Here is the article entitled “1988: George Michael” written by Adrian Deevoy and published in Q magazine in January 1990.
A year and a half on from Wham!’s last concert, George Michael’s solo career was ripening nicely as 1988 began. His hugely successful album debut, Faith, had just come out, and in February he set off on a world tour, punctuated with an appearance at the Nelson Mandela show in Wembley. It was a year in which he shook off the old image and established himself as a credible adult performer. And it was a year that was liberally sprinkled with hits off Faith, like Father Figure, Monkey and Kissing A Fool. Michael is now finishing his follow-up album.
AD: What do you remember best about 1988?
George: I spent the whole of 1988 on tour. It was one long nightmare, really – with the exception of America, because by then my throat had cleared up. I’d had surgery.
The whole thing was quite distressing because I’d had five months of cancellations and being confined to my hotel room because there was no way I could do anything with my throat without fucking up the next day’s performance. By the time I got to England, everyone, even my managers, was thinking it was a psycho-somatic thing, that I was just unhappy about the tour. I had a constant battle with the insurance doctor, who kept sending me to people who told me I was OK. What happened was I’d got laryngitis in Australia at the start of the tour and I’d sung too soon after.
I’d been to seven doctors by the time I got to England, all of who looked at my throat and said, Oh, tour fatigue, when in fact I’d had a slight hemorrhaging on my vocal chords. But the damage was something you had to look really hard to find.
What was worrying was thinking, well, maybe it is psychosomatic, because all these doctors were telling me it was fine. But I went to a top specialist here and he discovered the cyst, and he said, You need surgery as soon as possible. That was a great relief to me, because I realised I wasn’t going crazy. I was getting so pissed off with having to cancel dates, and the worst thing for me was being called the old temperamental artist. I hate that.
After it was done, I did a whole 42 dates in America without one cancellation, and my voice was stronger than ever. But it had ruined half the year for me.
When I say it was a nightmare, it wasn’t just because I was in pain; I hate the whole process of touring. It was a year ago we stopped touring, and I still look back on it without the slightest bit of nostalgia. I just look back at 1988 and think, Thank God it’s over.
AD: Your image here has been very different to your image in the States.
George: It’s funny, but all people see of me over here is flashbacks to 1984, with compilation albums. I was on the phone to somebody recently, watching the TV, and suddenly there was this orange-haired thing on the Band Aid video, with bright red cheeks. And I’m just getting over that, and they flash up this blonde thing from Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go and I’m thinking, This is character assassination. I’ve spent five years getting away from this!
AD: In the US you’re seen as rather serious, soulful.
George: Over here I’m read wrong, in that I’m seen too lightly, and over there I’m seen too seriously. I’d rather be taken too seriously, to tell you the truth.
AD: What happened at the Nelson Mandela concert? You had a cool reception…
George: Yeah, because I didn’t do anything that people wanted me to do. Apart from anything else I found I didn’t like the crowd at all. The difference between Live Aid and Nelson Mandela’s show was huge. Live Aid was such a genuine thing, and there was so much self-promotion going on at the Mandela thing. Which I knew there would be, because charity has become so much about self-promotion over the past few years, it’s got really ugly. I was uncomfortable about it because even though I believed in it I’m very wary of charitable events, and I knew that a lot of people on the bill were there for the wrong reasons. And I thought, What can I do to show my support, and sing something that’s relevant to the day, without promoting anything? And so I just decided to do three black covers that I liked. I knew it wouldn’t get a very good response, but I knew I was right. The people there were Simple Minds fans and half of them couldn’t give a fuck where Nelson Mandela is today.
AD: What was the best part of the tour?
George: The highpoint of the tour was the night of the Mandela show, when I played in Earl’s court, and I think that was the best performance I’ve ever made: one because the Mandela show was finished, because I’d fully expected my voice to go, and it didn’t; and I had the most control over myself and an audience that I’d ever had. That was my perfect audience, reasonably adult, but with enough of a charge there from kids, to lift it up.
