Is Y.M.C.A. really a gay song? The meaning of the lyrics

Posted by

Y.M.C.A. is at the same time the most famous gay anthem in the history of music and one of the best known disco songs ever. Composed practically by chance by Village People and released in 1978, the song quickly became a huge success, both in the gay community of the time and subsequently in any context where you need a song to get people going, be it at a wedding, in a nightclub or a bar.

As the Village People used to do in their songs, YMCA’s lyrics contain several allusions that can be easily noticed by a gay audience. Specifically, Y.M.C.A. stands for Young Men’s Christian Association, an international association that helped teenagers and young people who moved to the city, offering cheap accommodation to those in need, or sporting activities in gyms, in the name of a Christian spirit. Apparently it was also an easy way for young homosexuals to meet other peers when you were new in the city, and this caused the entire homosexual community to set it up as a community anthem.

Over the years, Village People have often been asked if Y.M.C.A.’s lyrics explicitly geared to double meanings that could be welcomed by gay audiences. And although the band were openly gay and tended to target that specific audience whenever they could, lyrics’ author and Village People founder Victor Willis means it as a song about inclusion and social relationships of young people new to the neighborhood . As he states in this 2017 interview :

“YMCA was not written to be a gay song because of the simple fact I’m not gay. I wrote it about hanging out in urban neighbourhoods in my youth. ‘You can hang out with all the boys’ was a term about me and my friends playing basketball at the Y. But I wanted to write a song that could fit anyone’s lifestyle. I’m happy the gay community adopted it as their anthem, I have no qualms with that.”

In 2020 Willis even threatened legal action against anyone who would describe Y.M.C.A. s a song about illegal gay sex after Trump used it on his rally.

Watch this video on YouTube.

This doesn’t exclude that the band played on the multiple interpretations of the lyrics to wink at the gay community. The lines “You can hang out with all the boys”, “They have everything for you men to enjoy” and “You can do what ever you feel” have obviously caught on easily in LGBT+ communities over the years. Also thanks to the official video, which you can find above.

Surely a song that can be interpreted in a homosexual key, therefore, but that does not necessarily have to be meant with this only meaning.

The lyrics of the song

Young man, there’s no need to feel down
I said, young man, pick yourself off the ground
I said, young man, ’cause you’re in a new town
There’s no need to be unhappy

Young man, there’s a place you can go
I said, young man, when you’re short on your dough
You can stay there, and I’m sure you will find
Many ways to have a good time

It’s fun to stay at the YMCA
It’s fun to stay at the YMCA
They have everything for you men to enjoy
You can hang out with all the boys

It’s fun to stay at the YMCA
It’s fun to stay at the YMCA
You can get yourself clean, you can have a good meal
You can do what ever you feel

Young man, are you listening to me?
I said, young man, what do you want to be?
I said, young man, you can make real your dreams
But you got to know this one thing

No man does it all by himself
I said, young man, put your pride on the shelf
And just go there, to the YMCA
I’m sure they can help you today

It’s fun to stay at the YMCA
It’s fun to stay at the YMCA
They have everything for you men to enjoy
You can hang out with all the boys

It’s fun to stay at the YMCA
It’s fun to stay at the YMCA
You can get yourself clean, you can have a good meal
You can do what ever you feel

Young man, I was once in your shoes
I said, I was down and out with the blues
I felt no man cared if I were alive
I felt the whole world was so tight

That’s when someone came up to me
And said, young man, take a walk up the street
There’s a place there called the YMCA
They can start you back on your way

It’s fun to stay at the YMCA
It’s fun to stay at the YMCA
They have everything for you men to enjoy
You can hang out with all the boys

YMCA, it’s fun to stay at the YMCA
Young man, young man, there’s no need to feel down
Young man, young man, pick yourself off the ground

YMCA, it’s fun to stay at the YMCA
Young man, young man, are you listening to me
Young man, young man, what do you wanna be?

YMCA, you’ll find it at the YMCA
No man, young man, does it all by himself
Young man, young man, put your pride on the shelf

YMCA, and just go to the YMCA
Young man, young man I was once in your shoes
Young man, young man I was down with the blues, YMCA