In November 1996, George Michael sat down with Richard Wilkins for an interview on Australian television in a show Exposed and Unplugged
Hi there thank you for your company. I am Richard Wilkins. It’s my pleasure to present George Michael Exposed and Unplugged.
He is, of course, one of the superstars of this generation. A truly gifted singer-songwriter who achieved global fame in the early 80s with his school friend Andrew Ridgeley as Wham! Following their huge final fling, George released his first solo album Faith, winning a Grammy for Album of the Year. “I Want Your Sex” – the whole world wanted George Michael.
But the man himself wasn’t enjoying the fame and acclaim, and George became something of a recluse. Refusing to play the game of publicity and promotion urging his fans to listen without prejudice. Then taking on his record company to court, accusing Sony of “professional slavery” and wanting out. George lost the battle, but probably won the war. He is now with a new label, and has a new album out, Older.
And surprise, surprise! He agreed to this exclusive interview for a rare glimpse of the man behind the music and to perform a couple of songs. Please enjoy George Michael Exposed and Unplugged.
RW: George, thank you for the opportunity to talk with you. You haven’t spoken publicly to the media for some time.
GM: That’s true, very true.
RW: Why is now the right time?
GM: Well, one of the last things I ever said publicly was that I wouldn’t be saying anything again for awhile, unless I really had something to say. And when I made those statements, firstly I didn’t know I was going to be out of action for as long as I was, but secondly, really, I just had to say “thank you” to people. At the end of the day it‘s been six years since my last album, and “Older” has been incredibly successful. I mean, I did think that my audience would stay with me, but I didn’t think that my audience would grow in the way that it has. And I just think, although I have no intention of doing the rounds again, and doing everything the way I did in the eighties, I did think it was important to at least take some time to say “thank you” to people who have stayed with me.
RW: Even though you did the single from the Red Hop and Dance album for the Freddie Mercury single, it’s been a long time between albums. Were you concerned that maybe your audience won’t be there with you this time?
GM: It’s important, you know, and as an adult, I still love making pop music. I don’t want to be seen as someone who doesn’t do anything esoteric as that. And I don’t think the audience goes away, you know. They just grow with you.
RW: When you think back to Wham!, and the shorts, and the “Choose Life”, and the gloves and all that, it’s a far cry, it’s light years from where you are now. You are one of the few artists who has been able to move from being a teen idol, from being a teen pop star, with everything that goes with that, to be a credible adult.
GM: I think in reality, though, I think that one of the strange things about my career is you couldn’t get much more You know, looking at my career now and the way people perceive me now, and looking at my career twelve, fourteen years ago there is very little in terms of image that you can relate, that you can say one from the other. They are so far apart. But in reality: Everything She Wants was not a bubble-gum record, Careless Whisper was not a bubble-gum record. I was very serious about music. I was putting a lot of effort and a lot of craft into the music from a very early age even just I haven’t had a clue. In terms of the way I looked, and the things that I did, yeah, of course, they are very obviously I was a very young person making very young mistakes.
GM: Well, mistakes in the sense that my god, I wouldn’t .. If someone says, could you be 18 again; or could you be 19 again, would you do the same thing again? And I say, yes, I’d love to write the same songs again. I’d like to do it without the shorts or long bleached hair and all that stuff. If I could do all that without all that in my history books. Musically, I don’t think there’s a real huge shock. I think musically it’s been a natural progression. Just the image that’s been a bit [gestures hands]
[Up next, George breathes new life to a Wham! classic]
[George sings “Everything She Wants”]
RW: CBS, which was the record company that you signed to when you were 18 was sold to the Japanese conglomerate Sony. Was it simply a case that you found that you had different masters or the whole thing was just too restrictive?
GM: Ahhh … what it was really was just basically the fact that I had a very successful career. Everything had gone exactly according to plan for both myself and the record company for many years. It wasn’t until things went wrong that I realized that I didn’t really have any control over my career at all. That actually the moment things went wrong, I didn’t have a say, which of course you turn a blind eye to when everything was going fantastically. But then when some kind of reality hits home and there are problems, you suddenly realize what your real position is. And my real position was it didn’t matter how many records I’ve sold and how successful I was, I had no freedom.
RW: “Professional slavery,” what does that mean?
