The article is from Christie’s Portrait of an Artist series published in The George Michael Deluxe Catalogue, showcasing the art from the private collection of George Michael. His collection is being sold at an online auction from March 8-15, 2019 and a live auction in London on March 14. Proceeds of the sale will be used to continue the singer’s philanthropic work. Visit Christie’s George Michael collection auction website.
Out, Proud and So Funky
Making Art from Diversity
‘It was so obvious that it was deliberate on my part, strange as that may seem,’George Michael reflected years later on the moment he let the world know that he was gay. ‘I was bursting to come out, I think’.
Looking back on the events of April 7th 1998, the police-procedural facts of the matter were straightforward enough. After lunch, George went to Will Rogers Memorial Park on Sunset Boulevard. While he was there he walked into the public restroom, which was empty. He was followed in by an undercover police officer, and what transpired next was later described by the authorities as a ‘lewd act’ on George’s part. He left the restroom after the police officer, but before he reached his car the same man arrested him.
George was taken to LAPD HQ in Beverly Hills, ‘the most spotless police station you can imagine, top class,’ he later told Oprah Winfrey. After three hours he was allowed to go home. By the small hours of the morning, TV helicopters were buzzing like flies over his house, and by the time dawn broke, the incident was front page news around the world.
While George railed against the manner of his arrest, maintaining that amounted to an entrapment oh, he was typically honest with regard to what the circumstances said about his own psyche. It was also a mark of the man that he should use adversity to create some of his most memorable art. ‘Having made such a fool of myself I’d better come up with a hit song’, he said.
And that’s exactly what he did. Taking the entire experience — the indignity of the arrest, the faux outrage in the media, the court conviction, and also the plain truth of his sexuality — he distilled it all into Outside, a joyous slice of modern disco that was witty, unapologetic and self-deprecating in equal measure, not to mention one of the funkiest tracks he ever made.
Outside was George musical rebuttal to all the finger-waggers, the people who wanted to kick him because he was temporarily down, and finally out. ‘There is one recurring theme to my actions as an adult, he told British talk show host Michael Parkinson during a memorable TV interview. ‘If I’m pressured into anything, I react against it. I wasn’t going to be someone who is peeking out from behind the net curtains’.
Some commentators seemed to relish the thought that this would be a career-ending catastrophe, that his fan base with crumble away. George, though, never believed this would be the case, and he didn’t care about the naysayers anyway. ‘I’m not really interested in selling records to people who are homophobic’, he said. ‘I don’t need the approval of people who don’t approve me.’
The video for Outside left no one in doubt as to George’s publish-and-be-damned attitude. It was a perfectly pitched parody of the whole affair. In one scene he appears in police uniform, wielding a nightstick and dancing in the restroom. Suddenly the setting transforms, Batcave style into a disco dance floor complete with lasers and glitter balls. All this is intercut with outdoor shots look like Helicopter surveillance footage, alongside samples of actual news reports of the arrest.
So far, so funny. But Outside was a tactical as well as satirical response to the over-inflated scandal. It’s what-the-hell tone served to remind people why they love George Michael. The British public in particular is always ready to embrace a celebrity who can laugh at himself, and George readily obliged. He quipped about the good looks of the arresting officer (They don’t send Columbo in there…) and through a series of television appearances turned the story of his forced outing into enduring dinner party repartee.
Outside was a standout track on Ladies and Gentlemen, the greatest hits album released in November of the same year. Its title, the traditional opening words of any on stage introduction, suggested that this was a kind of comeback collection — but the name was also a sly reference to designs on lavatory doors. It was as if we, by coming out, George had learned to laugh again.
- George Michael’s Interview with the Gay Magazine ‘The Advocate’ (1999)
- George Michael Interview on Parkinson Show (1998)
- George Michael Interview on Q Magazine (December 1998)
- George Michael Interview on the David Letterman Show (1998)
- George Michael’s Oprah Winfrey Show Interview (2004)