The ’80s Song That Taught Me About Queer Love
Some bands just sound queer. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what makes a song or artist sound that way, but I'd say it's because there's always some element of tragedy and celebration mixed in the music. The Indigo Girls sound queer. Hercules and Love Affair sound queer. Tracy Chapman sounds queer. The Scissor Sisters sound queer. All these artists make decidedly different-sounding music from one another, but there's a thread that ties them together, something in the way they capture longing and desire.
I didn't quite understand this thread until a recent night out in Brooklyn, when I heard the opening notes to a song I always feel deep in my bones when it plays, even if it was written before I was born: "A Little Respect" by Erasure. That night, dancing under a mirror ball sending hundreds of pink and blue dots around the room, I felt it more than ever.
Written and recorded in 1988 for their album The Innocents, "A Little Respect" would go on to be Erasure's second Billboard Hot 100 song, peaking at 14, and part of the Erasure canon. I feel a little silly praising one of their most popular songs when I'm sure a more well-versed Erasure fan could tell me five other songs of theirs that shine brighter than this, but no matter how deep I get into their discography, I always return to "A Little Respect." Not only is it one of the most perfect pop songs ever made, it's also a strikingly strong lesson in what it means to be queer and in love.
The song itself finds singer Andy Bell, one of the first openly gay pop stars to actually sing about queer romance, pleading with a lover to just give into their feelings for one another. As the partner who has no qualms about their romance, Bell imbues a particular kind of desperation in his delivery. You hear it when he sings "Soul, I hear you calling" as the bass line swells alongside the acoustic guitar, matching Bell's descent into his lower register. He then jumps up into the rafters of his falsetto asking for just a little respect from this timid lover. It's stunning and tragically cinematic. And yet, there's a feeling of hope to it, like this suffering is going to pay off somehow. That it's going to get better.
A theme in many queer songs is the idea of hope. "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" is a shining example, with its simple belief that life will, indeed, improve from the gray dreariness of the everyday. This confusion, this existential crisis that feels never-ending, is momentary, and can also be heard in the dreaming aspect of Chapman's "Fast Car," which is optimistic despite its forlorn tone. "A Little Respect" is essentially a song about begging someone to love you, but in that plea is a reminder that love can be a salvation of sorts. (This is why I want "A Little Respect" to be my wedding song.)
What this song reminds me of is the fact that queer love doesn't have to be tragic, even if it's almost always about resilience; to fall in love and openly express that love is a triumph. "A Little Respect" sounds like that triumph, the triumph of queer people falling in love together, and singing out about love's glory.