As It Happens

Taylor Swift's new song captures the 'essence' of I'm Too Sexy, says Right Said Fred singer

Richard Fairbrass of Right Said Fred tells As It Happens about I'm Too Sexy's revival in a Taylor Swift single, and the deeper meaning behind the hit 1991 song's lyrics.
Look What You Made Me Do by Taylor Swift (centre) uses a melody from I'm Too Sexy by the brothers Richard (left) and Fred Fairbrass. (Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images, Ralph Orlowski/Getty Images)

Story transcript

If Taylor Swift's new single sounds familiar, that's because it is.

The pop superstar's new track Look What You Made Me Do uses a rhythm from 1991's I'm Too Sexy, a No.1 hit written by Richard Fairbrass, Fred Fairbrass and Rob Manzoli of the band Right Said Fred.

Richard Fairbrass spoke to As It Happens guest host Jim Brown about I'm Too Sexy's Swiftian revival, its longevity and its deeper meaning. Here is part of their conversation.

How did it come to be that you and your brother Fred now have credits on the new Taylor Swift song?

They reached out a while ago — I can't remember how long — and expressed interest in using the track for a song of theirs. 

I think that they were initially just testing the water with us, just to make sure we weren't, you know, litigious and going to get all funny. And we were very relaxed. 

They were incredibly easy to deal with. Very friendly. They responded to emails, responded to phone calls. Really professional. And Taylor's been lovely. She's been just really, really sweet.

I'm curious, when these requests come in, do you know who the artist is? Because I'm sure you're not dealing with an artist. You're dealing with her people.

Generally speaking, you know who's making the request, and sometimes you get an inkling as to what they want to do.

We had a request from, I think it was a South American team, a year or so ago. They wanted to use Sexy for a safe sex advert, and some of the lyrics that they wanted to change, we didn't like. So we made some changes there that we thought were appropriate.

You have to be a little bit protective of the song if you feel that somebody's changing the essence of the song or changing its character. In the case of Taylor Swift, what she did was she interpolated that part of the verse into the chorus of her song. And she wasn't changing the essential nature of the song at all.

This is a little off topic, but can you remember any of the South American safe sex lyrics that you objected to?

I just remember it went a little bit S&M-y. A little bit leathery and latexy, and a little bit like that. So the innocence of I'm Too Sexy as a song got lost.

But Richard, remembering your video, aren't you a little bit leathery too?

Well, yeah (laughs). All right, all right, all right, you've got me there.

Can you describe how you felt the first time you heard what Taylor Swift had done with your song?

Because everybody was so keen to keep things protected, we didn't actually hear the finished thing until first thing this morning.

And what I liked straight away was the fact that the song was gritty, a little bit cynical and a little bit angry, and true. It seemed to me to be a true reflection of what she was feeling. And that doesn't often happen in pop, I don't think.

There is a bit of a juxtaposition, though. I'm Too Sexy, I think it's safe to say, was pretty funny and pretty lighthearted and over the top. And this new song is quite dark and almost menacing in parts.

When we wrote I'm Too Sexy ... we were writing the song as a comment on people. My brother was dating an American model and she definitely thought she was too sexy, and we were doing it as a kind of mickey take of that mindset.

The idea that you can be too sexy, it's a bit like being too pregnant, or too much of a virgin. I mean, these things aren't possible. You either are or you aren't.

So although we sold it in a fluffy kind of way, the essence of the song is still quite cynical. It's meant to be cynical. 

What I like about what Taylor has done is she's injected into the original, if you like, what made people think that there's more to the original than perhaps they originally imagined, you know? So I'm grateful to her for that.

How much money has I'm Too Sexy made you over the past 25 years?

Oh, Christ, I don't know. I have no clue. All I can tell you is if I had written it on my own, if it was just a solo thing, I needn't have worked since 1991. 

What is it about I'm Too Sexy that stands the test of time?

I really, really don't know. The thing about music is it's a bit like love. Or artwork. There's a kind of magic to it ... There's only 12 notes — that's what you have to get your head around. There's only 12 notes in Western music you ever hear. And every single piece of music that you hear, from rock, to pop, to blues, to jazz, all that stuff is 12 notes. It's magic! I truly think it's amazing. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For more, listen to our conversation with Richard Fairbrass.


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