. If Recovery is anything, it's more of a healing album," the "Nightfall" producer recently told GRAMMY.com. He also talks diving deep into the creative process of the album—including the Boy George track that was five years in the making, what he thinks makes a great dance track and more.
You just dropped your full-length debut, Recovery. Congrats!
What has it felt like to share this project with the world, particularly in 2020, the year we can't dance together?
Weirdly enough, the album was never going to be aimed fully at the dancefloor. The tracks are not seven, eight, nine minutes long like you would expect a dance record to be. They're all pretty short, around four minutes, five minutes. It was more like a real full album. I don't think people really listen to six, seven-minute songs on Spotify. With the rise of streaming platforms, music's so disposable now. I'm sure there's some algorithm or whatever that tells you three-minute records will do a hell of a lot better than long dancefloor ones. With that in mind, I did shorten the tracks. They weren't specifically meant for a dancefloor, but they are made for the dancefloor if that makes any kind of sense.
It feels great to have it out. Obviously, no one's in clubs right now, no one's dancing, but at the same time music is such a big thing. It's such a personal thing. It can really elevate or decrease your mood. We all need positive music right now ...
It does feel like albums are becoming a bit more commonplace in dance music. I'm curious what caused you to want to release a proper album, and how the creative process felt different for you versus when you've released EPs and singles in the past?
I think definitely with the streaming platforms, it's really accessible to get your headspace in a full-scale album where you can visually see which track goes after each of them. Sometimes when you're buying music on Beatport you just buy one, two or three of the tracks out of 13, and you don't really understand the full philosophy behind why the tracks are scheduled in a certain position. The ethos behind the whole album is lost when you buy individual MP3s. With streaming services, obviously, you can choose which one you're going to play, but ultimately, it's all there.
I like the challenge as well. I write music at home. I write a lot of music. I think the whole concept of an album tells a stronger tale than one or two tracks on an EP. I've been writing dancefloor bangers for forever really. I guess it comes with maturity because with an album you are putting yourself out there for criticism because it's not 13 tracks of banging dancefloor records. I tried different things with different musicians—slower BPMs, working with live musicians like keyboard players, saxophonists—and different instrumentation which I wouldn't use before. The whole idea of it is exciting to me. I've got to keep it interesting for myself, never mind the people buying the music and dancing to it. An album just works for me. If you would have asked me 20 years ago if I'd be writing an album, I'd think you were crazy. Could I even do something like that? Now I've done it and it's out, and people seem to be enjoying it.
The best thing about this album is no two tracks are the same. You ask one person what their favorite record is and they'll tell you one track and you ask someone else and it's a totally different one. I've never had that with any of the projects I've done before. There'd always be one or two tracks that everyone headed towards. With this project, it's really sporadic. I love that.
What do you feel like the journey or the through-line is?
The name of the [title] track, "Recovery," I named it last year when I finished the 8-track album, which was a personal project. My best friend passed away and the 8-track was dedicated to him. It was very much that kind of project [that] definitely told a tale throughout it. Coming back on something like that, Recovery just felt like it made sense, title-wise anyway. It was more about picking yourself up and getting yourself in a better headspace. If Recovery is anything, it's more of a healing album.
I guess the next project after this would be strictly for the dancefloor, but I think I'm going to take a year off. I'm definitely not going to write an album next year. I think I'll probably return to doing EPs and that next year, which is quite exciting now. After doing my two albums consecutively, it's quite exciting for me now to get back in the studio and just make some dark stuff.
"It was more about picking yourself up and getting yourself in a better head space. If Recovery is anything, it's more of a healing album."
How long did it take to make the album?
Actually, it takes me forever [to make an album]. Writing a track is easy and I can do it in a few hours. I'm just meticulous and I never stop rehashing it, just going over it. Ninety percent of the time, the first version was better than the twentieth version. I need to know when to stop. My wife goes insane with me because she knows when it's finished. I end up just ruining the whole record. It wasn't as bad this time around. 8-track was a nightmare because it was a personal project and I wanted to do the best that I possibly could. It was a tough project and was a tough period. With Recovery, I made the tracks quite easily and let them go. In terms of "it's finished," wasn't as hard. In January I started properly on it.
