George Michael interview “George Michael: Mein Whampf!” by Mat Snow in New Musical Express, 28 June 1986.
Young guns, club tropicanees, hip-hot fly guys and, of course, the ladies; all ready to wave George Michael on past Wham! and up the road to superstardom. And what of Mat Snow, left in his wake? George responds sympathetically with the caring voice of the designer breed.
“Although I am honest, I will deal with an interview with the confidence of George Michael, pop star. And the way I deal with people day to day is constantly fighting to put people at their ease. Half the people I meet probably go away thinking, ‘What a crawler!’ You have to constantly play down to be accepted as normal; you’re on tip-toes in case people think you’re walking all over them…”
Rarely have I felt less walked over than by George Michael, pop star. Why should I feel walked over? I am five years wiser, have superior taste in clothes and am far better-looking – in a mature, sophisticated sort of way. All he has over me is a clean-driving license, a marginally more melodious singing voice and an annual income approximately 200 times my own. Mere trifles, really.
In addition to this, I have finally got over that crippling rockist disease which brings one out in a paroxysm of spluttering outrage at the mere thought that Wham! are Number One (well, Two actually) and Hüsker Dü aren’t.
Not long ago I deliriously imagined the Whammyspandyduranniefrankie Club bestrode the world like a colostomy-bag, of which George’n’Andy were the biggest bowelquake; the brownest, the shiniest, the most stinking rich. They’d corrupted the kids! They’d dazzled them with trinkets and highlights and cheesy grins and so turned their heads from the serious business of burning down the House Of Commons! They were in league with Mrs. Thatcher!
In short, Wham! and their lackey-stooge ilk were a sign of the times rather than ahead of them, as I fondly believed their pop precursors to be. Buy a Beatles record and change your life; buy a Wham! record and watch your interest grow. But times have changed and pop is not what it was. The mass pop community based on hopeless romanticism has gone, to be replaced by career-pop, pop as commodity with an attendant set of commodity values. Our mass media is pop saturated; it’s now a buyer’s market. All the mystique of the hard-to-get, the forbidden, the rebellious, has been allayed by surfeit of choice. Pop’s no big deal any more.
And so it is that George Michael, pop careerist sits chatting amiably beside me on a large grey sofa in a chic grey suite in a very expensive London hotel, bolthole of visiting foreign film-stars and the like. When we shake hands in the lobby and ride up in the lift, his eyes hardly meet mine. But now we’re all cosy, me with my beer, he with his can of Coke he makes last over two hours, and the only hint of unease is his thumb tightly enclosed in his fist – a classic sign of insecurity. George Michael, success story talks about himself with the guiltless relaxation of a man who’s made it big and can handle it. A Rolls was parked in the Michael driveway long before George sang a note, according to an inside source, so money’s no shock to his system. And above all, he has the self-confidence of popular success which encourages him to think he knows just what people do – and don’t – want.
“I know that I sound self-satisfied and I know that I’ve got an ego,” he says, “but I don’t have an ego problem.”
As for George’s favourite word, his most commonly recurring conversational tic – it’s “basically”. He’s got an awful lot to say, which he wants to boil down to basics. Here goes…
WHAM! RAP ’86
“Basically, the whole American ideal of the possibility of becoming middle-class, the idea of aspiration, was something that was going to happen. The idea of the ’80s being sex and suntans, and us being the epitome of it is perfectly true. We’re up there, supposedly promoting it, but it’s there anyway. Kids have now decided that when you’re 13 and 14 they don’t want the next seven years to be a time when they go out and experiment and totally disassociate themselves with childhood and adulthood, which is basically what I grew up with. I did the soulboy bit and went through a Mod period as well: I didn’t want to look like my parents or the way I’d looked a couple of years before. But kids now want designer clothes when they’re 13, they want to look like the young mums and dads they see on the telly. That idea of looking middle-class even though your earnings are working-class has happened, and to blame pop for it is really stupid. I don’t think pop could have helped being affected by it, which it was, and I don’t think pop could have stopped it. When it happened, it happened to society, and society picked up on bands it wanted to reflect that idea. Glamour is seen in this country as America. We just picked up on the normal traits of stardown, and as my musical angle has always had an American side, the two things fitted. England suddenly became like Miami Vice in the rain, and that combined with the quality of what we were doing. It all fitted together very nicely, though I didn’t plan it that way.”
George changes gear to avoid the elephant trap of modish generalisation that the champagne sociologists of the glossy magazines habitually fall into.
