I admit it. I was a teenage Duranimal. I was hopelessly in love with John Taylor way before I had a clue what love was.
British 1980s pop sensation Duran Duran combined its chiseled, androgynous beauty with a colorful designer-crafted image to propel its new wave music onto the world scene. Extremely ambitious about its trajectory, Duran Duran quickly rose to the top and into our teeny-bopper imaginations.
While the world-wide Duran-Duran-obsessed generally call themselves “Duranies,” my twin sister Cindy and I never used that term. “Duranimal” much more accurately describes the rabid, tear-drenched gushing and cat-clawing we collectively experienced at our first Duran Duran concert in 1984. Someone’s lucky mom got to drive our four-pack of squealing 14-year-olds up to the Seattle Center Coliseum for Duran Duran’s first 1984 U.S. tour date supporting its “Seven and the Ragged Tiger “album.
This was only our second concert ever and we were still learning how to misbehave. My sister and our friend Staci wriggled and elbowed their way up front, while I, not yet emboldened enough, languished behind with my bad eyesight, wallowing in my assigned seat. Mascara flowed down every face I could see nearby me as the lights went down and the Fab Five hit the stage. You couldn’t hear a thing other than the collective scream of 18,000 mostly female adolescents squishing each other.
Bassist John Taylor describes the scene perfectly as “a heaving mass of teenage female bodies” in his 2012 memoir, “In the Pleasure Groove: Love, Death & Duran Duran”:
“Every female teenager… is having her own teenage crisis, simultaneously as one, right now, vaguely in time to our music.”
Fast forward three decades, and Duran Duran have impressively matured through its excesses and bottom outs. The hardcore fans forgive and never forget, but time and real life have tempered the fantasy. Countless boy bands (and girl bands) have come and gone since, and an endless supply of teens continue to scream and cry over them, though now fans hold up cell phones instead of lighters.
What is it about these bands that ignite such primal reactions? Is it just the music? It is, and it isn’t. It’s the soundtrack to a moment in our lives. But more importantly, what does our fanatic behavior say about us?
I sometimes look back on that period of my youth, that common era of crushing insecurity projected onto adolescent girls, and consider how Duran obsession played into it all. Years later, I told my mother’s neighbor (who actually worked at the same Duran Duran concert) that at least her daughter, at a formative age, worshipped the Spice Girls. This pre-teen girl looked up to women on stage, women who were in the band, proclaiming “girl power,” however appropriated and watered-down the message might be. All we did was pine over the impossibly out-of-reach Duran Duran, fabulously wealthy jet-set playboys who only hung out with supermodels.
I totally get many people’s aversion to the Reagan/Thatcher-era decadence and cultural imperialism flaunted in Duran Duran’s “exotic” videos. But for those of us who couldn’t afford to go anywhere (which just a few years prior included the working-class-raised band members themselves), Duran Duran’s globe-trotting imagery provided an escape from our self-esteem woes and lower/middle class “broken home” realities. We gathered together what we could with our girlfriends in my bedroom: a Rio album here, a John Taylor–ish fedora there. We would all tape the one shared record onto cassettes, photocopy and memorize the lyrics, and then dress up and sing and dance around my band-poster-plastered bedroom. As my sister remembers it, “In middle school, every girl ‘got’ a Duran, but it wasn’t as simple as choosing one. There was some hierarchy about it, and no friend (or sister) was allowed to have the same one. But every one of us had those nonsensical lyrics memorized.”
Perhaps calling dibs over boy band members is/was a way for many young girls to have control over something in their lives, to express their budding hormonal emotions, or to safely assert a newfound identity separate from their parents. Duran Duran’s “new romantic” aesthetic presented decided metro-sexuality, and Duranimalism provided an outlet for a femme-y exploration of pre-sexuality.
