When Men Wore Kilts: New Romantics Remembered

In 1981 new bands from England invaded NYC every week or so but Spandau Ballet made a splash that spring with their New Romantic fashion and vaguely funky dance grooves. (The lachrymose pop hit “True” came two years later.) I clearly remember reading about their gig at the decidedly un-trendy Underground club and deciding not to “dress up” in order to gain admittance. At that point I hadn’t yet acquired the black jeans and thrift shop finery so beloved by East Village hipsters, nor did I own anything resembling a kilt, toga or Star Trek uniform. But I confess to being intrigued by the debut Spandau single “To Cut A Long Story Short” with its chilly synths and awkward rhythms.

Dark and moody, the candle-lit video looks like it was shot in the basement of a castle. The band members aren’t very good at mimicking the act of playing musical instruments, and the costumes still look silly. A couple years later, thanks to MTV, Spandau Ballet and kindred souls like Duran Duran and Culture Club were flaunting their fashion sense on national television. But in 1981, the New Romantics were more like a rumor, or warning, of the brave new pop world on its way.

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