If you’ve been to more than five variety shows, you’ve probably heard these songs, maybe over and over again. C.J. Lazaretti takes a look at the backing tracks that burlesque crowds have heard too often.
The soundtrack of a burlesque act needs to convey a clear effect to its audience. It doesn’t work if the artist is the only one who finds the music funny, sexy or scary. Understandably, burlesquers tend to go for immediately recognisable tunes, but it is quite baffling that so many should pick the same ones. Hundreds of jazz, rock, soul and dance hits from this and other decades are equally up to the job.
Is this generation of bump-and-grinders approaching the genre from a limited background of cultural references, genuinely unaware of other musical options? Or are these girls simply out to rip off each other? Some of these songs, though, are now so common it would be hard to even point out potential victims of plagiarism.
If you’re a regular at British variety shows, you’ve probably heard these tracks enough to get an instant feeling of “here we go again” after the first two or three notes.
These tracks take precedence even over other obvious choices. I’ve heard Moonlight Serenade a few times in cheesecake acts, but there’s an ocean of big bands virtually untapped by vintage-minded performers, with Count Basie and Artie Shaw being just two of the biggest names.
Notable modern absences are even more puzzling. I’m constantly surprised that burlesque is not inundated by Madonna routines (though I say this with an incipient fear of starting an avalanche of pink glove peels to Material Girl). Prince is sexy as hell, and yet no tributes come to mind other than Agent Lynch and Fancy Chance. Is there an Act of Parliament banning non-drag performers from using Donna Summer, Gloria Gaynor and other disco greats? Where are the Bo Diddley acts? The Supremes acts? The Depeche Mode acts?
Innovation is always preferable to repetition, and I’m as eager to watch acts with completely unexpected soundtracks as anyone who’s been to more than five revues. But patterns will emerge, in any art form, and that’s the point: recurring burlesque backing tracks could be a lot more diverse, and still be obvious.
Which does at least bring a silver lining of potential to it. In fields like music and drama, it often feels like everything has been done. In burlesque, the possibilities are still largely untouched.
See also: The New Wave of Live Music in Burlesque