Cameo’s ‘Word Up’: So Black and So Gay!

This is the gayest video in the history of humankind.

Really. It is. Wait till you see it.

If you’ve seen it before, maybe when you were a kid, well, look at it now, with fresh Black and gay eyes.

Cameo, that funk band from the 1970’s and 1980’s that had their biggest pop hit with Word Up (though my favorite is the follow-up single, Candy). Larry Blackmon, the frontman, became famous for wearing that bright-red plastic cup–on the outside of his lycra pants. Leather jacket. No shirt. Handle-bar mustache.

I’m just stating the facts, people.

If I were a PhD writing an academic essay on this video, it would be titled Cameo’s Word Up: An Audio/Visual Exlporation Interrogation of Black Gay Club Culture, Policing, and Desire.

Confused? Let me break it down.

So the video opens with actor Lavar Burton as a police detective, flanked by two tall, dark and handsome officers (nightsticks in hand!), telling the Cameo crew to “come out” with their hands up. And they do indeed “come out” and then do a dance sequence and flee the scene on motorbikes.

Verse two. Alone by themselves in some seedy location, they take on hip-hop, and it’s hypermasculine images (in 1986!)with Blackmon singing:

Now all you sucker D.J.’s
Who think you’re fly
There’s got to be a reason
And we know the reason why.

You try to put on your airs
And act real cool
But you got to realize
That you’re acting like fools…

Those of you who know me, know I fully support that sentiment. In 2007. I suported it then, too. I didn’t like “rap” until De La Soul, Tribe Called Quest, and Queen Latifah (aka the Native Tongues) would hit a couple years later.

Now, the duo makes their way into the club, where the gayest dance sequence ever choreographed happens–and boy is it long. Look out! in bursts The Village People Lavar Burton (as detective) and his two officers. After cruising getting a good look around, Burton spots Blackmon and the boys doing some obscene crotch thrusting dance, and he says “Get those queens” to his officers. Only one of his officers gets taken in by the music and dancing and red cupped crotch thrusting, and takes of his clothes and fuckin’ queens out right there!!!

So now Burton whips out his handcuffs, and handcuffs himself to Blackmon , and makes his way to the bathroom stall exit, only to be duped, and hadcuffed to a woman. He’s miffed. The last shot is of Blackmon with two band members walking under a bridge somewhere, when Blackmon grabs the dude to his left, and they walk off, arm in arm.

Don’t believe me? See it for yourself…Cameo’sWord Up” is so Black and so gay!

10 thoughts on “Cameo’s ‘Word Up’: So Black and So Gay!

  1. Ah ha! It all becomes clear to me why I always liked that video back in the day. Loaded with subliminal messages.

    But I could be more to the detective character’s relationship to Larry Blackmon. Perhaps a jilted lover?

  2. That CODPIECE that Blackmon (what a name!) used to transfix me. I crushed hard on Cameo and loved this song and video. They were speaking directly to us Black gay folks back then; I wonder how many of us were aware of it? And where are the videos like this today???

  3. I *ALWAYS* got some kind of vibe from Cameo (and thought the group members were tasty, too). The leather and that codpiece…couldn’t get enough of it (still can’t LOL). IMHO the presence of LaVar Burton also ‘signs’ it for our community as well (but that’s just me…)

  4. Bernie- I know! I saw this video a couple years ago, and I was like OMG!!!! Why did nobody tell me???

    J- they were totally speaking to us. It’s totally a video about the thin line of policing sexuality and desire.

    Reggie – I was trying not to go there, but I have had that thought for YEARS! LOL!!!

  5. Awesome reading!!!!!! I posted “word up” on the blog for my queer cinema class, and your analysis is right on point. Keep rockin

  6. I never forget the 22th October of 1987 … Cameo arrived in my hometown and blew the audience away with an incredible funk-opera.
    The show started late but the rollercoasting surprise-show which the audience got in return … This gig made so much impact on me in the sense of how to put on a great show. The instrumental skills and their dance-moves were dazzling & extremely tight. The audience witnessed here about 10 to 12 years of stage-experience … it was THAT mindblowing. The whole show embodied a deep underground atmosphere which had adrenaline contstantly pumpin through the crowd. Their medley-like approach of their set-list blew through the audience like a whirlwind. At the end, me and a group of friends just had a dazed look on our faces of what we just experienced. One of the best examples of that live-atmosphere can be seen in these clips. These clips are just a slight example of how that show was as a whole.
    The clips are from one and the same tv-show , which has been split in 2 parts :

    Yeah , Cameo always added choreography to most of their clips. Larry explained in some interviews that the dance-routine was a good workout to keep in shape as an artist.
    Also, the codpiece-costume was an idea of desgner Jean-Paul Gaultier. Larry told that when Jean-Paul handed it to him , he was very hesitant about it but JP suggested that it fitted the right by adding it to the mix.
    Cameo was at the time of “Word Up” a big fan of the French couture and JPG’s line in particular.
    On their Single Life-album, they’re dressed in clothes of the brand “Commes des Garcons”.
    There is also another and earlier clip of the band, with tight costumes and the falsetto vocals of the late & great Mister Wayne Cooper :

    The clip right here above is a sign of how funk-bands presented themselves : in tight spandex costumes and an uplifting atmosphere through their presentation. I guess that were the remains of the mid to late 70’s in which all those elements were represented.
    Those spandex costumes of Cameo were photographed for the last time on their Cameosis-album, and after that they were portrayed in regular clothing on album-sleeves, although when performing live they still kept on wearing tight or rhinestone-outfits.
    Whatever they might’ve implied with their whole image, i remember one thing clearly though … that their powerful stage-presence and macho-tostesterone vibe on that particular night when i saw them perform, had ladies going out of their mind and screaming, lol.

  7. type-edit :

    Also, the codpiece-costume was an idea of designer Jean-Paul Gaultier. Larry told that when Jean-Paul handed the codpiece-box to him, he was very hesitant about it when he opened the box and saw it.
    But JP suggested that it fitted the right attitude by adding it to the mix.

  8. Here’s a cool interview with them.
    You might have to turn the volume up during the talking :

  9. Lol… nope!
    Guess Gay Muggs don’t get it cause Cameo, Word, and Candy got me Girl Sex…

    Right Hand to God

  10. What an insightful analysis** an amazing wonder the get up never had any appeal to me during my teen years (when the hormones were in super drive) are probably quite right… wasn’t meant to attract ME..Ooow

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