I think most creative people can relate to the perfectionist struggle.
They're your babies for a short period of time, aren't they? It is hard to let them go.
I love the early U.K. rave vibes on "Body Control"—and with Boy George, what! I'm curious about the inspiration going into it, the creative journey of bringing him and Jamie Jones in, and how it all came together.
I was supposed to do a record with Boy George about five or six years ago. We were going back and forth for quite some time. I could never write the right record that really worked for his voice. It had to be sassy but I kept writing something too dark. We shelved it for a little while. I still had all of the vocals he sent me on my computer, waiting for the right moment. With the new project, I thought it was a great way to get this track finished and, obviously, it would look great on the album to feature somebody so iconic like George. I was working on some bass lines and made a super minimalistic, upbeat demo. I sent it to George and he said, "I love this." Then, I went back to my old self and started going over and over it and just making the record worse.
That's when I sent it to Jamie, and he said he loved it. So I asked, "Do you want to get on board? Just need a bit of help on the breakdown and whatnot." I gave it to Jamie and he had a week or two on it and sent me some stems back. Then it all felt quite organic between the three of us, we finished it off. It's not a super long track. It's only just under four minutes, but I don't think a track like that needs to be any longer. It tells a tale, it does its thing and that's that. I'm really happy we managed to get it all done. It's kind of the unlikeliest of collaborations. George being a British icon, it's amazing. Actually, my dad called me the other day and he was just blown away that I managed to get Boy George on the record because he doesn't really know the ins and outs of the success I've had with DJing and what not. I think it was a bit of a wake-up call for him. He was buzzing.
Watch: GRAMMY Rewind: Watch Boy George & Culture Club Win Best New Artist In 1984
I love that your dad was like, "Okay, you've made it. Boy George."
Yeah. That's basically what did it. He was at work and he called me and he was like, "Wow, this is insane." [Laughs.]
I also want to talk about "Naboo"—I mean, Miss Kittin is also iconic. What was on your mind when you were creating the beat? And when you sent it to her, did she then come up with the lyrics on her own?
I actually made three tracks, and they're basically the same, over a day or two. I wanted to make something kind of nu disco, kind of an indie vibe, kind of Todd Terje. I had this vision in my head. I saw Todd play in Barcelona in 2013 in this old castle and he was playing disco and everyone was losing their mind. It was amazing. I wanted to make something like futuristic disco, just something totally different that people wouldn't think was a Hot Since 82 record. That's how I set about it. Then I got a little catchy "do do do do" [hums beat], super simple but it just works.
As quick as it was, I needed somebody to elevate it, and I just thought of Miss Kittin straight away. We're friends already, and she's a fellow sci-fi nerd. She loves Star Wars—she has a lightsaber tattooed on her arm—and we get along really well. She's one of the sweetest women in the world. She's an icon in her own right. I thought, "How amazing would it be to not only put a record out that doesn't sound like me, but to feature somebody that's known as a techno/electronic icon legend." She's been putting music out forever.
She just said, "Look, I don't play your music, but I love you. Let's do it. I think this is really interesting." She literally did it in an afternoon. I sent her the track and a couple of hours later she sent me a voice memo. I was like, "This is amazing. This is exactly what it needs to be. Don't take it too seriously. Let's have a bit of fun with it. Life's too serious anyway." I just asked her to say a couple of little more things. The next day she sent it to me acapella and then I finished it that week. When records and collaborations work like that, they're always the best ones as well. I really like that one. "Naboo" is the record that people are surprised by and the Boy George one as well, but I think this track really is a "wow" kind of thing because it doesn't sound like me, which is great.
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I love that. Nu disco meets Star Wars meets techno legend.
It doesn't make sense, does it? But it works.
Recently, you did the hot air balloon set which looked super fun.
Oh my god. I survived.
What did that feel like for you?
