Bow Wow Wow would not fly in 2021.
I think after people realized that Britney Spears was being marketed as some kind of teenie sex object and people felt rightly icky about it.
But in the early 80’s, we didn’t think anything about it. Well, maybe not that hard about it.
If you’re going, who? Then I’ll give a primer.
Malcolm McLaren, impresario and lothario of the Sex Pistols and the London scene, formed a band around budding scenster Adam Ant, and named them Adam & the Ants. When Mr. Ant got too…independent (like Johnny Rotten), McLaren pulled the Ants away from him, and formed a new band. This time, McLaren found a perfect singer. A young teen, with no training or previous artistic vision.
(Adam Ant found other Ants. He did just fine.)
Annabella Lwin was the singer. She was beautiful, and…13. McLaren played up the beauty and seemed not to care or cared too much that Lwin was a minor. In 1980, they released their first single. The next year, they released their first album, with the cover depicting Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe, by Manet. You know the one, with the guys on a picnic blanked with a nude woman next to them and one in the background.
Lwin was nude. She was 14. FOURTEEN!
There was controversy, including a complaint by Lwin’s mother. Undeterred, McLaren used that photo for an EP cover, and then another nude shot of Lwin (with no naughty parts exposed) for a US compilation.
They got MTV play thanks to the video for their remake of “I Want Candy”, released an album where Lwin wrote the lyrics, and then after a tour she was fired. By age 16, she was on the outs.
Now, the “I Want Candy” video was provocative, to say the least. Me, as an MTV viewer at the time, Lwin was a naughty angel. I had a big crush on Claire Grogan of Altered Images (another rather young singer) who was the good girl, it seemed. Lwin was the BAD girl, licking that ice cream cone and playing in the water with a skimpy shirt.
I didn’t know she was just 15 or 16 when that was filmed. She was a year younger than me, but girls in my high school didn’t do what she was doing. (Well, if they did I didn’t know. I was kind of a wallflower and a geeky nerd dork).
I never pulled the trigger on getting a Bow Wow Wow album. RCA released one in 1982 but Target in Crawfordsville never had it, and by the time I got to JL Records in West Lafayette they never had it in stock. Alas.
But I grabbed a big CD compilation, and I was a bit…uncomfortable.
I knew Lwin was underage. I knew that McLaren basically exploited her visual image. But hearing “Go Wild in the Country” (where she wants to romp naked in the forest), and “Louis Quatorze” (where she sings about being raped by the Sun King and falling in love with him) gave me the willies.
What was the most unfortunate was that those two tracks were their best TWO tracks on the collection. They sound fun and energetic, and the arrangements make the best use of their Burundi-drum sound. Bassist Leah Gorman goes tastefully crazy, and drummer Dave Barbarossa is solid.
Yet, the true jailbait image really sticks to me.
The kicker is that the songs weren’t written by Lwin. Not at all. She was the mouthpiece for McLaren (who wrote the lyrics).
In contemporary interviews, Lwin defended the covers and the image. But now, she says McLaren used her mom’s outrage for publicity and regrets that.
As I sit in 2021, Bow Wow Wow is definitely problematic. I can’t recommend them, much as I love some of their tracks.
We’ve evolved as a society, for the better. Nudity is fine by me, but not these images of someone that young. Sorry if that makes me a prude – 1983 Scott would definitely say that. But 1983 Scott didn’t have two daughters.