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Explained: YMCA, the 1978 hit that has caught President Donald Trump’s attention

Trump has been seen gesticulating, pumping his fists and clapping to YMCA by the Village People at his campaign rallies ahead of the US presidential election. What is this song, and why is it so popular?

Written by Ektaa Malik , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: November 6, 2020 12:51:50 pm
Donald Trump, Trump dancing, Trump YMCA, Trump campaign YMCA song, Village People sue Trump, Indian ExpressPresident Donald Trump works the crowd after speaking at a campaign rally Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo: Ross D. Franklin)

US President Donald Trump, who is on the last leg of his political campaign, has turned to the same American failsafe that normal people do when there is a need to salvage a party. In the last week, President Trump has been signing off his campaign rallies with the song YMCA by the popular disco band Village People.

Trump was seen gesticulating, pumping his fists and clapping to the song that came out in 1978. The masses too seem to be enjoying the blast from the past, in an otherwise serious and tepid campaign. But Village People has asked Trump not to use their song at his rallies.

What is YMCA by Village People?

The song, YMCA, was released as a single by Village People from their third album titled Cruisin (1978). The lyrics were written by Jacques Morali, also the record’s producer, and singer Victor Willis.

YMCA stands for Young Men Christian Association, a global youth organisation that can trace its origins to London in 1844. The organisation was formed with the aim of investing Christian values in the youth. The organisation grew and has beneficiary chapters in about 120 countries.

In the US, the YMCA, or the Y as it is colloquially known, gave affordable accommodation to people who came to the cities looking for employment from rural areas. By the 1970s, the Y was providing shelter to young people facing life issues as well. During that time, Morali had asked the lead singer, Willis, “What exactly is the YMCA?”. Willis saw Morali’s face change as he gave an explanation. Thus was born the song YMCA. Its chorus sums up the feeling: “It’s fun to stay at the YMCA”.

Donald Trump, Trump dancing, Trump YMCA, Trump campaign YMCA song, Village People sue Trump, Indian Express President Donald Trump dances during the playing of the song YMCA by the Village People, as he works the crowd after holding a campaign rally at the Altoona-Blair County Airport in Martinsburg, Pa, Monday, Oct. 26, 2020. (AP Photo: Gene J. Puskar)

Why is the YMCA song so popular?

The four-minute 47-second track is a recognisable ditty, given its simple lyrics and catchy tune. Though the song surprisingly didn’t reach the number 1 slot in the US, it has been number one in the world and is a must-have on almost all playlists for weddings and parties. It has been named number 7 on the list of 100 greatest dance songs by cable channel VH1. Till date, it’s played at many sporting events and many call the song a testimony to the fact that disco is not dead. This March it was added to the National Recording Registry at the US Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant”.

Spell it Out

There was a video that was released for the song, which had the band members clapping and doing a step dance to the song. Later, a specific choreography was invented on American Bandstand, a music-performance and dance programme that introduced artistes like Prince, Jackson and Cher to the American people during the mid-1950s to 1989.

The choreography includes spelling out Y: with hands out stretched, and raised towards the sky; M spelt out by twisting the elbows from the previous Y stance, where the fingers meet at the chest; C has the arms extended to the left, and A is made with hands held together above the head, like the spire of a church. The choreography was performed by the audience members on American Bandstand when the Village People had appeared on the show in 1979. The dance is now a pop-culture phenomenon, with instant recall value.

Read Between the Lines

On the surface, the song promotes the inherent Christian values of the YMCA, but later it was surmised that the song is a reference to the hidden reputation of the Y. In the 70-80s, the Y had built quite an underground reputation for being a spot frequented by gay men, and the song was seen as a nod to the very gay roots of the Village People. The song was seen to celebrate gay culture and also provide gay fantasy music to the many gay youngsters who were disco fans. 📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram

Popular renditions of Village People’s YMCA

The song has been enacted, parodied and have had numerous cover versions for decades. Pepsi in a Super Bowl advertisement in 1997 had changed YMCA to P-E-P-S-I, where five bears acted out the YMCA signature choreography.

US Secretary of State, Colin Powell had enacted out the song at an ASEAN meeting in Jakarta, in 2004. The lyrics had been modified to “President Bush, he said to me: ‘Colin, I know you will agree. I need you to run the Department of State. We are between a rock and a hard place.”

The 2013 film Despicable Me 2 had covered the song as well, where the popular animated character, the minions were dressed like the Village People.

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