It was freezing at about five degrees. It was 5 a.m. when I first got there and [it was] pitch black. It was 7 a.m. when we finally went up in the air. The basket was small and we had three people in there. The guy who is steering it was an absolute legend. He was off his head, seriously. Obviously, I've got to play and it was super loud. He always seemed to pull it when I was mixing. It was really difficult to mix. There's another dude who's twice the size of me to my right who was the guy from Minirig that installed the sound system in there. They did a great job, by the way. He needed to stay there just in case we had a power issue. My manager told me that a lot of people on social media [were] like, "Why have you hidden this guy?" It's like, "Dude, it's the sound guy, he's gotta fix it."
Anyway, it was a very unique experience. Definitely ticked it off the bucket list. I won't be in a rush to do it again. It was scary! Let me explain: The thing is because I'm a short dude they put a step in the middle, one of those Reebok steppers they use for fitness classes. It was wet outside so the whole basket was soaking. I wasn't strapped in, there was no harness. I was elevated above the basket, so if I fell back I literally would have tipped over and hit my head on the back of the basket. Seriously. If you notice, I'm mixing while holding on. At the same time, when you're up there it's the most beautiful feeling ever. It really is. You probably could tell that I'm like a little kid on Christmas.
Annie Mac just named your track "Rules" her Hottest Record in the World. I want to know what your favorite track by another artist is right now.
In general? In the last two days, I've been listening to, on Spotify, a playlist called R&B of the '90s. It's super cheesy R&B. All I've been listening to is my album. I need to listen to something completely different, so I've just been listening to loads of '90s R&B. That's been rocking my world this week. If you're looking for a new artist, I couldn't tell you one. I can't find a new album that I like. Usually, I'm really lucky and I go on Spotify and find an album and I absolutely obliterate it. This year, I've not been able to find one album I love. I don't know why.
What do you think makes a great dance track?
A track that takes your mind somewhere else. Music's made for emotion, isn't it? If I'm on the dancefloor I want a track to take me somewhere. I think a good record has to have a good lead, something that you can sing along to a little bit. I like vocals in records—not on every record, but I think a vocal will always elevate it. If I can leave the club at the end of the night and still be humming that lead sound or vocal then that's a hit record, I think. I try and inject both of those kinds of things into my music.
What's your biggest hope for 2021?
Just to put all this crap behind us. It's been dark. The last month has been dark. The last month has dragged on more than the rest of the summer and that's probably because I've not been able to go out and go to the gym. I feel better now, but just the normality of going out and eating and just doing normal things with family and friends—to just say goodbye to this year.
It's not all been a disaster. We had a baby four months ago. It's been great being at home and co-parenting. We want to take him out and show him off and do all the things. The best that we can hope for now is for everyone to get better, the vaccines to work, everyone to stay healthy and just live a normal life. You don't realize what you miss until it's gone, do you? Some of the stupidest, tiniest little things.
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Culture Club at the 1984 GRAMMYs
GRAMMY Rewind: 26 Years Before "RuPaul's Drag Race," Boy George & Culture Club Brought Drag Queen Realness To America
Watch Culture Club's acceptance speech to witness the legendary frontman deliver a charming moment that shocked a gender-binary, Ronald-Reagan-ruled America
For today's episode of GRAMMY Rewind, GRAMMY.com takes a trip back to 1984, when London New Wave group Culture Club won Best New Artist. Following the momentous release of their lively 1982 debut album, Kissing To Be Clever, they were also nominated for one of its hit singles—and '80s classic—"Do You Really Want To Hurt Me."
Watch the group's full acceptance speech below to witness legendary frontman Boy George, rocking winged eyeliner and magenta lips, deliver a charming moment that shocked a gender-binary, Ronald-Reagan-ruled America.
"Thank you, America, you've got taste, style and you know a good drag queen when you see one," George offered, with a coy kiss to the camera.
In 2018, the queer icon reflected on the moment during an interview with Variety: "I didn't really consider what it meant for anyone else, as I was in England…But people [in the U.S.] were freaking out when I said that. My press agent at the time, Susan Blond, literally cried. And now you have RuPaul and 'Drag Race,' which my nephew in Leeds watches. Look, sometimes the world just isn't ready—for a word, for a shift of the moral compass. I'm glad I said it now. I just wish I had said it with a bit more intention at the time."