“You’ve always got to remember you’re talking from a London and South East point of view. The North doesn’t look like this. Most of them don’t have the time or money to even pretend. But for most teenagers London has not become a poor place to live. London has benefited from the whole right wing idea. I don’t honestly think that the people that are going to these wine bars and souping up Escorts feel that things are getting worse. They’re not the people on the dole; they’re the people that have got a few bob to fritter away. I used to believe that people were taking on these Americanisms as a form of escape from what was really going on. I don’t think that applies any more. I don’t think that those people have got the things to escape from, they’re not the people face to face with the real problems. Those people haven’t got time for all this crap. But it’s hard to tell, you know, because I’m not in contact with it anymore, not even vaguely. I used to be in contact with unemployment and the way people thought about their surroundings. But it’s very hard for me to sit here and judge that now; I can only guess.”
George believes “pop has stayed in the realms of fantasyland,” reflecting its fans and not guiding them. Television, on the other hand, actively promotes role models. Americanism George has quoted already; violence is something else. He was appalled to catch a recent edition of a well-known children’s teatime programme which featured a clip from another show “that to me was quite distasteful – war-game stuff. People being killed on Blue Peter!
“I think it’s quite simple. I was brought up when media still kept totally away from violence when it came to children. I don’t think it would have made me scared of violence, but I find it repulsive. But if I was that same child now, I probably wouldn’t find it half as bad – I would expect to see it. I sound like fucking Mary Whitehouse here, but these are basic things, genuinely strong influences on people’s lives.”
George also objects to how Dirty Dan on EastEnders (broadcast on Sunday afternoons) deals in stolen goods and gets away with it, thereby legitimising theft to kids.
“I remember when I was about nine-years-old I stole things, and when I got caught, I got a really bad hiding, but I was also humiliated. To me it was something bad. And through those years when I normally would have stolen had I not been caught, I remembered that humiliation, and it probably stopped me fucking up somewhere along the line. But what I really can’t believe is that violence has managed to come on so far yet sex is basically as it was. Let’s be honest, kids don’t see enough about sex. Kids are ignorant and neurotic about sex, and it has stayed off the television screen much more than it should. Kids should be allowed to see much more sex in terms of caring and love, as opposed to porno. If aggression is in a child’s nature, it’s likely to turn to violence as an OK thing. It is legitimised by the amount of coverage. Violence is not something that is incredibly natural to people, but sex is. It should be seen as something a lot more natural than violence.”
GEORGE MICHAEL ATE MY HAMSTER
Rumour has it that the News Of The World has a George Michael scandal story that they’re not going to run until his crown starts to slip.
“People do keep telling me there’s a story, but I can’t think what it would be. The News Of The World’s angle would have to be, if it’s big enough that they’re waiting, some kind of gay story. Either that or a pregnant girl. It’s unnerving to think that they’re only waiting because they think the public likes me enough at the moment. Hopefully they’ve got a long wait, and even then I’ll sue the arse off them, ha ha!”
But can Fleet Street really damage a pop star’s standing in the public favour?
“It can accelerate it terribly. With Boy George they accelerated it. If you’re being cheeky with the public and playing with their affections, and the press jumps on you at the same time, you’re beyond the point of no return. George is going to have to work fucking hard to get people back, you know. If a person respects the fact that the public has put them where they are, and if they don’t realise the public have always got that in mind – you owe something to the public – you start mucking around with the reasons for your success. That’s not to say you need to pander to the public. All you need to do is give them quality and don’t offend them. If you feel bad about the way the public is treating you, just shut up about it – they don’t care about the way you feel. You have to be careful with the public the way you have to be careful with someone who’s had a few drinks, d’you know what I mean? You be nice to them and they’ll be wonderful, you can have a good laugh with them. But if you annoy them then you’re going to get the worst side!”
WHY WHAM! SPLIT
Artistic reasons, he says, and I believe him. He’s mastered the craft of pop and now wants to give of himself, put a little honest emotion into his records that people can relate to personally. Wham! were about generational anthems, uplift and youth. George Michael will be singing to us one-to-one, and he can’t do that if there’s two. But his reasons for splitting Wham! have been clouded by a slur thrown by his former management on his relationship with Andrew Ridgeley. This, briefly, is what happened…
Last November, George and Andrew told Simon Napier-Bell and Jazz Summers of Nomis Management that Wham!’s career would end this summer with a farewell Wembley concert, which decision would be publicly announced close to the time. Meanwhile, Napier-Bell and Summers were fixing a deal whereby Kunick Leisure group would buy Nomis for £5 million. Kunick, however, are one-third owned by the company that also owns Sun City, the notorious Afrikaaner resort located in the black ‘homeland’ of Bophuthatswana. George discovered the connection by reading Hollywood Reporter and Variety, so the protestations of Napier-Bell and Summers fell flat – “you don’t make a £5 million deal and not look into your shareholders, OK?”
