Scissor Sisters began as a duo, a collaboration between frontman and writer, Jake Shears, and Babydaddy, who would produce and co-write much of the group’s output. They were two gay men who’d come from conservative parts of the US and, like many gay people, were trying to ‘find themselves’ in New York. Soon Shears met Ana Matronic, another musician on the underground scene, and invited her to join. They recruited guitarist Del Marquis and drummer Paddy Boom and began touring, finding their first success in Europe. (Despite their success here, the band would remain a cult proposition in the US for the duration of their career).
In February 2004, they released their self-titled debut album, which would go on to sell over three million copies worldwide, including over two and a half million in the UK alone (it was the best-selling album of 2004 in the UK).
There were many factors involved in the making of the band’s mainstream success: a slew of hit singles, a spectacular live show, a canny mix of modern dance music combined with a reverence for classic rock, and an ability to appeal to both a young savvy audience and an older, conservative crowd.
Of those hit singles, it was ‘Take Your Mama’ that set out their stall and burned them into the popular consciousness. It was released as the follow up to 2003’s ‘Comfortably Numb’, a synth-pop take on the Pink Floyd classic that both earned them plenty of attention and the ire of music purists who felt the track was the work of a novelty act. In fact, it was a sincere reimagining from a band who wore their love of Elton John, Pink Floyd and the Bee-Gees on their musical sleeve.
‘Take Your Mama’ was more straightforward, a gleeful mix of honky-tonk and modern pop song-writing that had a storytelling flair and a sense of heart that was often missing from the charts. Jake Shears had been inspired to write the track because of his relationship with his mother. Shears told Designer magazine at the time of the single’s release: “I’m really close with my mother. The song’s got very Southern influences, it’s very honky-tonk. My parents live in a horse farm in West Virginia. It was written in that horse farm in the shower and that song is really for her”.
“We stand for bringing people together. I don’t care what someone’s political beliefs are.
The song’s up-tempo flavour masked the melancholy lyrics, detailing a young man struggling to open up about his sexuality with his family. The chorus’ reference to the dancers at the New Orleans was a nod to the city’s infamous gay bathhouse (which has now since closed), the kind of queer references the group never shied away from.
‘Take Your Mama’ became a calling card for the group sitting alongside up-tempo fare like ‘Filthy/Gorgeous’ and the moodier ‘Laura’ as songs designed both for a music festival audience and daytime radio listeners.
While the single only charted in the top 20 in the UK and the top 30 in Ireland, it was a key moment in bringing the group to the attention of a wider audience. It showed the group’s magic trick: to be unafraid to acknowledge their queerness as a musical act but also to create work that still had an undeniable mainstream appeal. “We have our subversive moments, but we’re wholesome” Jake Shears told the Guardian in 2005, adding: “We’re worldly, but what we stand for is moral. We stand for bringing people together. I don’t care what someone’s political beliefs are. What we do, the music rises above that”
The tune would become one of their signature hits, best underlined by their show stopping performance at the 2005 Brit Awards flanked by Jim Henson puppets. It was a mix of camp, showmanship and sheer star-power which underlined just how much of a mark they’d made with their debut album.
That subversive but wholesome philosophy would underscore the next few years of the band’s meteoric success. Bono labelled them the “best pop band in the world”, Elton John saw their obvious homages to him in their work and brought them on tour, and they delighted the tabloid press by being unafraid to poke fun at pop titans like Britney Spears. Their second album would include the monster hit, ‘I Don’t Feel Like Dancing’ while their third LP Night Work saw them delve deeper into their queer club roots with production from pop-dance mastermind Stuart Price. The group’s final album (for now) Magic Hour may have not have enjoyed as much success but it did include the queer club hit ‘Let’s Have A Kiki’- a song that wasn’t a chart hit but has become a staple of LGBT+ nightlife (and even featured on Glee).
In an era where Troye Sivan, Years And Years, Christine And The Queens, MNEK and Hayley Kiyoko are just a few of the queer pop acts in the mainstream, the enduring legacy of Scissor Sisters is hard to ignore. Their success was as much a nod to the work of Queen and Culture Club as it was breaking through what was then the boy’s club of indie rock. Their camp visuals and live shows were legendary but ‘Take Your Mama’ reminds you that for Scissor Sisters, the real success was always the music.