Luckily, better representation for the LGBTQ+ rainbow—including drag queens, honey!—in American media has continued to improve throughout the decades via groundbreaking shows like "RuPaul's Drag Race" (2009-2021) and "Pose" (2018-2021), the latter of which features trans actors and writers.
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Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Boy George Revisits Culture Club's Best New Artist GRAMMY Speech In 1984
"Look, sometimes the world just isn't ready," Boy George recalls of his GRAMMY speech as Culture Club returns with their first new album in 19 years
Known for his colorful fashion sense and his use of makeup, Boy George was a queer icon in the pop world back when there were not many other openly gay artists in the mainstream. Now, the words he said during his GRAMMY acceptance speech when Culture Club won Best New Artist at the 26th GRAMMY Awards in 1984 may not seem very shocking, but at the time caused a stir.
George and Culture Club are back after a 19 year hiatus from making new music, returning with their message of love and openness for the world with their latest album, Life, released Oct. 26. In a recent interview with Variety, George recalls the moment he realized their messages were shocking to some.
"Thank you America, you know a good drag queen when you see one," George said at the GRAMMYs (via satellite from England). While today that may not sound outlandish, in 1984, as highlighted by a New York Times article at the time, some Americans didn't know what to do with George and his gender-nonconformity.
"I didn't really consider what it meant for anyone else, as I was in England…But people [in the U.S.] were freaking out when I said that," George told Variety. "Look, sometimes the world just isn't ready — for a word, for a shift of the moral compass. I'm glad I said it now. I just wish I had said it with a bit more intention at the time."
He thought it was "a pretty innocuous comment," being that he was in England and drag queens were already a regular part of culture, and he really didn't think that anyone would be surprised by his word choice. Now he realizes the power that even seemingly simple words can have on society.
Present day, 34 years after he turned heads for thanking Americans for loving his drag queen-self, as LQBTQ+ rights are being challenged in the country, it is important that he keeps showing the U.S.—and the world—how to keep opening their arms to accept everyone that makes this country great.
"It's almost more challenging now, because you had better find something to say that is relevant to you and the world," George said.
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Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Oh, Boy! Culture Club, B-52's, Tom Bailey Team For 2018 Summer Tour
Triple bill promises a night of huge hits such as "Karma Chameleon," "Love Shack" and "Hold Me Now"
Talk about a tour package that oozes with the '80s feels. Culture Club, the B-52's and Tom Bailey of the Thompson Twins will team for a triple bill this summer, promising an evening heavy on fun and jams such as "Karma Chameleon," "Love Shack" and "Hold Me Now."
Spanning more than 40 North American dates, the Life Tour will kick off June 29 in St. Augustine, Fla., hitting cities such as Dallas, Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, San Diego, and Los Angeles. The jaunt will wrap Oct. 5 in Fresno, Calif.
"We put together an amazing show that is going to be filled with hits and fabulous memories, we know it will be hands down this summer's best night out," said Boy George via statement.
Announcing the LIFE TOUR! Over 40 dates throughout the USA this summer! See dates at https://t.co/5Mee3MRNZu or https://t.co/K43W2jLAAY pic.twitter.com/JWqdPZcSp1— Culture Club (@RealCultureClub) March 20, 2018
On the strength of their hit debut album, 1982's Kissing To Be Clever, Culture Club emerged as Best New Artist winners at the 26th GRAMMY Awards in 1984. Boy George & Co. went on to collect hits such as "Do You Really Want To Hurt Me," "I'll Tumble 4 Ya," "Miss Me Blind," and "It’s A Miracle."
Led by singers Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson, the B-52's scored a trio of GRAMMY nominations for the party anthems "Love Shack" and "Roam" and their 1992 album, Good Stuff, which received a nod for Best Alternative Music Album at the 35th GRAMMY Awards.
Since 2014, Bailey has continued to fly the flag for the Thompson Twins’ catalog on the international touring trail. The group’s hits include "Doctor! Doctor!" "Lay Your Hands On Me," "King For A Day," and "Sugar Daddy. "
Tour presale tickets will launch on March 21, with general public access commencing on March 23.
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