The gender-bending band members were often on the receiving end of homophobic harassment in the early days. Duran Duran dressed super femme and got the girls. This direct threat to hegemonic masculinity often aroused a sexist and homophobic negation of their fans as well. Young girls’ experiences are so often dismissed as inauthentic and trivial, while those of young boys gain coming-of-age status a la Stand By Me. What if we acknowledge Duran-mania as an early 80s backdrop for a special space—a teen girl bedroom where a “crisis” plays out—that facilitated a valid rite of passage to becoming whoever you’re going to be?
This rebellious pursuit of identity so often manifests itself musically in the safe zone of teen bedrooms. Not surprisingly, our Duran fanaticism didn’t last long, maybe a year or two, before giving way to a gothier new wave and a more confrontational punk. In my mind, Duran Duran connected to Adam Ant and Bow Wow Wow, the Go Go’s and B-52s, then Nina Hagen and X, and on to local bands like Beat Happening, the Melvins, Nirvana, and Bikini Kill. I’ll never forget the music brought to my imagination by the earliest days of MTV and how it kick-started a string of musical experiences that eventually led me to start my own band.
Maybe this is why I was surprised when I went to the Duran Duran “Paper Gods” concert at the Hollywood Bowl, some thirty-odd years later, and found myself surrounded by middle-aged normals. Who are these soccer moms and dads? That’s not me! Or is it? Where did the colorful clothes, hairsprayed bangs and androgynous eyeliner disappear to? Granted, thanks to my die-hard Duranimal friend Charlene, I had the privilege of making these observations from the third row, where most of the cool kids can’t afford to tread. No clawing or scratching or sardining happening here—this place is too polite, and we’re all too old for that now.
But I won’t lie—watching Duran Duran emerge from the smoke machine sidelines and perform up so close, now that I was in a good spot and not too proud to wear glasses, brought me back to that teen girl frenzy for a spell. Duran Duran sounded great and still look pretty foxy. A commanding presence, lead singer Simon Le Bon belted all 17 songs beautifully while prancing around the stage and out onto the catwalk. John Taylor, Nick Rhodes, and Roger Taylor seemed contentedly locked into their groove, exchanging numerous knowing looks and laughs. Whether you like Duran Duran or not, its disco-influenced, complex musical arrangements reveal its undeniable musical ability.
The band played a lot of new songs—for me, “new” is anything after 1984 — of which everyone but me seemed to know every word. Wow, maybe I’m not quite the Duranimal I thought I was. I began to realize that these super fans, though a little square, are the real deal and possess an endearing sincerity about all things Duran that goes far beyond my scope. Like my sister and Staci at our first Duran Duran concert, my blue-haired date Charlene went for it and dove onto the stage for the last song, totally pissing off a few uptight normals. I guess after all these years, I’m still not bold enough to follow suit. Worried, I watched security yank her off the stage and start hauling her out. Fortunately, faithful to even the most fanatic of their fans, Simon and Nick came to her rescue—what gents.
Though highly entertaining, this Duran Duran experience was nothing like the crazy concert I cut my teeth on back in 1984. Not that it’s the band’s fault. It’s not. They’re as excellent as ever. It’s the audience who’s changed. The Duranies or Duranimals, or however they identify, have grown up and out of their teen bedrooms and crises. The hormonal beasts have been tamed into responsible middle age, and they have come to listen. It’s understandable, of course, but bittersweet. I kind of miss the pressure-cooker insanity of boy-crazy teenagers risking everything, in the moment, to get (Duran Duran’s) attention, to be seen, to be listened to. We thought it was about them, but really it was about us. Reminiscing on the live extravaganzas at the peak of their superstardom, John Taylor acknowledged that relationship—or lack thereof—between the beholder and the beheld:
“There is no way we can be heard, but that doesn’t matter. No one is listening to us anyway. They have come to hear themselves. To be heard.”
— Allison Wolfe
True Confessions from Duranies at the Hollywood Bowl
Fanimals reminisce on their younger years with the band.
Super-fans lay claim to their favorite band members.
Essay, Audio Production & Photos by Allison Wolfe
Editing by Kelby Vera & Katie Antonsson
Page Design by Katie Antonsson