Readers in the United States may not particularly well-versed in the early 1990s joy that is Take That. The (now) legendary British boy band first hit the charts in 1991. The five-some hit hard and fast (though never quite cracked the US charts). The group disbanded initially in 1996, wrecking the usual havoc on their teenage female fanbase. However, the separation was short-lived and Take That reformed in 2006 and has continued touring since (in various forms) with various members, but continuing their brand of success.
In our new series, “The Music Videos of Take That” I will be taking a chronological look at Take That’s career through the lens of their performances. How does the group’s look, dynamic and musical style change and (in turn) represent the changing culture around them.
That band’s first music video, for a delightfully early 1990s ditty called “Do What You Like” initially hit airwaves in July 1991. The music video followed soon after, showcasing the group (Gary Barlow, Robbie Williams, Mark Owen, Jason Orange and Howard Donald) as wide-eyed, fresh-faced boys brand new to the music scene.
Visually, the dancing, the fashion and style feels straight out of the early 1990s. Drawing a straight comparison between Take That and their US contemporaries New Kids on the Block, the styles are very similar. In fact, the most noted difference is that the New Kids are gritty. The creative team feel to be pursuing an almost hip hop aesthetic. While the Take That video features the superficial attempt at the same look, “Do What You Like” is glossy and slick. Not only it shot in color, but the dances are filmed on a pristine, white soundstage. Everything about the music video feels like these boys are being prepped for prime-time. Most boy bands do not form naturally (and Take That is no different). As such, this video very much thrusts Take That into the (crowded) music industry.
Perhaps most interesting in this video is the strange (and overt) sexualization of the (not-quite-legal) boys. Robbie Williams is the baby of the group and is barely 17 in this video. Take That front-man Gary Barlow is just 21. First of all, the boys show a tremendous amount of skin. Not only are they shirtless, but they are often slicked up for the shot. The opening frames of the video is one of the boys dancing. It’s a heavily fragmented shot, showing only a muscled, slicked-up torso.
Contemporaries New Kids on the Block wear an unnatural amount of clothes… it was the early 1990s after all. They wear big and bulky clothes. In fact, even later groups like N*Sync and Backstreet Boys are never this scantily clad.
In this video, Take That is showing Marky Mark levels of skin…
Taking this another step further, the video makes a strange addition… food. In fact, this video is not for the squeamish. The treatment of jello, whipped cream (and other gooey) edible items are used to capture a boyish (gee, aren’t we loveable scamps) yet decidedly sexual vibe. At one point, a woman extra massages whipped cream onto the shirtless Barlow’s back. Later, another woman massages something (pudding?) into the chest of a very… excited… looking Robbie Williams. The action wraps with everything building to a slippery wrestling match between the shirtless boys who are absolutely covered in jello, whipped cream and pudding. Very little separates this from sequences involving mud or jelly wrestling.
The treatment of gaze in music videos (particularly female) as a whole is a tricky one. Boy bands are built to particularly appeal to teenage girls, and the video for “Do What You Like” clearly demonstrates this. However, the female extras are used (as per usual for music videos) as props. To make matters worse, in the video their primary purpose seems to be caressing, stroking and massaging the boys. This is not an image of female empowerment. As such, pinning down the established gaze is a trickier matter.
Finally, in examining band dynamics as a whole, fans of boy bands know these groups subsist on establishing “personas” for female fans to grab on to. Bands have “the sweet one”, “the funny one” and “the cute one”. While Barlow has very much established himself as the front man, the boy’s personality’s are largely indistinguishable from each other at this point. Instead, each band member is playing up a mischievous and playful persona.
All in all, the music video for Take That’s debut single, “Do What You Like” feel like just that: a debut single. The production is glossy and slick, meant to establish the British boy band as new figures in a crowded music scene. There’s not much depth and development behind the images, leaving them largely as shallow vessels meant for teenage projection.
Come back next week for our next instalment, looking at Take That’s second 1991 single, “Promises”.