George Michael interview in Record Mirror, published on June 20, 1987
The day is bright. The sun shines. The phone rings.
“Hello,” says the voice at the other end. “Would you like to interview George Michael?”
“Um, yes please.”
“Good there’s only one thing you’ll have to sign this document…”
You see, before I – or anyone else could sit down to watch George Michael watch the now infamous video for his ‘controversial’ new single, we would have to undertake certain things. Like: (that no part of the interview would appear anywhere else, or (2) that we’d only use the photos supplied by George himself, or (3) that we wouldn’t mention his bottom more than twice in a sentence (actually, that last one’s a lie). We can talk about George and his girlfriend Kathy Jeung taking their clothes off for his self-directed video of his controversial ‘I want your sex’ single (though everyone else already has, so let not). We can talk about Andrew Ridgeley supposedly turning into a kind of Zodiac Mindwarp style heavy metal pastiche artist in LA. Or we could even talk about the fact that after two years of rumours that Fleet Street were ‘after George Michael’s arse’ (looking for stories of people who may or may not of had George Michaels arse), he’s waiting for them to come up with one single story to stick. We can talk about all of this but only if we sign that bit of paper. Well, what would you have done……….? So, has success at such a tender age finally caught up with George Michael? Has another case of pop star paranoia set in – or is he just a successful businessman with a product to sell ensuring he remains successful by calling all the shots?
“I’ve worked really, really hard to get in this position.” George answers the allegation, sitting with his legs stretched out under the coffee table of the Chelsea hotel room that I’m the fifth journalist that day to enter, hitting his thigh with his hand to emphasise the point. He’s tanned (now there’s a surprise), and he drinks intermittently from a can of coke (12 teaspoons of sugar a shot, so he’s obviously not worried about his weight at the moment). “I’m now in the position where I can control things.”
Some might of thought that George Michael would be in the position to neither worry nor care about such things anymore. He’s quick to counter that suggestion.
“Yeah, but that’s just it. It’s because I still care that I’m still doing well. I control everything. I don’t have any guilt that I can now call the shots in my own career. I’ve never been the type of person who makes my record and then sits around and let’s other people do everything else and tell me it’s wonderful; it’s all gonna be great!’. And working at my career in that detail is one of the reasons I’m in the position I am. This is what I worked for.”
So if anything goes wrong……
“It’s my fault! I don’t think I’m power-mad or anything, I just understand when people want my product and I understand that I want them and they want something from me.”
So was this need for total control the main reason that Wham! split?
“I don’t think that made any difference. Andrew let me do it all anyway.”
The eternal paradox surrounding George Michael: multi-millionaire at just turned 24, who wears the trapping of wealth how other people wear Marks&Spencer’s underwear, yet never fails to come over as nothing than sensible, intelligent ‘good bloke’, A man who’s had a dubious distinction of being congratulated by Norma Tebit for his services to the British economy, yet someone who says he was tempted to vote Labour at the General Election “because of the arms issue.” A singer and writer who’s released what he describes as “a very moral song”, concerned with taking a taking responsible and practical- rather than hysterical- attitude to AIDS; yet ones who Fleet Street’s (and Wapping’s) finest filth delight in alleging he done everything from throwing up over passing blondes (legal action against the Sun is pending on that one) to taking strange substances in the middle of London nightclubs. George is philosophical about it all.
“That was so funny”, he says shaking his head in disbelief and smiling broadly. “They had this bloke who talked about me taking poppers and said’he used to dance around the floor and they’d be flying everywhere! And the best thing is poppers come in a tiny bottle and he said,’George came to the club up to 20 times and every time he had a bigger bottle.’ You can just see me with this two-litre bottle under my arm.
“The trouble is that if you sue the Sun or the Mirror or any of them, you put yourself through the whole thing again 18 months later, because you can’t get a speedy trial. So if I was to sue them now, and this is what’s gonna happen with Elton, in 18 months time they’ll take me through it in court and get big press on it every day for a week. You’ll be dragged through the situation again even if it’s found to be totally fabricated.
“So I’m just hoping that when they do it to me and I think they’re going to it’s not so bad I’ll be obligated to sue them. I want to be able to just bite my lip.”
Pop star paranoia again?
“There’s a lot of paranoia involved with being famous,” George admits later.”It’s totally natural.”
Of course, successful people who are helped up then pulled down to earth with a savage bump by the guardians of public morality in the tabloid dailies, are bound not to look on them in a favourable light. Take Boy George, whose slip into drug addiction was recounted in feverent detail. Yet he still took part in the ‘Suns Fery AID’ project. George Michael didn’t.
“I turned it down, he says. “I don’t regret it, I didn’t think it would be a good thing to do. I knew George was already on it and I knew George was also in the middle of a very good comeback so they weren’t desperate for a major star.
“I knew it would get to number one but I didn’t really want to be on the same record as people like Ali from ‘East Enders’. I’m sorry. If I want to do things for charity I’ll do things for charity, but I can’t want to make a mockery of my own career musically to do it. The song was a very well-intentioned disaster.”
Yet George Michael according to the Sun’s Garry Bushell, was the only major star who declined to take part I couldn’t believe that,” he shakes his head in disbelief once more. “I couldn’t believe someone like George couldn’t have said to Stock, Aitken and Waterman” (the project’s producers) “‘Please don’t go to the Sun with it. Don’t do it! You don’t need the Sun.”
“It was so horrible to find such a vile newspaper getting behind something which was obviously a very tragic thing and trying to improve its own image through it.”
They don’t go a bundle on George Michael either in that section of the press, if the widely inaccurate reports on ‘I Want Your Sex’ are anything to go by. They’ve had a field day (which George knew they would) and so he settles down to give his own explanations. It is, by now, sounding rather rehearsed, if not without sincerity. ‘I Want Your Sex’ song, video, concept is about making monogamy more interesting, he explains, thus countering people’s need to seek interest and entertainment elsewhere when a relationship gets boring, so helping to prevent the spread of AIDS. Which, of course, none is likely to get out of just one or two listens, especially as no lyrics are provided on the sleeve.
“Yes, but I justify it by saying that anyone who takes me as that much of a role model would think I was saying ‘everyone should have sex now, and go and do it. If they’re that influenced by the things I say then surely they’re going to be the same type of people who will read my definition of the record.”
“I think the emphasis on the AIDS coverage at the moment is wrong. It’s just fear. The real problem is the people who’ve got to grow up with it. If they can grow up with a new sexual ambition or a new personal ambition, which is not more moralistic, but perhaps a more romantic idea, you’re closer to a solution.”
“I’m very romantic in some terms I’ve also got no taboos about sex. It would be great if the taboos would go to the same time so that people could embrace a new idea about being romantic. It’s a much more constructive way of dealing with the problem than saying ‘it’s dangerous; its bad for you!.”
But that’s exactly what the government’s campaign has been saying. The ‘I Want Your Sex’ single and video are both victims of the subsequent unwillingness to be seen to be encouraging sexual behaviour full stop, not just promiscuous sexual behaviour. The ‘new morality’ people are talking about is no more than a new prudishness and that w’s solve anything. It’s a perfect excuse for producers and directors and programmers to now justify their own taboos, George agrees. “AIDS is going to happen, but I don’t think that just because there’s a disease in our midst we should bring up a nation of petrified, hung-up individuals.
“I don’t see morality entering into it at all. I think it’s basically a natural question. Up until a few generations ago people couldn’t easily be promiscuous. We’ve only had 30 years of real, reliable birth control. Since then, women and men have had the opportunity and the social pressures to play the field. It was such a huge jump and upset for nature, if you think about it, to suddenly have all these people inter-changing. If you upset the balance of nature in that degree something’s bound to happen.”
“Virus after virus after virus is going to change; get stronger. I don’t think it’s a question of morality or that it’s the wrath of God. I think it’s the wrath of nature. Nature has a way of correcting itself.”
It’s very easy to talk about a subject like AIDS, though. George agrees that it’s the done thing for pop stars to show how ‘socially aware’ they are these days, even if they don’t actually do anything constructive about it witness the recent lock of major (heterosexual) stars taking part in International AIDS Day. George Michael was there, and of those few major stars outside the gay community who took part. He also says that he is made no substantial, financial commitment to the cause.
David Bowie’s contribution to International AIDS Day was to say at a press conference that every time he changed partners he had an AIDS test and he advised everybody also to do the same. Would George Michael take him up on that advice?
“Would I? The thing is, if I change partners now then it wouldn’t be me who needed the AIDS test, do you know what I mean?
Well, supposing that’s so, would he ask them to?
“I don’t think I would. You see, I don’t go into relationships at all quickly anymore. The last few relationships I’ve had, the crossover period was very slow, simply because I have other levels of trust I have to establish with people for other reasons, not just that they might give me AIDS.”
“If I was 100 percent practical then I’d say yes, I would. But the truth of very difficult your asking them for your sake, to find out whether they might possibly have a killing disease. And people don’t want to know. It’s very difficult thing for one person to do to another.”
So, as with Wham!, George Michael’s solo career is already tinged with humanity’s greatest obsession sex. Yet there’s a subtle difference’. This is sex with a social conscience. Back to that single again…
The record is trying to say that monogamy is still lustful and you can’t really talk about experimenting within a relationship without getting pretty explicit on the video. That was the idea of Kathy having the two different hairstyles and make-up. It’s just the idea af change within a sexul relationship. So why wasn’t it him wearing the wigs, so that it wasn’t just the female part of the relationship which is seen to dress up and change to keep the man interested?
“I think I look stupid in a wig. That the only thing,” he answers. Even George must have thougnt that one bit lame. But isn’t the video nothing more than a classier ‘Girls On Film’ style promotianal tool that has, for instincts a girl’s rear in close-up clad in some very tasteful suspenders? Surely George’s fans would rather have see his bottom?
“Well, I’ve got no clothes on! The counters, which is undoubtedly true.” Don’t think that’s the case really, he continues. “I just think it would look rather silly to people with me wearing different things like that.
Yet the whole projet is a strange move. In one way, the ‘I Want Your Sex’ video, whether good or bad erotica (and it is very well done), is interesting in that the she is accepting his role of musician-as-sex-symbol an taking it to it’s logical conclusion. A kind of Samantha Fox in reverse. He made the records before he took his clothes off. Yet the blatant nature of the sexual meanings and images is still shacking and not a little disappointing. Wham’ and George Michael in particular shone out of the trashy pop mire the wide-smiling, tongue-in-cheek naivety of it all. The base. The suggestion of what lay underneath those shorts or these is a ther trousers. Oh the power of the imagination! Now we’re being shown, almost libraily, what is underneath that teas and in a way, the spell has been broken, the innocent enjoyment of Wham! has been replaced by the wiser maturity that ‘A Different Corner hinted at. It’s like bragging in public about losing your virginity.
George Michael has finally grown up and I guess that means the rest of us will have to grow up with him.
- George Michael Exposed & Unplugged: Interview on Australian TV
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- Stand By Me: AIDS Day Benefit Live at Wembley (1987)
- ‘Wham! Solid Bond” Interview in No. 1 Magazine (1985)
- George Michael: “Andrew Knew He Was There For A Purpose” (1986)