The song most commonly identified as a gay anthem is ‘I Will Survive’ by Gloria Gaynor, who described the song as “a classic emblem of gay culture in the post-Stonewall and AIDS eras”. The LGBT+ community was struggling with prejudice, police repression, and fatal hatred.
‘I Will Survive’ tells the story of a transformation of the self, a realization that your abuser — be it society in general or a specific person — has lied to you and that you are worthy of survival and love. This transformation is what survivors of gendered and sexual violence go through when they are processing and healing.
‘I Will Survive’ was written by Freddie Perren and Dino Fekaris, with Fekaris providing the majority of the lyrics.
Fekaris also wrote other songs for Gloria Gaynor, but this was his only huge success as a writer.
Perren also wrote disco favorites’ Boogie Fever’ by The Sylvers and ‘Shake Your Groove Thing’ by Peaches & Herb. He was also part of Motown’s The Corporation, who wrote classics including ‘I Want You Back’ and ‘ABC’ by The Jackson 5. He passed away at the age of 61 in 2004.
The song is a female-empowerment anthem and is about moving on after a bad relationship.
It has since taken on other meanings for people who have overcome any difficult situation.
Gloria Gaynor herself once said: “I love the empowering effect, I love the encouraging effect. It’s a timeless lyric that addresses a timeless concern.”
When Perren and Fekaris wrote ‘I Will Survive’, they didn’t have anyone to sing it. They agreed that the next diva that found them would get the song.
This ended up being Gloria Gaynor, whose record company called Perren looking for production on a song called ‘Substitute’, a song originally by the Righteous Brothers. Gaynor then agreed to record ‘I Will Survive’ as the B-side.
Polydor eventually released the single with the sides flipped, and ‘I Will Survive’ became an international hit, reaching number one in both the UK and US.
In 1980, it earned the singer her first Grammy: Best Disco Recording.
Twenty years later, it topped a list on VH1 of the 100 Greatest Dance Songs.
It finished second in 2014 on a list in Rolling Stone of the Best Disco Songs.
In 2016, the Library of Congress deemed Gaynor’s recording to be “culturally, historically or artistically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Recording Registry.
The song had a particularly huge influence within the LGBT community.
It is mostly attributed to the lack of acceptance of LGBT individuals, especially when the song was released in 1979. The song is often referred to as a ‘gay anthem’ because of this.
Musicologist Nadine Hubbs wrote that people in the LGBT community have said they identify with ‘I Will Survive’ because the “textual message of defiant and enduring presence was already well-tailored to queer identification needs, but this message and the song’s titular statement took on even deeper meaning with the dawn of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s”.
The song was covered by numerous artists during the time. Among the (many) covers include Aretha Franklin, Cake (a gender reversal), Chantay Savage, Diana Ross, Leah McFall, Gladys Knight.
Fun fact: It was also one of the first memes on the internet. Remember ‘Alien Song’ from 1998? Victor Navone’s CGI video was a huge viral hit before viral hits were a thing. He went on to work for Pixar!
After 44 years since was written the song is still played in all gay events around the world. We agree: it is our all-time anthem.