The ballads went well, people respected them…I did really get a shock when I first went out on that tour and they all screamed again, I thought, well, he’s got a beard now, and he doesn’t look like their sister any more, they won’t scream at him.
AD: You must have been pleased with how well your album, Faith, was doing.
George: It was great. I still think the first half of it is a very good album, on the second half the old schedule pressure shows a little bit, but with the exception of a couple of tracks I’m very proud of it. I do regret not having finished it the way I would have wanted to finish it, because then I think it could have been something that really stood up, but that’s what I’m going for with this next album. It’s totally different from Faith, but I can’t give the game away. Put it this way: it’s very much to do with me having decided that the insecure artist part of me has pretty much served its purpose. I’ve realised that my priority is to me as a writer. I think there are some very big hits on it, but there’s also stuff which people who liked my previous work will be a bit confused by. I think I’ve moved as far as I can as a writer, but I’m always going to be melodic, because that’s my natural style. People have accused me of being safe, but it can never be said that people knew what my next single was going to be like.
AD: You managed to cross over so successfully, and now you hear people like Bros talk about “doing a George Michael”…
George: What’s quite sad is that people have this idea that it will be terribly easy to cross over. A lot of people took it all at surface and didn’t acknowledge that all the way through the whole screaming kids’ market that we had, there was an undercurrent of older buyers, which made it much easier for me to cross over. The market is so much more ruthless now. People are so fickle; the turnover is so fast, it’s fast food, the singles market.
The biggest thing about 1988 was soap opera pop, wasn’t it? In one sense it might have been a good thing, because it separated the age groups and the audiences for the singles and the albums markets so strongly. I’ll probably enter somewhere in the Top 75 with my next single: the average age of the singles buyer now must be somewhere between 10 and 12. If they’re that young they really don’t need anything other than a new PWL record with a different melody over the top. It won’t burn out as quickly as people think. I think pop has been redefined so that it’s either pop with some thought involved or else it’s marketing pop.
AD: Did you come out of it all a wiser man? Did you learn anything?
George: Not really. I knew it was going to be an isolating experience, and it was. I coped with it most of the time, but it got very lonely, because there’s no reality around you, there’s no interaction with people who are on an equal level, because you’re everyone’s boss, and I hate that. You can’t fly friends out all the time, because they’ve got their own lives to lead. And for two weeks after the operation I wasn’t allowed to talk. My voice had to recuperate.
This year has been fantastic for me, I’ve never had such a low-key year. I’ve kept myself to myself, I’ve had the opportunity to keep my ego satisfied by popping across to America and getting awards every once in a while and having everyone treat me like a big star. It’s perfect. I honestly wouldn’t want the kind of highlighted success that I used to have in England, because I live here. Since the whole American thing has happened, I’m probably seen as some kind of survivor in comparison with the other people from ’84/’85, people treat me as that much further removed, they give me space.
Whereas the whole Wham! thing was front pages, TV all the time, promotion. A lot of people don’t recognise me any more, it’s as simple as that. Which is great, I can take the dog out for a walk, put a hat on, and people think, Well, it might be him…
AD: Is your emotional and personal development arrested when you’re out on tour?
George: Totally. I realised before I went I’d have to basically put my life development on ice for 10 months. I’d never do it again, not in a thousand years. The maximum I’d ever tour again is a couple of months. With the whole of my career up to the end of last year, there was a lot of growing up: everything up till now has been a matter of trying to beat insecurities that most people who want stardom have. There was a point I reached last year where realised I’d done all the things that I knew I could do in terms of making my presence felt. As far as stardom in America is concerned, you only make that first impression once, as a solo artist; you only have that big big year once. And that’s all I need. I know now that as far as ego and insecurities are concerned, that fame can’t do anything else for me.
- Nelson Mandela Tribute Concert (1988)
- George Michael Interview in Number 1 Magazine (1988)
- George Michael Radio Interview with Mark Goodier (2011)
- Faith: George Michael Speaks
- George Michael’s Interview with DJ Neil Fox in Capital FM Radio (1999)