CeCe Peniston Has Had A Brilliant 30-Year Career, But She’s Still Not Sick of Talking About Her Biggest Hit

CeCe Peniston wrote one of the biggest queer anthems of all time.
People keep listening to it and telling me how much they love it,” she continues. “There’s always so many different versions of why people love it, someone’s always bringing me something new and I’m always thankful.”
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“As long as Finally brings me cheques, I will never be sick of talking about it,” legendary dance music vocalist CeCe Peniston tells George V Magazine’s Tim Shiel.

Finally is the name of CeCe Peniston’s debut 1991 single, and her biggest ever hit.

It’s a song so anthemic and omnipresent that as soon as you hit play on the YouTube video below, you’ll know exactly what we’re talking about.

YOUTUBECeCe Peniston — Finally (Official Music Video).

Peniston was a college student when she wrote the lyrics for Finally, though quickly realised that her calling was in singing, not science.

“I was in college, obviously paying no attention to what the teacher was doing, sorry Dr Judd,” she recalls. “We were doing some scientific stuff and I was like, ‘I’m gonna be a singer, I don’t know if I need all this right here’.

“I started writing poetry and it turned into a song. I always say it’s a poem that became a song that became a career.”

An anthem that never dies

The song has never gone completely out of style. In 2022, both Billboard and Time Out magazines included Finally in their list of the finest LGBTQ anthems of all time. That same year, Pitchfork named it as one of the 30 best house tracks of the 90s and the 87th best song of the 90s.

It has over 45 million YouTube views, over 125 million Spotify streams, and you’ll still hear it at the best parties to this day, including this year’s Mardi Gras, where Peniston will perform this weekend.

Finally is not just a song, it’s a juggernaut. Not that Peniston knew it at the time.

“I was just writing poetry,” she says. “They had me doing background vocals for different things, and they said, ‘We want to hear some other things that you have.’ I said, ‘Well, I have this one song, but I’m not sure if you’re gonna like it,’ and it turned out to be Finally.”

She recorded the song and released it on September 30, 1991. By the end of October, it was on top of the Billboard Dance Club chart.

“They’re like, ‘All the DJs are loving this song. We’ve been playing it in all the pools, and you’re about to be a star and travel the world,'” Peniston recalls. “I was like, ‘That’s a lot to take in.’

“I was in an apartment at the time, and I didn’t know if I should move to a house yet, because I didn’t know how long it was gonna last. And here we are. From all that time of when it started in 1991 to now, it has lasted.”

How Priscilla gave the song a whole new life

The song’s massive success led to countless requests for its use in film, television, and advertising. So, Peniston didn’t think much when a small Australian film licensed the song in the mid-1990s, until everyone started telling her about it.

“People were telling me, ‘You’ve got to see this scene in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, it’s so awesome,'” she recalls.

“I went and checked it out. There’s this big old shoe, there’s these drag queens in the back, they’re doing the damn thing and they’re rocking that shit. I was like, ‘Oh, I love this!'”

YOUTUBEThe Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) — Finally Scene.

She considers it one of the key visual representations of her song’s long life, sitting alongside a couple of other striking, memorable treatments.

“I felt like Finally had a few visuals,” she says. “The black outfit with the pants when I danced in the actual video, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert was another huge visual, and RuPaul’s Drag Race, when the drag queens were doing different versions of Finally.

“I mean, I could go on, but those are the things that stand out to me.”

While Peniston is now well over 30 years into her career, she says she feels a different kind of recognition from audiences these days.

The house music that artists like Peniston helped to popularise is very much back in vogue, thanks largely to artists like Beyoncé and Drake who’ve adopted the sound on recent albums.

At the time, the quality of this music was largely credited to the producers who made the beats. These days, the vocalists are getting as much credit as the musicians.

“There was a different respect for dance music back in the 90s,” Peniston says. “[There were] these big gospel voices, but [people] still felt like it was the beat driving the music.

“I feel like finally the dance music genre has gotten the love that it deserves. You see so many people interpolating or recreating it.”

The world is a better place for CeCe Peniston writing poetry instead of focusing on Dr Judd’s chemistry class. But she doesn’t want to set the wrong example.

“Don’t listen to me, kids,” she laughs. “Go to class, okay?”

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