A "nancy boy" is a man who is very feminine; the lyrics mention the man putting on makeup and perfume in his room. The song has a theme of accepting one's sexuality and blurring the lines of gender roles ("It all breaks down to role reversal...") that men were always so hesitant to do.
Jessie Ann - Purchase, NY
Regarding "Nancy Boy," Brian Molko of Placebo explained: "People who think it's fashionable to be gay -guys who think that because some of my best friends are gay that they are going to try it out because they are in a milieu where it's cool, but they haven't actually had the desire themselves. In the song, I'm questioning people's reasons for sleeping with someone of the same sex. In the same way that heroin is very hip today, being bisexual seems to be very chic."
Exsanguine - Brisbane, Australia
There are two versions of this song: the video and album version, and a slower unreleased version.
Brandon - Manchester, United Kingdom
David Fox, the 12-year-old boy photographed in the album cover, announced on June 25, 2012 that he was suing Placebo for "ruining" his life. Fox claimed that the picture was taken by his professional photographer cousin following the death of his brother and was used without his permission. After the album became a massive hit, he was bullied at school and made to feel like an outsider. Fox dropped out, and at the time of his legal action was an unemployed chef.
Featured on their self-titled debut album, this was the breakthrough single for the British alt-rock band. The album initially reached #40 in the UK, but after the success of "Nancy Boy," it re-entered the chart at #5.
This was used in two episodes of the British TV series My Mad Fat Diary: "It's A Wonderful Rae: Part 2" (2013) and "Radar" (2014).
Molko told Melody Maker in 1997 about the sonic elements that reflected the experience of the song's drug-addled character, saying: "Sonically, we tried to capture a kind of drug-induced sexual rush; it's got a rising car sound which was meant to kind of reproduce the first rushes of E, and it's obvious that the character in the song is kind of drug-crazed at that moment. There are times in your life where you are so off your head that all you really want to do is f--k." He added: "It's a celebration and a slag of that behavior at the same time. It doesn't promote promiscuity but it doesn't judge it either."
Molko also discussed the key lyrics that describe his character's sexual experiences: "It pokes fun at very macho, classic phrases - 'I'd f--k her with a paper bag over my head,' 'Don't look at the mantelpiece when you're poking the fire,' et cetera. And like with the words queer and fag, when you appropriate it for yourself, it starts to get attached with your own power. So that line about 'Eyeholes in a paper bag, greatest lay I ever had' - it's just saying that the drag queen in the song is probably very ugly, but is attempting to reach some kind of beauty, twisted beauty, perverse beauty. I guess it's saying you can be ugly and be an amazing lay - it doesn't really matter."
In a 2009 interview with Kerrang!
Molko remembered writing the album in south-east London and the reactions toward their famous track. He said: "We wrote most of the album in a council flat in Deptford. The way we sounded and looked was a reaction against the place. But also a lot of our cross-dressing and transvestism was a political statement against the music scene at the time which was very laddish and macho. We wanted to stand up and be counted. There's no better way to do that than by putting a bunch of slap on, wearing a skirt and f---ing with people's heads. People hated us for it and I adored that. Not getting a reaction was an anathema to me at the time. When I look back at the album, I see naivety, missed opportunities and mistakes. But you can get your knickers in a twist about it or you can just accept they're part of you. I view 'Nancy Boy' in a way I imagine Radiohead look at 'Creep
' I just wish the song that propelled us into the limelight had been a little bit better written. It's the lyrics that make me cringe most. They're me trying to find my feet."
While the song wasn't based on anyone in particular, it was inspired by a quote from Brett Anderson of the popular Britpop band Suede, who said, "I'm a bisexual man who's never had a homosexual experience." The quote was making the rounds in several magazines and caught Molko's eye. "I saw that as a very opportunistic statement, and it led me to want to write something about tourism of the sexual kind," he told Louder
in 2016. "Which is where the chorus comes from: 'It all breaks down at the first rehearsal.' I had in mind a tourist who gets stuck in and then realizes they're out of their depth."
The music video, directed by Howard Greenhalgh, features the band performing against colorful backdrops and flashing lights. The clip is full of trippy imagery, including distorted faces and fused body parts, including a fist with legs. Greenhalgh also directed several videos for Pet Shop Boys on their albums Very and Bilingual.
The B-side is "Slackerbitch
," which the band left off the album because of its abusive lyrics.
The album was produced by Brad Wood, who helmed Liz Phair's debut, Exile In Guyville, a few years earlier.
Looking back on the album in 2017, Molko shared his opinion of Placebo's debut. He told Vice
: "It's an extremely under-produced record, but it's also the one that put us on the map. For me, it sounds quite naïve and definitely the work of a band whose first time it is in the studio. And when I say naïve I don't mean the songwriting. The sound of an album and the songwriting are two very different things to me. The songs are pretty cool. There is a certain cheek, wit, and mischievousness to them, which I like. But I remember arriving in Dublin and learning of a technological advancement called ProTools, but I didn't realize we weren't using it on this record. So it was made in a very old school way, recording to tape. So if you wanted to make an edit you had to take a razorblade to the tape. But still I remember at the time we were filled with enthusiasm. We couldn't believe someone had given us money to make a record. But we were very, very green and we hadn't learned how to use a studio as an instrument itself yet. It just sounds very young to me."