So George quit his contract with Nomis and issued a press statement saying so, without mentioning either the South Africa connection or the Wham! split. Bad move. Fleet Street immediately got on the blower to Napier-Bell who trumped the story with a far bigger one: George and Andrew had had a terrible row, and Wham! were splitting…
“Simon keeps reiterating the point about me looking for an excuse to get rid of Andrew. He keeps rubbishing our relationship. I’m not going to let Simon do that – he’s always thrown such a cynical angle on everything he’s been involved in. It makes it all look such a sham. If we weren’t friends in the first place we wouldn’t have stayed together this long. But if people’s last memory of us is as two businessmen…”
Could you stop CBS selling your records in South Africa?
“Basically, I don’t think there’s anything I can do. I certainly wouldn’t miss the money, but I’m not sure it would happen – how would you know? You just don’t get royalty statements from South Africa, but you’re not going to be able to stop CBS sending the parts or selling it there – there’s no way you can check these things. I don’t believe in empty gestures.”
Could not an artist of your clout persuade other artists to join a boycott of the South African market?
“You’re absolutely right, but I’ve never been able to do it. When we gave our royalties to Ethiopia last Christmas, I did it well upfront so maybe some of the other acts that had been on Band Aid might feel some pressure to do the same thing. No one did anything of the kind. So I’m quite sure that if I tried to say, pull your records out of South Africa, half wouldn’t be bothered and half wouldn’t want to give up the money. I’m resigned to the way people in the music business think.
I honestly do believe that total sanctions is the only way. But I border between a realist and a fatalist. I honestly don’t think there’s any way Britain will pull out of South Africa because the public don’t care enough to put pressure on the government to do anything about it. I suppose it’s fatalist to a degree, but there are lots of good causes that might have succeeded in the late ’60s, early ’70s that won’t succeed today because, basically, if you don’t believe your generation is going to support you or the public is going to take any interest…
Things like Red Wedge are a non-starter. I believe in idealism, but it has to be balanced with accepting human nature. You have to see the compromises people are and are not prepared to make and the time when people are prepared to give. Paul Weller seems to believe that there are over three million Left-wing unemployed. They’re pissed off with the government, sure, but they’re just as affected by the things going on around them as the people with money; they want more for themselves. And if they get the money they’re certainly not going to start spreading it about! I honestly think that Weller’s not very bright, and obviously he thinks that I’m not very bright – he also thinks I’m a total mercenary. I was trying to argue with him on the limitations of his ideas when you bring human nature into it, and he wasn’t accepting anything. And I was thinking, if this man is leading this party in a public sense, then what chance do they stand?
Dogma I’ve always hated, and right now that kind of dogmatic approach is totally damaging. All they did was cancel out of any hope of any kind of social element that came into pop during ’85 because of the whole charity thing. Any idea of working towards goals, I think that they’ve wiped it out again. The minute I saw the people involved, the same names, the same faces … I mean, they asked me to be on the remake of ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ – what the fuck is the point of remaking the thing, for Christ’s sake? If you want to bring it to people’s attention, why don’t you look at what happened the last time and see how ineffective it was, OK? They should try a different approach, try getting new artists, not just plugging the old Red Wedge corner. I mean, remaking the same fucking song – how short-sighted can you be?”
The man with his finger on the popular pulse sighs at the communications gap between the consumerised crowd and its pie-in-the-sky saviours.
“It’s conceit, but I think I can see society better than a lot of those people can. Maybe it’s people like me who should be doing something about it. But the people who can see what’s going on, who look at society in a very wide sense, think that the world is so fucked anyway, and that people are too apathetic to do anything about it. You look at the acceleration of all the negatives compared to the positives, and you just have to say it’s all going to finish. We have to be drawing ourselves to the end of our natural lifespan because we’re fucking everything up…”
You mean mankind’s story has a big exclamation mark at the end?
Oh yeah. I have no belief in The Bible or religion, but I think Armageddon was a lucky guess. I honestly think it’s going to happen…”
WHAM! We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when…
“I think eventually I’ll look back and say that these were probably the most exciting two years I’ve ever had. But to go on like this would drive me absolutely crazy. I’m getting older, you know, so I’ve got to replace it with something more valid to the way I feel. Having said that, I wouldn’t take back any of the last two years. Apart from some of the videos and haircuts, I don’t think I’ve made any wrong moves, ha ha!”
- George Michael Interview on Q Magazine (December 1998)
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- Nelson Mandela Tribute Concert (1988)
- George Michael in Q Magazine Interview (October 1990)