Eurythmics: Fluid genre music ahead of its time
Eurythmics: Fluid genre music ahead of its time
(Image credit: Getty Images)
Eurythmics ‘makes the duo feel triumphant,’ writes Arwa Haider, recalling how the duo’s music marked his teenage years.
When you are a child of the suburbs, you drink pop music as if it were a magic elixir: enough to evoke a less ordinary life. I grew up in various suburbs of England, Scotland and Wales, most of the time I got along without ever really fitting in: a vivacious new girl who wasn’t girly enough; vaguely foreign; irregular; too moody; too conspicuous. Pop music transported me beyond small towns and suburbs, and one act in particular has never left me: British duo Eurythmics, aka Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart.
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The first time I heard Eurythmics it was like an exciting shock to the system, and sort of a glorious sanctuary. I was seven, watching Top of the Pops in the living room of our Kirkcaldy bungalow, and was immediately taken by synth riffs and soul and steel vocals from Lennox on their groundbreaking 1983 hit Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This). My family had recently switched to a color television, and it seemed to increase the electricity of Eurythmics; in the song’s video, Lennox is a classy, ââstately presence with cropped orange hair and piercing eyes, alongside enigmatic bearded partner Stewart. I had never heard anything so disturbing and seductive before; decades later, the track still fascinates me, like hellish disco hell. Lennox would describe Sweet Dreamsâ¦ as a “nihilistic” song in a 2017 interview with The Guardian, adding, “It’s about surviving the world.”
According to Lennox, “I felt like we were in a dream world, that whatever we were chasing would never happen” (Credit: Getty Images)
I was navigating my own little world, punctuated by Eurythmics every step of the way. ’80s pop culture boasted of a whirlwind of androgynous superstars such as Prince, Boy George, and Bowie – but the mainstream media remained conservative, and Eurythmics’ genre and genre-fluid visions always seemed exceptionally bold. They were expressive; fearless (driven by DIY until commercial success allows for big budgets); elegant glamor by their own design.
I was fascinated by the way Lennox transformed through different characters: playing both a hyper-feminine temptress and a male alter ego for songs such as Love Is a Stranger (1982/3) and Who’s That Girl. ? (1983); in this latest video, his female and male appearances steal a kiss, while Stewart’s various party dates include Bananarama (with his actual future wife, Siobhan Fahey) and boy Blitz Marilyn. A rare chemistry endures between Lennox and Stewart (who were once a romantic couple): contrasting tensions and tenderness, never slipping away; They aptly titled their penultimate album We Too Are One (1989). For an impressionable young pop fan in a suburb without roots, Eurythmics projected shape-shifting beauty; they made it feel triumphant not to fit in.
The duo’s chemistry encompassed “contrasting tension and tenderness” (Credit: Getty Images)
By the age of 10, I was spending most of my pocket money chasing pop. A “50p” discount store in Liverpool was selling ex-jukebox vinyl, allowing me to collect Eurythmics singles like 1985’s It’s Alright (Baby’s Coming Back), a brassy synth serenade with dazzling visuals (at the end from his video, Lennox and Stewart’s Bodies Dissolve in Memphis-style abstract graphics). When I was 11 at the Ormskirk market, I bought my first “serious” album: a tape of Sweet Dreams … Eurythmics LP, and played it several times the following year. An adult world seemed to emerge through his electronic tracks: creepy, but irresistibly approaching, like the underground rhythm of his latest track: This City Never Sleeps.
My Iraqi parents’ work as doctors would soon move the family to south London, and then – in a surreal twist for my mother, little sister and I, 13 – to Al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia. To be a woman suddenly meant no freedom of movement; being a pop fan meant that I could secretly escape through music. Discounted counterfeit cassette stores were prolific in the late 1980s in Al-Khobar, despite the official Saudi line that music was “haram” (prohibited by Islamic law). My first purchase there was a 10 riyal cassette tape of the 1984 Eurythmics album (For the Love of Big Brother): their underrated music for the film adaptation of Orwell’s novel (which was also my favourite book). I was taken aback by the strangeness of the Eurythmics soundtrack (as was the director of the film, apparently), but it turned out to be a perfectly distorted pop response to my stuffy surroundings: the Sexcrime of a provocative; the spiraling fate of Room 101. I still love this album, as well as the other Eurythmics tapes I bought from Al-Khobar: Revenge of 1986 (although on my copy a Saudi censor drew hand a dress to hide Lennox’s bare shoulders).
Lennox told The Guardian: ‘I was trying to be the opposite of the singer’s clichÃ©. I wanted to be as strong as a man’ (Credit: Getty Images)
As you grow older, certain aspects of Eurythmics’ music intensify – the elegance and eloquence of the performance; subversive humor; feminist strength; the powerful vulnerability. All of these elements flare up brilliantly on their 1987 opus Savage; the accompanying video album (produced primarily by rising visionary Sophie Muller) portrays Lennox in contrasting roles: a hypertensive housewife; a roaring platinum vampire I need a man. Eurythmics has long sealed its commercial fame and inter-genre influence, winning numerous awards; they have also been contrary, unpredictable, decidedly anti-cool – they are essential and also timeless.
In an archival Eurythmics article (in US magazine SPIN, August 1985), Lennox displayed impressive outspokenness about mental health at a time when the subject was taboo in showbiz. “It’s like a teenage depression that you get around the age of 15 that never quite leaves you,” she explained. âIt’s still there and it’s also the source of my creativity to some extentâ¦ this horrible kind of dread and grayness about existence. Part of the reason I wrote songs was to deal with this. “
As a music journalist and fangirl, I had the chance to interview the respective halves of Eurythmics. Stewart was charismatic, easy going, perfumed with fancy cologne, given to epic ad hoc excursions (including stage musicals and a “supergroup” with Mick Jagger, AR Rahman, Joss Stone and Damian Marley ). Lennox was more categorically thoughtful. âMost of the time I came across as pretty defensive and cold,â she told me, in 2013. âI was provocative and I wanted to make people think about gender issues. ‘Because the the press has often used the term as a sapping insult.
Lennox played with gender in the various characters she adopted (Credit: Getty Images)
“The direction of my sexuality was constantly being grasped. My statement was actually about the powerlessness of women. I stood next to my partner in Eurythmics on an equal footing. Dave and I complemented each other – we complemented each other. felt like two parts of a puzzle. “
I’ve never seen Lennox and Stewart together on stage, yet their common heritage always casts a spell. I will never forget Lennox’s heartbreaking rendition of Here Comes the Rain Again (an intimate solo date with the BBC Concert Orchestra, 2007). In 2019, I re-watched a star-studded celebration of Eurythmics’ songbook, as part of the Nile Rodgers Meltdown Festival; Lennox was definitely missing, but Stewart was in great shape, joking, “Annie and I fooled people into thinking we were all kinds.”
Maybe pop is an elaborate illusion, but I still hear my life in the pulse of Eurythmics: it’s an exhilarating escape; a place to be yourself tonight; a sort of extraordinary homecoming.
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