Right Said Fred’s 1991 single ‘I’m Too Sexy’ was a truly global hit, appearing everywhere from The West Wing to Syrian President al-Assad’s iPod.
With the 25th anniversary of the song fast approaching, Alex Nelson sat down with Richard Fairbrass (one half of the brotherly duo) to talk about their storied career, and what the future holds
Hi Richard! When we say ‘I’m Too Sexy’ is 25 years old, what’s your reaction?
“Well it just doesn’t seem like it to me, I have to be honest! I still feel like we’ve been in the business for about a year and a half; it doesn’t strike me as odd at all.
“And ‘…Sexy’ the track is one of those songs that’s a bit like having a daughter that you really love, then she leaves home and ends up as a crack whore and keeps company with all sorts of people you don’t approve of, but you still love her.
“That’s kind of what ‘I’m Too Sexy’ is like. I love the track, but it’s gone off and done things which I’m not largely proud of. But it’s just one of those things you know? I love the track and I’m still very proud of it.”
As you say, the song has travelled far and wide, but what’s one of the most bizarre contexts you’ve heard it in?
“Well, I never actually heard it in this context, but they wanted to use it in Australia years ago for a safe sex fetish advert, and they sent us all these changed lyrics which involved lots of latex and rubber and bondage and stuff. We didn’t do that because we don’t change the lyrics unless we absolutely love the idea.
“But that was probably one of the weirdest. And I was watching The West Wing the other week and it was on there, but I tend to forget about it if I’m totally honest; I’m watching movies or I’m watching TV and it suddenly appears and it reminds me of the longevity of it. There aren’t many pop songs that last that long.”
You mentioned that you get requests for lyric changes. Do you think it’s a song that lends itself well to that, and perhaps that’s one of the reasons it’s been used in so many places?
“We didn’t know it at the time, but obviously you can be ‘too sexy’ for anything. ‘I’m too sexy for my house’ or ‘my yacht’ or whatever, it doesn’t matter!
“But we didn’t clock that at the beginning; we didn’t realise that it had that flexibility, and we didn’t think it was very unusual – we didn’t think it was very odd, we thought it was just a pop song.
“I think it’s lasted because it’s not threatening. It’s a seaside picture postcard version of sex really; kids like the track, mums and dads like it, and it’s so passive, it’s quite a friendly song. And it’s self deprecating, it doesn’t take itself seriously in the same way that we take the music seriously, but we don’t take ourselves seriously.”
You said you only change the lyrics in contexts that you approve of, and you recently performed the song on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Was that something you felt strongly about, and how did the whole thing come about?
“They phoned us up because they’d found ‘I’m Too Sexy’ on Bashar al-Assad’s iPod or something, and I thought it was funny. I think taking a side in Syria is probably a wrong move because I’m not sure the angels are on anybody’s side over there, so I think both sides have questions to answer.
“We did it because we thought it was funny, we didn’t do it because we thought it was a political statement or anything else, we just liked the lyrics, and we also like John Oliver.
“I like the way he’s taken the Jon Stewart thing and pumped it up with steroids and taken it a little bit further; he’s very angry about lots of stuff which we are. So we liked that about it, and to be absolutely honest it was in New York, and there are worse ways to make a living!”
A trip to New York is one thing, but there must have been some great opportunities for you over the years. What are some of the fondest memories from the time that song was originally making it big?
“The weird thing was at the time when ‘…Sexy’ was number one in America we were so busy with promotion and so stressed out that we probably didn’t enjoy it as much as we should’ve.
“In the early days with ‘…Sexy’ it was pretty stressful, but I do remember we were in Chicago in a mall and somebody spotted us and we had to run – and really run – right the way through the mall to escape these people. It was like a Benny Hill thing, they were all chasing us through the mall, and in the end we disappeared into a hairdressers in the basement or something and out the back door.
“And once we walked out of a diner in the middle of nowhere, and these two bikers in the car park got down on their knees and started doing the ‘we’re not worthy’ thing! I didn’t even know what the ‘we’re not worthy’ thing was, and they were all beards and leathers and big Harleys in the car park and it was quite funny!”
To celebrate the anniversary you’re releasing a new EP. What can fans expect: is it new material or perhaps some forgotten gems from the era?
“We’ve got an album out next year and it’s all new stuff; it’s an album I’m really proud of, I think it’s some of the best stuff we’ve ever done.
“As for the EP of ‘…Sexy’: generally speaking we avoid remixes, because we don’t want to look like we’re trading on past glories – that’s not what we’re about.
“But there is one particular remix we’ve had done – it’s a kind of electro-jazz-swing version – and I have to say this version is absolutely wicked; it’s a got a muted trumpet solo thing in it and it’s great. So that’ll be on the EP, and there’ll be a fan version on the EP – we’re going to Metropolis studios and people are coming along and singing along to the chorus as part of our Pledge campaign.
“We just wanted to give a nod to the song; it’s been 25 years, it deserves it I think, and it changed our lives. When it broke I was working in a gym with my brother, and we went from that to being asked about the Middle East!”
So what can fans expect from the new album, and what were some of the processes involved behind it?
“I’d say some of it’s very poppy, it’s some of the best songwriting we’ve ever done, but it’s not all pop by a long stretch; there are a couple of songs on there which definitely aren’t pop. It’s us just 25 years later.
“We’ve grown up a bit and I think some of the songwriting’s matured and is a bit more – well, I wouldn’t say ‘grown up’, that’s a horrible way to describe it – mature I guess.
“But I still think it’s really good fun, and I can’t wait it to go out next year, and do some of the stuff live with a band that I really like.”
To celebrate the anniversary, Fred and Richard Fairbrass are releasing a 25th Anniversary EP of I’m Too Sexy plus a brand new album via Pledge.