GM: The word slavery applies to having no freedom. I signed a piece of paper when I was 18, and I was still legally bound by it when I was 30 years old, 31 years old. And I didn’t see how that was right. And ultimately I just you know — “professional slavery.” I came up with it the morning that I knew that I’d lost the case and I knew it would be a good soundbite so I threw it in there. It’s true … ultimately it doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, if you are not allowed to leave your place of work, you’re a slave.
[Coming up, more of George Michael Exposed and Unplugged]
KW: The period when you decided to take yourself out of videos – and used the supermodels and all that – what were you trying to do?
GM: I felt very uncomfortable, so I thought because I was very confident in my musical ability, I decided I was going to stay away in a visual sense for a while. I knew I would lose a lot of my audience, and therefore obviously a lot of sales, but I felt that was less dangerous than trying to make another album in the atmosphere that I made “Faith”, and trying to get through another couple of years of living that lifestyle. I just didn’t think it was possible.
KW: You are very much an enigma. You don’t do this every day of the week. You don’t talk often to the media, to your fans. People have no idea of what makes George Michael tick. Can you give us a little insight? Who is the real George Michael?
GM: If I knew that, I’d probably won’t be here, won’t I?
KW: Is he really different from the public persona?
GM: He’s very different. He’s very different. I’m glad that there is a persona around out there that’s taking the place of the real me. Because that persona that the press … much as I hate a lot of things that go into the press and much as I dislike a lot of things that they said about me. At the end of the day, the press is very much a part of my career. And they have .. because I’d been absent in a way, they’ve made up their own character, which is very different from the character that they had of me 10 years ago. And it’s very inaccurate, but I am perfectly happy with it. I am perfectly happy with it because it means it runs itself, you know. If you don’t have your pics very often, and you don’t do very much public work, and when you do have your picture taken, you’re not smiling a lot when they want you to. You are very serious. Just that I don’t like to see pictures of me smiling and I don’t offer anything up to contradict those few images that they will have. So at the end of the day, the image that people have of me is not …
Funny enough, if they listen to what I sing, the image is absolutely right. If people listen to what I do, they listen to the lyrics, they read the lyrics, I give them myself. If they look at the pictures, I don’t give them myself. If they look at the videos I give them an act, I give them something to sell records. But, in terms of knowing me, I don’t think they need to really know me to enjoy the music. If they want to know me, they just have to read the lyrics really.
KW: One of the by-products of making yourself reclusive is that there is a lot of speculation, particularly sexual preferences and all that. I mean, you’ve seen and heard and read far more than anyone else, I’m sure. Is that something that you fuel or by not commenting on this, or is it simply no one’s business?
GM: Of course you fuel it by not commenting on it. We live in an age where people actually think that they have a right to know about everything, about everyone they ever see on television or they see in the papers. Like if you’re a celebrity, automatically you have no right to a private life, and if you wanted a private life you shouldn’t have become a celebrity and I just do not accept that, do not accept that. I do my work, I give people music, they choose to buy it if they want to, that doesn’t give them the right, and doesn’t give the media or anyone the right, to narrow every detail out of that person’s life… there are a lot of media personalities who seem to thrive off giving the media their entire life. I’m just not one of those people you know. I have absolutely no problem with speculation; they can speculate away. They can guess, they can talk about my sexual preferences; it’s fine. I’m glad they are interested. If they are not interested at all, then I’d be worried I guess. But I am certainly not out here to clear up people’s perceptions of my sexuality, definitely.
KW: Happy, content, older and wiser?
GM: I like to think so. You know you always think you are wiser. And in five years time, you look at yourself, and I am still clueless. I don’t know, I feel a lot better off; a lot wiser. I feel much more capable of making good music and that is the important thing I guess. Of all the things the public needs to know about me, I am capable of giving them what they want, you know. And I feel very capable of doing that for the foreseeable future.
KW: Thanks for your time. Come to Australia again soon.
- An Audience with George Michael: Interview with Chris Evans (1996)
- Graham Norton Interview with George Michael (2003)
- George Michael’s Oprah Winfrey Show Interview (2004)
- George Michael Interview with Capital FM Radio with Dr. Fox (Dec 1998)
- ‘Souled Out: George Michael’ Published in Interview Magazine (1988)