WOW’s Founding Fathers, Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, are interviewed for HuffPo’s After Dark series about their early days as downtown superstars, and the lingering effect of being so fabulous, so young. Check out an excerpt after the jump!
The Huffington Post: How did The Fabulous Pop Tarts, your disco-pop-rock duo, develop during the height of New York nightlife in the ’80s and ’90s?
Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey: The two of us met at NYU film school and started collaborating on films together. We were living in the East Village in the ’80s and The Fabulous Pop Tarts was an extension of that lifestyle. Everything we made — music, videos, posters — was under the banner of World of Wonder. When we realized we weren’t going to get a record label we started our own: World of Wonder records. At the time there was a real can-do spirit — that’s what Downtown was all about. All of these creative people were living in this burnt-out, cracked-out neighborhood and making art, music, opening clubs and launching magazines. It was a hotbed of creativity and, more specifically, a ferment of entrepreneurialism.
We had a backstage pass to all of this. And we sang about it: We played CBGBs dressed head-to-toe in Coca Cola clothing (back when Coke started its clothing line — which of course we loved) and sang a song called “Drink Coca Cola” — not because we especially liked Coke but because this was the birth of the brand age. And not just for rich people who could afford them, but for everyone.
In retrospect, the early ’80s was a cultural crossroads; this was when the underground hitherto defiant in its separateness went for — to quote one of our own songs — “Money Success Fame Glamour.” Nightlife was the great networking mixer that brought uptown and downtown together, that brought the establishment into contact with the anti-establishment. And so out of that you have Madonna, Koons, Haring, Mapplethorpe, Dee Lite, They Might Be Giants, Karen Finley and many many more. A starburst of artists literally exploding out of this ghetto.
How did the two of you transition from making music as The Fabulous Pop Tarts into founding World of Wonder? What was your original intention in creating the production company?
Well, we were never going to win “American Idol” for our voices. We were always interested in the total package: the looks, the clothes, the album design, the graphics, the posters, the merchandise. Pop was a delightful package that, at its best, could sum up, celebrate and parody consumer culture. So we made our own videos and even got them on MTV.
Meanwhile we were obsessed by Manhattan public access, which we watched religiously. The idea of anyone making their own television shows and having them broadcast was just so wild. Robyn Bird, Al Goldstein, Mrs Mouth, Rick X — these were our inspirations. We were in London recording a Pop Tarts album (having finally secured that major record deal!), and we really missed those whacky shows, so we pitched the idea of a clip show bringing Brits the best and worst of New York’s public access. It was called Manhattan Cable. This was a million years before the Internet and now you would call these clips viral videos and watch them on YouTube. If only we had thought of THAT!
How did you transition from creating content for a specific community, heavily rooted in nightlife, to creating content for a more mainstream audience? How did you adapt?
That’s just the thing. There was no transition. We never changed a thing — the audience did. Remember the scandal when Versace created a couture safety pin dress? Punk, S&M… all these ideas on the outer edges of society end up drifting towards the center. Yesterday’s shock is tomorrow’s yawn. Now there’s always a lot of handwringing about how this is the end of Western civilization, but on we go. We call it the MBMC – the Madonna, Britney, Miley Continuum.
It’s worth pointing out that “Big Freedia Queen of Bounce” on Fuse and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” on Logo are not only the #1 shows on their networks, they are also the most watched shows in the entire history of those networks. And the point is not to boast; it took years — many years — to get those shows on the air, and Ru and Freedia have been laying the groundwork for a long time. And during that time the audience has changed. The mainstream is ready for drag queens, twerkers — and more.
Read the entire article here.