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An Anthem for Living, Loving and Dying Amid Crisis - Years and Years Frontman Olly Alexander's cover

Image credit: Chuff Media

It's no surprise that a song about the struggles of growing up grappling with your oppressed sexuality hits hard. But with only a piano track and stripped back vocals, Years and Years frontman Olly Alexander takes the Pet Shop Boy's acclaimed 1987 hit to another level.

Alexander deliberately exposes the powerful lyrics to reiterate the importance of acceptance for LGBTQ + youth in a new century, but still facing the same challenges of negative stigma and acceptance.

Speaking about the track, Alexander said: 'I've always loved the Pet Shop Boys and the song's expression of the gay experience. I made this mostly from home just me and my piano so it feels pretty raw and exposed, it's a really beautiful song to sing.'

The cover accompanies the release of acclaimed writer Russel T. Davies' five-part Channel 4 drama of the same name, which documents the devastating impact of the 1980s AIDS crisis in the UK.

Alexander takes on the lead, Ritchie Tozer, a witty teen who trades in a sleepy town in the Isle of Wight for the roaring London scene. There he meets friends on a similar journey of discovery - they rent an apartment together, aptly christened the 'Pink Palace.' In the midst of the rush of their newfound freedom, crisis looms in the form of an unknown disease, which undoubtedly impacts their lives forever.

Joining a thumping 80's soundtrack including the likes of Queen, Kim Wilde and Blondie, some viewers may miss the driving synth beat of the original version, but Alexander's raw take perhaps achieves what the original could not, at a time when many other music stars were still closeted. Stripping back the vibrant, party façade of the track reveals the very real pain felt by a wave of unaccepted youth, struggling with the then unknown evil of AIDS.

In cleverly exposing the full impact of the lyrics, we feel a sense of pain and fear, which becomes apparent when Ritchie is reeling from the 'gay cancer' ravaging through the LGBTQ + community.

Incidentally, the lyrics 'In school they taught me how to be... so pure in thought and word and deed' reflects Olly's own turbulent experience dealing with his sexuality as a teenager. Olly recalled: 'Growing up, I was worried that if I had sex, I would catch it.' Being educated in the midst of Thatcher's Section 28, which banned the 'promotion' of homosexuality, he added that this 'only heightened the bullying.'

Upon receiving the script, he remembers that '[It] was amazing to read, I laughed and I cried a lot, it’s a privilege to be helping to tell this story and I’m so excited.'

Despite it all, the show manages to balance pain and fear with a healthy dose of dry cynicism and humour, being rightfully met with glowing reviews, notably from Elton John, a passionate AIDS activist. Posting to instagram, he said: 'Watching it, so many sad and devastating memories come flooding back. Many people were callous, ignorant and cruel', also referring to the show as 'a triumph of creativity and humanity.'

Olly ultimately creates a refreshed and powerful anthem for those challenged with their own sexuality in a new century, alongside a show which is an undoubtably a vital expression of freedom and humour in the face of forbidden love and loss.

A portion of the proceeds of the track will be donated to the George House Trust, a charity which has been providing HIV support, advice and advocacy services to improve health outcomes since 1985.

Edited by Emma Short, Music Editor


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