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16 January 2019

How Bros chipped away at fame with a butter knife and said “timber” on a very big tree

Yet what was it all for? Most people can only name one Bros song.

By Kate Mossman

What do you like about Bros so much?” asks an Eighties reporter in the astonishing documentary Bros: After The Screaming Stops. “Their hair and their face,” a child replies – grammatically correct in this case. The introduction of identical twins to pop fame has allowed, in retrospect, for a unique experiment – a study of the effect of the limelight, and a fraction less of the limelight, on the same person.

With twins, one often feels weaker, smaller, than the other. Luke Goss refers to himself as “the ugly twin” – perhaps, on some level, this is why he still sits behind the drums. His manager once said he was close to illiterate and could not string a sentence together. Perhaps, on some level, this is why his brother, Matt, feels he has the gift of metaphor (relocating to the US was “chipping away with a butter knife at a very big tree,” Matt explains “– and I’ve said ‘timber’ on quite a few trees now”).

When Luke, early in rehearsals for Bros’s reunion tour in 2017, presents the idea that those cellos could maybe come in a couple of bars earlier, his voice is freighted with the unbearable tension of someone who knows his idea will be ignored. The elder twin is on the back foot but at least he’s self-aware. “I’ve had 11 minutes to myself my whole life,” he reflects rather beautifully.

In general, Luke’s mentality is relatively easy for a normal person to empathise with. For instance, he is still upset that his brother pursued a solo career, rather as Laurel struggled to forgive Hardy for making a film about an elephant without him in 1939. But later he says, of the media’s attitude to Bros, “The kind of hatred I lived through was reserved for mass murderers.” There, he reminded me a little of the Eighties pop star Terence Trent D’Arby, who assured me in a Milan hotel room that there had been a debate in the House of Lords to end his career after his second album, and that Mrs Thatcher had supported it.

A rapid rise and fall in pop in early adulthood often results in strange, unhealed narcissistic wounds. It doesn’t take much to see how this happened to Bros. In the film, we see policemen battling walls of girls around the house the twins lived in with their mum. The fan hysteria is matched only in its intensity by press mockery. There’s a TV performance within hours of learning their sister has died in a car crash (500 fans were waiting when they returned home to the news). Yet what was it all for? Most people can only name one Bros song. It took less than a year to make and destroy a career, followed by decades in obscurity “broke and deemed useless”. No wonder Matt and Luke are brittle. But perhaps counter-intuitively, it is Matt – the bigger heart-throb and still a singer, with Las Vegas residencies and all his hair – who seems the more bruised. The day after one of their many arguments, he returns on the verge of tears.

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“Are you carrying it from yesterday?” asks his brother.

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“I am, mate.”

“But I called you to say I loved you.”

“You sound so incredibly rehearsed.”

The film follows the form of the classic sports movie leading up to the big game – in this case a gig at the O2 – when everything will come together. Luke tells the industry to “go fuck itself… When we’ve got enough fans to fill one or two rooms a year!” We see them rehearsing a new song called “Garden of Forgiveness”, and Matt weeps, and tenderness between the brothers appears to have been regained.

But for me, the film’s real message (and its real horror!) becomes clear when Bros look out over 15,000 empty seats at soundcheck and you realise that it’s only the resulting shot of pure, ego-adrenalin that allows them to put aside their differences. In anticipation of two hours of frontman majesty, Matt, in shades and fedora, transforms from jittery snowflake to jacked-up sex twin, eyeing his brother’s tight body – his own body – like Austin Powers’s Goldmember: “You look good, man – sexy. Strong. Torn up and shredded.” Then he licks and bites his ear.

“You’re the love of my life,” Matt reveals.

“I’m knackered,” says Luke. Well, he has lived 11 minutes longer. 

This article appears in the 16 Jan 2019 issue of the New Statesman, How Brexit trapped Britain