Sir Elton John has always shown great generosity towards younger artists, especially those with whom he shares a sense of theatrical DNA. At the Brit Awards last night, the legendary performer and lifelong HIV/AIDS activist proved his taste for talent is still incredibly well-placed, owning the stage with Olly Alexander (Years and Years) for what is already being christened the best performance of the annual event’s history.

The two pop stars have developed a close relationship since Alexander starred in the British mega-series, “It’s a Sin,” about the dawn of the AIDS epidemic in the UK. While I had creative differences with that series, I’m thrilled to say that all is forgiven. The spectacular performance by this duo of the Pet Shop Boys classic combined arch religious imagery, the pathos of LGBTQ shame, and a shared sense of gender fluidity that was simultaneously emotional, provocative, and a call-and-response between queer generations. 

It would be lazy to refer to this as a pop star “passing the torch” moment, and besides, Sir Elton ain’t passing anything to anyone. What gave the performance of this electronic classic real pathos was our shared understanding that Sir Elton John has weathered precisely the religious and familial shame the song describes — along with a murderous AIDS epidemic that slaughtered his peers — while the much younger Olly Alexander is the grateful beneficiary of the battles and sacrifices that came long before him.

Thank you, Sir Elton and Olly Alexander. You provided a gift for the ages last night.

Here are the lyrics to “It’s a Sin.”

When I look back upon my life

It’s always with a sense of shame

I’ve always been the one to blame

For everything I long to do

No matter when or where or who

Has one thing in common, too

 

It’s a, it’s a, it’s a, it’s a sin

It’s a sin

Everything I’ve ever done

Everything I ever do

Every place I’ve ever been

Everywhere I’m going to

It’s a sin

 

At school they taught me how to be

So pure in thought and word and deed

They didn’t quite succeed

For everything I long to do

No matter when or where or who

Has one thing in common, too

 

It’s a, it’s a, it’s a, it’s a sin

It’s a sin

Everything I’ve ever done

Everything I ever do

Every place I’ve ever been

Everywhere I’m going to

It’s a sin

 

Father, forgive me

I tried not to do it

Turned over a new leaf

Then tore right through it

Whatever you taught me

I didn’t believe it

Father, you fought me

‘Cause I didn’t care

And I still don’t understand

 

It’s a, it’s a, it’s a, it’s a sin

It’s a, it’s a, it’s a, it’s a sin

Mark

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