Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.” Lyrics Meaning
“Y.M.C.A.” is the type of the song that if you’ve even seen the Village People (or perhaps even others) perform it, you’re likely to never forget it.
Those who are knowledgeable of urban America know of the YMCA. It is actually an organization (Young Men’s Christian Association) which traditionally was set up to cater to down-and-out city dwellers (especially men and boys). And as such, the Village People are touting its virtues to the “young man” who is the addressee of the song.
Based on the first verse, this individual is ‘new in town’ and for the most part appears to be stranded, i.e. homeless and broke. And basically, the band is telling him that the Y.M.C.A. is the place to go. More specifically they (the Y.M.C.A.) will take care of his basic needs. Moreover he will meet others like himself whom he can have “fun” with.
In the second verse, the Village People actually imply that the Y.M.C.A. will also be able to help him get his life on track, as in aspire towards realizing his “dreams”. And the young man appears to be too proud to actually seek help from a charitable organization. But they’re letting him know that he needs to swallow his pride and seek the appropriate help.
Indeed in the third verse the singer empathizes with the addressee directly by stating that he was once in the selfsame position. At one time he also faced dire straits and believed that no one cared, and the world, as it is, is a deceptive place. Or a simpler way of looking at it is that he was depressed. But just as he is now advising the young man, someone too had advised him to seek help from the Y.M.C.A. And apparently everything turned out favorably, considering how he is now espousing the institution.
So on the surface this song is simple enough. The homeys have run across a boy down on his luck and are guiding him to where they feel, based on their own experiences, he will get the needed assistance. In fact in a way you can even classify this song as a public service announcement.
Is “Y.M.C.A” about Gay Romance?
But the Village People were a peculiar group, to say the least. And one of the things that made them unique is that they more or less catered to gay audiences, at a time when doing so was a lot less mainstream than it is in more-modern times. So of course some have hypothesized that this song is actually an allusion to gay intimacy. In other words, the Y.M.C.A. was reportedly well known as a hangout for gays, where they can hookup with some of their ilk. And as such, some argue that the People are telling the “young man” to go the Y.M.C.A. for that specific purpose.
But the band’s frontman, Victor Willis, who also co-wrote the song cleared the air concerning that matter. He rather stated that the lyrics were written specifically in reference to the playful activities (i.e. gym) the Y.M.C.A. has to offer, specifically to “young urban Black youth”. And as the lyrics imply, he is basing this on his own personal experiences. Moreover, it should perhaps also be noted that Willis himself is not a gay man.
So we can say conclusively that despite all the theatrics and even accusations from other Village People that this tune “certainly has a gay origin”, at least from a straightforward lyrical standpoint this song is exactly as it seems. The singer(s) have encountered someone who he seems to be alienated and depressed. By virtue of this, he is directing that person to the Y.M.C.A. for alleviation from those issues.
A Great American Classic
“Y.M.C.A.” is an American classic and has the credentials to prove it. For example, the song went to number 1 in a whopping 14 countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia and Israel.
Moreover it charted in 5 other countries, including peaking at number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100.
And it also has a tendency to randomly popup on music charts from time to time. A good example was in 1999 when it charted in the UK and 2007 in Italy.
Moreover “Y.M.C.A.” is one of only a very few songs to have sold at least 10 million actual physical copies.
Indeed the track has been certified Double-Platinum in Canada and Platinum in three other countries.
The YMCA Dance
Part of its appeal is the unforgettable, easy-to-replicate dance number associated with the song. Indeed when VH1 compiled its list of “The 100 Greatest Dance Songs of the 20th Century”, they placed “Y.M.C.A.” at number 7.
The dance itself is based on participants mimicking the letters “Y-M-C-A” with their hands and arms. It is said to have originated on an episode from “American Bandstand”, hosted by entertainment icon D. Clark, from 1979. And for the most part it seems it was the audience themselves who created the moves.
The standing Guinness World Record for ‘largest YMCA dance’ was set on 31 December 2008, in El Paso, Texas, at the Sun Bowl (an American-football college game). And the number of people that participated was actually in excess of 40,000.
Who wrote “Y.M.C.A.”?
“Y.M.C.A.” was written by the Village People’s frontman Victor Willis (who portrayed ‘the cop’ at the time) and the track’s producer, Jacques Morali (1947-1991). And apparently it was Morali who came up with the concept, even though at the time he didn’t know what the YMCA was.
Release Date of “Y.M.C.A.”
“Y.M.C.A.” first made an appearance on the Village People’s third album “Cruisin’”. It was released by Casablanca Records as the lead single from that project on 25 September 1978.
This song has had its fair share of legal issues throughout the years. For instance, Jacques Morali’s business partner, Henri Belolo (1936-2019), was originally credited as a co-writer. That is until Victor Willis won a case in 2015 to have Belolo’s name removed as such. And three years prior to that, he also successfully sued to have the rights to the song, which had been accredited to business entities Can’t Stop Productions and Scorpio Music, terminated.
Moreover the YMCA itself was once on the verge of taking legal action against the Village People when the track was released, specifically accusing them of trademark infringement. However, the matter was eventually settled outside of court.
The music video to “Y.M.C.A.” was filmed in New York City and actually featured a YMCA branch in Manhattan.
That particular branch is referred to as McBurney YMCA. And it is a place that the Village People’s Randy Jones (aka ‘the cowboy’) actually frequented when he first came to New York in the mid 1970s.
And one of the reasons the song was so popular in Europe at the time (where it reached number 1 in 10 countries) as opposed to the U.S. was apparently attributable to the fact that back in those days American artists didn’t tend to make music videos. That is even though the Village People are an American band, MTV (i.e. a television station that regularly aired music videos) did not yet exist in the United States. However, in Europe videos had already become more of a standard.