The crotch-grab heard 'round the world
Carole Pope: ’Madonna, sorry, Michael Jackson, I’m sorry, I did it first'
In the 1970s, Toronto, that staid bastion of anglo-Canadian uptightness, was changing. The LGBTQ community was celebrating their newfound liberation, while the Queen West art scene was trying to shake things up and introduce new ideas to Canadian culture. At the intersection of these two communities was Rough Trade, a band that combined punk rock, R&B, showtunes, satirical wit and raw sexuality into something that was totally new.
The band was led by frontwoman Carole Pope, who was the mind behind Rough Trade's lyrics. She says she wanted to write about sex because of how the subject made people respond.
"I was obsessed with sexuality because people were so screwed up about it," she says. "It was very funny to me the way people freaked out about sex in general. I was just like 'Why are people so crazy and why is this so offensive?' So I thought, you know, I'm going to write about sexuality, and politics to a certain extent."
For music journalist Laurie Brown, who first saw Rough Trade as a teenager in the mid-'70s, the band opened up a whole new world.
"Every misfit in Toronto was in that room," she says. "I think it was my first experience—as a girl growing up in Scarborough—[of] a queer crowd."
In 1980, all of Canada would get a taste of Rough Trade's unique take on music and human sexuality. The band was invited to play their first crossover hit, "High School Confidential" — a song that deals explicitly with lesbian lust — at the ultra-conservative Juno Awards.
According to Kevan Staples, Rough Trade's keyboardist and guitarist, the Juno people just had one major request of the band.
"So, here we are on the Junos," he says. "We don't have a record contract. We're going to be seen by all of Canada and we did the rehearsal in the afternoon and they were very specific about Carole not grabbing her crotch during the 'cream my jeans' line."
Pope decided not to cooperate.
"What they were going to try to censor was me grabbing my crotch," she says. "Which I didn't do in rehearsal, and then I did on live TV."
If you ask Pope, that crotch grab may have changed pop music performance forever.
"I grab my crotch," she says. "Which I claim as mine, and Madonna, sorry, Michael Jackson, I'm sorry, I did it first."