The success of disco-tinged pop songs by contemporary artists such as Doja Cat and Dua Lipa has prompted some music fans to declare that the long-awaited renaissance of disco in the public consciousness has arrived a half-century after first storming American nightclubs. (Underground dance music scenes have known what's good for a long time.) While the artists of this generation have dabbled in disco’s sounds, some acts from the disco era have continued performing their original music, keeping the spirit of this bygone era alive through their timeless songs.
The Village People are one of these ubiquitous groups. Since bursting onto the scene in the late 1970s, the Village People — led by founding vocalist and songwriter Victor Willis — have brought crowds around the world to their feet through dance hits such as “Y.M.C.A.” and “Macho Man.” The group has remained active (albeit with an ever-changing lineup) in the four decades since its inception. Willis rejoined the Village People in 2017 following a nearly 40-year break and has spent most of that time touring with the group as a legacy act.
Now the Village People are set to bring their lively music and even livelier show to the Parker Playhouse on their 40th-anniversary tour. Circumstances and public health guides willing, it'll be a night of nostalgia guaranteed to get everyone grooving.
Longtime fans are more than familiar with the various characters who make up the troupe: the cop, the cowboy, the G.I., the biker, the Native American, the construction worker. Although the group was undoubtedly rooted in a bygone era of camp, few popular acts were willing to celebrate queer culture as openly and unashamedly as the Village People. They became de facto gay-pride leaders thanks in part to their not-so-subtle allusions to the YMCA as a cruising spot. (The album on which the song appeared was titled Cruisin’.)
When “Y.M.C.A.” and “In the Navy” reached the top five on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1979, it became clear that listeners cared more about the Village People’s music than their message. By the end of the decade, the group had notched five RIAA-certified gold or platinum albums in just two years and appeared to be one of disco's most mainstream-accessible ambassadors.
For a group consisting mostly of straight men, the Village People’s allyship at a time when LGBTQ people were vilified in media and popular culture was a groundbreaking example to set. The bandmates continued to release albums after 1980 but failed to match the astronomical success they found at their prime.
By the tail end of the Village People's popular run in the mid-’80s, the AIDS crisis had ravaged LGBTQ communities everywhere. The carefree sensibilities of the sexual revolution had come to an end; the group subsequently began promoting safer sex practices in songs such as “Sex Over the Phone." The ensemble took a brief hiatus and returned in 1987 by making TV appearances and performing at large sporting events and awards shows. Just two months after the group performed in front of 40,000 people in Sydney, Australia, the crisis hit close to home when group cofounder Jacques Morali died from AIDS-related complications.
In the decades since, the group has continued to tour in various iterations and even released a holiday album last November — its first LP in more than 30 years. With a jam-packed year filled with performances around the world, the Village People are still very much alive, and audiences everywhere — certainly now more than ever — want nothing more than to leave their worries behind for a night of singing and dancing.
Village People. 8 p.m. Saturday, March 28, at Parker Playhouse, 707 NE Eighth St., Fort Lauderdale; 954-462-0222; parkerplayhouse.com. Tickets cost $37.50 to $77.50 via ticketmaster.com.