Why 'Smalltown Boy' is still relevant 40 years later

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Why 'Smalltown Boy' is still relevant 40 years later

This May 25 marks 40 years since the release of 'Smalltown Boy', Bronski Beat's great hit. 40 years in which 'Smalltown Boy' has not lost its validity. In fact, these days, coinciding with its anniversary, 'Smalltown Boy' has returned to the popular imagination serving as the soundtrack of a viral TikTok challenge. In this “dancing challenge”, TikTok users record their parents dancing as they did in the eighties, in their youth.

The use of 'Smalltown Boy' on TikTok has taken the song back to the Official UK Singles Chart, where it has just climbed to number 63. It hasn't achieved such a high position on the chart since the 1980s.

But, beyond its commercial success, which reached many other European countries, especially Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium, where it was number 1, and also the United States, where it topped the dance charts, 'Smalltown Boy' was – over all- a perfect synth-pop song. And their sound has continued to influence new generations. In the mainstream, Ed Sheeran took the lead by shooting 'Smalltown Boy' in 'Bad Habits', one of the biggest hits of 2021 around the world.

'Smalltown Boy' has been invoked by other artists in more or less improbable ways, over the last decade. The synths of 'Smalltown Boy' have permeated Anglo-Saxon indie, for example, the music of Still Corners or – above all – that great song by Pumarosa called 'Heaven'. There was something of 'Smalltown Boy', too, in Glass Animals' megahit 'Heat Waves'. But 'Smalltown Boy' has also influenced Spanish artists: Mónica Naranjo sampled it in 2012. In 2021, a curious version of 'Smalltown Boy' mixed with 'Wonderwall' by Oasis became popular.

Others have gone so far as to collaborate with Jimmy Somerville himself. This is the case of Oliver Sim, Sparks or, lately, the Swedish DJ Salvadore Ganacci. Oliver Sim, a member of The xx, included a recitation of Somerville in his ballad 'Hideous'. Reflecting on homophobia, Sim used the figure of Somerville to remind the world how pioneering 'Smalltown Boy' was in its defense of LGBTQ+ rights. His lyrics told the story of a boy who runs away from home to avoid suffering violence from his family and surroundings.

Somerville, the only surviving member of Bronski Beat, as Larry Steinbachek passed away in 2016 and Steve Bronski in 2021, has been, in the words of Oliver Sim, a “beacon of light” in his life, and his “cultural impact” on the queer community It has been “huge.” On the musical side, it is evident that 'Smalltown Boy' has not been forgotten. For Joe Goddard of Hot Chip it is a “modern club classic” and in his sessions it still works like the first day. Proof that it was a visionary production is that it is still playing today.

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Simon Müller

Simon Müller is the driving force behind UMusic, embodying a lifelong passion for all things melodious. Born and raised in New York, his love for music took form at an early age and fueled his journey from an avid music enthusiast to the founder of a leading music-centered website. Simon's diverse musical tastes and intrinsic understanding of acoustic elements offer a unique perspective to the UMusic community. Sporting a dedicated commitment to aural enrichment and hearing health, his vision extends beyond just delivering news - he aspires to create a network of informed, appreciative music lovers. Spend a moment in Mueller's company, and you'd find his passion infectious – music isn’t simply his job, it’s his heartbeat.