Pete Burns: A Legacy in Culture and Music

Pete Burns, the lead singer of Dead or Alive who passed away yesterday, made a significant impact on music and culture throughout his career. Before his foray into reality television such as Celebrity Big Brother, Burns’ music career made a lasting influence musically and his non-conforming appearance and views on gender expression were inspirational.

He got started in music by forming a band called Mystery Girls, but they only ever performed one gig. He went on to form Nightmares in Wax in 1979, a gothic rock band that released one EP, combining punk with disco influences. In 1980 the band’s name was changed to Dead or Alive, and consisted of Burns, Mike Percy, Steve Coy and Tim Lever. Their video for ‘You Spin Me Right Round’ was one of the most iconic videos – and songs – of the 80’s. Music aside, Burns became well known for his flamboyant and androgynous style. His unconventional appearance never stopped Dead or Alive achieving mainstream success, and despite his look often being gothic inspired, the band created pure pop music.

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Burns often dressed in drag and expressed his progressive views that clothes shouldn’t be so closely associated with gender. He regularly stated the concept that he wasn’t trying to be a woman by wearing a dress; he was simply expressing himself freely by wearing whatever he liked, rather than being constrained. He explained, “Everyone’s in drag of some sorts, I don’t give a fuck about gender and drag. I’m not trying to be a girl by putting on a dress — gender is separated by fabric.”

His appearance underwent numerous transformations throughout his life, and he constantly refused to adhere to gender norms. He became somewhat of an icon in the LGBTQ community and also remarked that he “never had a reason to separate gender” when it came to his relationships. By not subscribing to labels and challenging conventional appearances of the sexes, Burns helped separate views of gender and looks, which traditionally have been closely intertwined in society.

Relive the video for ‘You Spin Me Right Round’ below: