“Tart with a heart” was written by Alan Jackson and published in New Musical Express, June 20, 1987.
Sex beast George Michael, the well-tanned superstar scourge of the BBC and now the IBA, defends his right to party any damn way he wants to with a sexy extra and a tube of lipstick. Alan Jackson receives an uncensored blast from the Wham!
Just three years ago the Frankie Goes To Hollywood single ‘Relax’ was banned by the BBC on the grounds that its explicit sexual content rendered it unsuitable for broadcast on a national TV or radio channel. Predictably enough, the ensuing controversy helped the record to ease comfortably into the No. 1 spot on British and international charts.
Yet if you’ve turned on your television during peak viewing hours in the last week or two you may have found yourself surprised to hear the same offending Frankie track in a new context. Forget that it was ever thought too hot for your ears – now it helps to hawk sun tan oil, with a bronzed hunk applying the product in question to his girlfriend’s hind quarters. To George Michael, sun-tanned beyond any
“I mean, if I was rubbing oil into my girlfriend’s arse in my video there might be something to talk about,” he fumes over a Lucozade, before lotting the VHS in question into a conveniently-placed recorder. “After all that’s been written in the papers about it, I think people are going to find this incredibly tame.”
And so when George’s decision to underwrite part of the production costs enables it to be sold nationally next week for something just above the cost of a 12″ single, they are. It may begin with the vision of Kathy Jeung’s
Yet if the George of ‘I Want Your Sex’ comes on as a bit of a tart, at least he’s a tart with a heart. Despite the provocative wrappings, he’s got more than just one thing on his mind… From the depts of the upholstery in his London hotel
To elaborate, he points out that he, as a showbusiness figure based in London, is fortunate enough to be able to say he knows no-one personally who has died of AIDS. “That’s just me, but I know it’s out there and I know how huge it is. But if I’m a young kid living somewhere in suburbia it’s going to seem far more remote and I’m not going to feel that frightened of it. People will be bombarding me with all these instructions not to have sex, but I’m going to be wondering why on earth not. Where’s the danger?” Parental over-reaction and calls for a return to Victorian values, whatever they are, won’t help either and are, he reasons, unrealistic. The Michael method is to shift the emphasis from abstinence or safe sex to a celebration of the good, old-fashioned one-on-one.
“And,” says George, shifting forward to stress his point, “if you’re to try and redefine sex and make monogamy attractive again, it’s got to be seen as something that’s sexy. That is the point behind the single. I can’t think of a better question for a 12 or 13-year-old to be asking their parents than ‘what’s monogamy?'”
That said, putting your message in such a guaranteed-to-titillate package as ‘I Want Your Sex’ could be seen as self-defeating. It was nothing if not predictable that the BBC would refuse to play the record during peak time and that the tabloids would relish the opportunity to get into a froth about it. Neither result helps get teenagers excited about the possibilities of long-standing, faithful relationships. Maybe ‘I Want Your Sex (But In The Context Of A Serious Relationship)’ or ‘I Want Your Sex (And I’ve Got An Indefinite Supply of Condoms)’ would have been more helpful working titles? Or maybe the whole thing has been a carefully thought-out marketing strategy to ensure maximum sales for an otherwise lacklustre single? After all, banned records have a pretty successful history when you think about it, haven’t they?
“Yeah, they have,” admits George, “but then think about the sales patterns my records usually have. Because of my grass roots following they automatically go in very high and then tend to go down very quickly, whereas most banned records build slowly and stay in the charts longer. In Britain, this single went in at four and in a couple of weeks it’ll be old news. Now in America it’s different. In some parts of the country I’m being hailed as an anti-Christ, which I think is hysterical, but there are no overall ruling bodies like the IBA, to bring in a ban and the record is being played a lot. So there it’s true that the controversy is actually helping sales. But I think it should be known that we are the only country in the world to have banned it.”
Maybe. But given the BBC’s habitual jitters about S-E-X, it’s none too surprising, is it?
“Well, perhaps not,” he allows, “but I really didn’t expect the IBA ban. I can’t be specific here, but there’s a fair amount of evidence to conclude that somebody – we know who but can’t say – from the BBC raised the matter at the IBA to encourage them to ban it as well, so it wasn’t just a one network thing. Now, I think that’s totally out of order. I’m sure Capital wouldn’t have had any problem playing it, and neither would a lot of similar stations up and down the country. So, the situation in Britain isn’t what I was expecting and isn’t what I wanted. I don’t see how the record can go to Number One now. You get your initial sales from that section of the public that always buys your records; you get a few people buying it because of the controversy, but not that many; and after that you need people to hear the record and like it enough to buy it. Nobody’s hearing it – simple as that.”
Unless you tune in after nine at night, of course.
“I don’t even know about that,” says George. “If I can’t be bothered to listen to the radio after nine to see if they’re playing my record, I don’t see why anybody else should.”
If what George says about his lyrical intent on ‘I Want Your Sex’ is true, then the collective bans on both the single and the video have helped it to backfire in spectacular fashion. The dancefloor crushes and clinches it will inspire will have nothing at all to do with the desire for a monogamous partnership. Like ‘Lady Marmalade’ a decade ago, it’ll be remembered for just one line – and this time around it’s in English. Poor George. But having commiserated with him, wouldn’t he himself be a bit skeptical about the whole thing if it were another artist up there on screen chanting about sex and flashing the all-over sun than from amid a tangle of beach clothes? Might he not, at the very least, think that they fancied themselves a bit too much?
“Yeah, but I wouldn’t think it was bad,” says George, who sometimes seems to be courting global assurance that he’s as gorgeous as he thinks he is. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong in marketing yourself sexually at all. People are sometimes uncomfortable when they see men doing it, but part of what makes certain men stars is the way they promote themselves in the manner that women do all the time. Women are allowed to project sexuality as part of their personalities; it’s seen as something beautiful. If a guy does it, on a day to day level, there’s normally a ‘medallion-man’ type of reaction, but up on
Britain’s most famous combination of teeth and tan and stubble, the undeniably handsome George Michael, shifts in his seat and contemplates the silver-tipped toes of his boots. Isn’t it a bit off-putting for people meeting him for the first time though, I ask, remembering the moment earlier on when he walked in the room to meet me looking as if he’d just stepped out of a fashion plate.
“Nah,” he says easily. “It’s not a problem in real life. People think I’m going to be such an arsehole that it’s not difficult to give them a pleasant surprise. All I have to do is be myself. Even though that may not be the most wonderful person in the world, it’s a hell of a lot better than the person they’re expecting to meet.”
If the scandalmongering potential of ‘I Want Your Sex’ has had them salivating over their word processors down at Wapping for days on end, it’s just the latest chapter in a strange and enduring symbiotic relationship between George Michael and the tabloid press. Symbiotic because George is at least honest and far-sighted enough to admit that he has benefitted in one way from the obsessive and intrusive attention that has been lavished on him by the scumbags of the right wing tabloids.
“It’s a fickle market for artists who begin by being aimed at young kids,” he says. “I’ve always taken that for granted, but I don’t think most people appreciate what a huge transition has to be made to cross successfully to an older audience. I got over the barrier partially, it has to be said, with the help of those horrible tabloids, simply through the fact they forced people to be aware that I had changed physically, if not musically, by putting me on the front pages all the time. In America, where there isn’t that same press exposure, I’m still viewed as part of the Wham! phenomenon. That ghost has yet to be buried. It’s horrible to have to admit that the Press has helped me in any way, but it’s true.”
In that case it’s no more than you deserve in recompense George, because the demon bastards of Fleet Street and points east have certainly had their money’s worth out of you. You’re already sueing The Sun for the totally fictitious story that you were sick over a girl companion in a nightclub and had to be thrown out for being abusive. Now everyone’s shouting the odds about the big gay exposé they’re supposed to have lined up on you. How do you live with that pressure?
“For six months now I’ve been hearing those
That’s an extraordinary thing for a 23-year-old to have to declare publicly, of course. How many 23-year-old Sun readers could say the same, or would be prepared to? But still the hypocrisy continues, and the circulation war is won on lies and innuendo. What if they do resort to fiction?
“I’ve already decided that if The Sun, The Mirror, or whoever, do print something really vile about me, I won’t fight them. I won’t allow them to be part of my life like that. I don’t talk to them, I haven’t done for years, but they’re so vile, so evil, that I cannot allow them to intrude on me in any way other than is absolutely necessary. I
And, of course, if it’s not one thing it’s another. Avoid being pasted for a sex scandal and you’ll have people writing you off as a money-grabbing Tory upstart simply on the basis of your dental work and your
“I honestly think my music would
It’s a hard row to hoe, it’s true George, but then here you are, all things bright and beautiful, 23 going on ageless, a star for as long as you want to be. Someone’s looking out for you.
“Yeah, I do take credit for my career. I’m not going to say it’s all been down to luck, but certain things do make me think that someone up there’s been guiding it somehow…”
Shame they didn’t take the same care with Andrew, huh?
“Oh, I don’t know,” grins George. “He’s recording in Nassau at the moment. He’s not exactly suffering either.”
When the black-clad body relaxes back into the cushions and the face breaks into its most dazzling smile, it’s almost possible to believe that being George Michael is as much fun as it ought to be.
- An Audience with George Michael: Interview with Chris Evans (1996)
- ‘Souled Out: George Michael’ Published in Interview Magazine (1988)
- Wham! Teen Dreams Come True (NME, 1983)
- George Michael: Artist or Airhead? (Musician, 1988)
- George Michael in Q Magazine Interview (October 1990)