The Toronto-based quintet MANifesto isn’t just a boy band – they’re a MAN band. Their debut project, Pinky Swear, sees the group coming together to cover 12 of the most memorable tracks in girl group history with an infectious energy that reflects their genuine friendship and newfound brotherhood. Created by R Kelly Clipperton, the group was formed through a Toronto-wide search for diverse voices and Clipperton’s desire to translate his girl-group fandom and roots in other singing groups to a supportive and comfortable environment of other gay men. Scattered throughout the tracklist are decade-spanning classics from groups like The Supremes, En Vogue, The Spice Girls and Fifth Harmony.
Where many of the original tracks were solo-based, with individual group members trading off taking the lead, MANifesto recontextualizes their arrangements with engaging and technically skilled stack harmonies, singing in unison and backing each other up on their individual parts. According to the group, it all becomes a kind of allegory for the support they give each other each day as out and proud gay men in their community.
Along with the release, the group are running an awareness campaign for the organization Rainbow Railroad. Rainbow Railroad’s mission is to help international members of the LGBTQIA2+ community flee countries where state-sanctioned violence and persecution against them is the norm. The organization’s message hits all too close to home for MANifesto member Brayo, who escaped from Uganda due to fears that being himself would put him in peril.
We caught up with the band to talk about Pinky Swear and its tie-in to Rainbow Railroad.
What was it about music by girl groups that made it such an ideal choice for your first project?
The girl group structure brought a vibrant, exciting dynamic and they represented the strength and resilience of women and championed the need for gender equality. MANifesto took the format to advocate for the LGBTQIA2+ community in a similar way. We noticed an interesting phenomenon when performing girl group songs. Songs that we have listened to, over and over, sung by girl groups suddenly take on a new tone when sung by men. People suddenly hear the song and go “are those the lyrics? I never heard or understood them before.” – Icarus
The stack harmonies are a great addition and really capture the spirit of these classic singing groups – what goes into the creation of these arrangements? Do you try to stay true to the original or inject some new MANifesto flair?
Fortunately, we’ve had help with arrangements by people who are familiar with writing for choirs, etc. Also, once we get into the studio to lay down tracks, there’s an effort to play, experiment with building those layers and add our own charisma, uniqueness, and talents to the mix. – Twaine
How has being in MANifesto helped with being yourself and expressing that to the world?
Community is a big part of gay men of our generation. The support we give each other in this is paramount. Creating this little gang of ours has been lifesaving really, we are certainly strong on our own, but together kinda invincible. – Kelly
What do you hope others will take away from seeing a group like this?
Dare to try something new, that you haven’t seen done before or you wish to see in the world. – Twaine
The group has put forward a message about how singing in harmony together translates directly to your message of support and brotherhood. Can you expand on just how this relationship works, for the uninitiated?
The first few months of the group starting was us singing girl group songs together and discovering where our voices sat well with each other…as none of us knew each other before this. As song selection began, parts became assigned based on what worked. The true objective was to sing together as much as possible and to balance solos evenly. Many girl groups of the past have had one or two members take most of the leads but we wanted to go more Spice Girls in our approach. – Kelly
Can you tell us more about your personal connection to Rainbow Railroad? How did you discover and end up partnering with this organization?
I learned about Rainbow Railroad through our bandmate Brayo. Getting involved was a no-brainer. Persecution and violence are real things. Rainbow Railroad helps get those at risk out and safely relocated. -Dionisio
If you could draft five girl group members from across history to make the perfect, all-star group, who would they be?
That’s hard! How about all of them from everywhere doing ‘We Are the World’ together (laughs). Top 5 would be Siobhan Fahey (Bananarama), Emma Bunton (Spice Girls), Nadine Coyle (Girls Aloud), Dawn Robinson (En Vogue), Ruth Pointer (Pointer Sisters) – Kelly
What’s the rest of the year going to look like for MANifesto? Anything else you’d like us to know?
Celebration, GayNation, World Domination – Kelly