George Michael in the cover of No. 1 magazine with the caption “George Michael The naked truth.” The article “Careless Talk” was published on August 11th, 1984.
George Michael has no desire to be hip. He wants to make great pop records and be loved by everybody. While Wham record their LP in the South of France, George takes a break from the sundeck to tell Nick Adams about “Careless Whisper”, Andrew’s nose and life on top of the world.
George Michael has enjoyed a suntan for well over a year. Neither troubles nor succes have flustered that perfect skin. Through Wham’s struggles with Innervision and their and their chart-topping return with “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”, George’s tan has remainded a rich, deep brown.
If George’s skin suggest he’s on constant holiday, his shining white teeth push the point home. This young man looks as healthy and as well-fed as the cat that got the cream. Whether looking soulfully hurt or smugly happy, George Michael basks in sunlight.
His current lifestyle is unlikely to change his colour.
For the past four weeks, Wham have been recording their new LP in a quiet spot about an hour and a half away from St. Tropez. During the first three weeks of recording, steady indoor work saw George’s tan begin to slip. Now with six new tracks written and recorded, George is glowing again.
“I thought I was going to go berserk here,” he explains, “… it’s so quiet. But in fact I’ve loved it. It’s been very relaxed and a real rest. We get up about 10 o’clock and go and sit by the pool for five or six hours. We eat and drink like pop stars – or anybody who’s near a pool. The meals last at least a couple of hours – you know the way the French eat!”
I first interviewed George a year and a half ago in a dingy pub in Covent Garden. Back then, Wham pair were the darlings of the rock press but badly lacking in hits. A few weeks after the interview, “Young Guns” finally took off. Within months the seemingly serious young men I’d interviewed had transformed themselves into a pin-up boys.
George brings up the old interview immediately. “Ah yes,” he recalls, “the day of street cred…”
He doesn’t sound nostalgic. In fact, George wants to make it clear that the suntanned Wham is the real Wham. He looks distinctly happy because he is distinctly happy.
George knows he can write No.1 hits and he isn’t ashamed of the fact. His current ambition is for “Careless Whisper” to knock “Two Tribes” from the top spot and repay the treatment the Frankies gave “Wake Me Up”. George enjoys a bit of healthy competition.
“We were going to get T-shirts saying: ‘Wham say: Frankie go f… yourselves’ We’d have a laugh and I don’t think they’d mind the joke. They’ve had a good run at the top. Bands shouldn’t believe what journalists say they say about each other. It causes friction where there isn’t any. If ‘Careless Whisper’ does knock them off we’re trying to decide whether to call it a Frankie sandwich or a Whamburger…”
George may be confident enough to hope for his own No.1, but he knows that Wham’s success has lost them a lot of critical respect. He wants it back.
“We are at the height of our popularity now but in the pits as far as credibility goes. The funny thing is, we’ve become more honest while the press has seen us as becoming more dishonest. Our original principles are more in line with what we’re doing now than what we were doing a year ago.”
The low point for George was the “Bad Boys” period. He’d written it as a calculated follow-up to “Young Guns” but he never liked the song or the leather and studs that went along with it.
Wham had been hailed by the rock press as spokesmen for the new youth and George jumped on his own bandwagon for a while.
“We got sidetracked,” he says now. “We’d been seen as something typical of British youth on dole. But we were much better off that most people on the dole. We were more middle-class than most kids. We wanted to be on the dole because it was better than working. Once we became pop stars it would have been totally fake to try and write about being street kids anymore. I’ve stopped trying to pretend that I’ve got anything important to say or anything that needs an angry young man to say it. Anything I had to say to people of my age became irrelevant after six months or so of success.”
George’s ambitions are now back on course.
“I decided a year ago to get rid of that sneering bad boy image we had. We’ve nearly done it now, even if the press don’t like us. That image was never us. I used to sneer in photos because I thought I looked better when I sneered. At the time we were actually happy and excited about the idea of becoming pop stars.”
The Happy Few
George is happy at the top. The glow of his self-confidence is not some fake gloss but the way he feels about himself.
“I was never meant to be a left-field writer, I’m a mainstream pop writer. The ‘Bad Boys’ image was calculated, but since ‘Club Tropicana’ we’ve simply acted as we really are. We do spend a lot of time in the sun wearing few clothes and looking healthy. We do the things that most people would like to do like travel and follow the sun. I chase the sun about whenever possible. Although everybody would like to do it, the rock press slag us off for being so blatant about enjoying ourselves. Mind you, it doesn’t worry me enough to bring me in off the beach…”
Poor George knows that the reason the business dislikes Wham is their blatant self-confidence. His suntan lacks any human fear of peeling. Yet George sees this resentment of Wham’s obvious calculation as hypocrisy.
“We do the whole business does, but we tell people while we’re doing it. The last year and a half we’ve been totally open about everything we’ve done. The music isn’t calculated but we’ve been really calculated about everything else. For some reason the music business doesn’t like us being so open and unsubtle about marketing ourselves. We’ve got more and more popular but we’ve got more and more disdain for it. I can understand that nobody likes to see people marketed as obviously as us – but it does work. I know we seem arrogant and conceited but that seems to inspire confidence in the public even while it inspires dislike in the business. It’s incredible how people have this hatred of calculation. There hasn’t been a huge success in pop music that hasn’t been calculated. All we’ve done is make sure we look better in photos. The photes now are slick – they would have been better before but we didn’t know how.”
Perhaps the real reason George and Andrew are resented is their obvious happiness and self-satisfaction, Nobody like a winner who knows he’s winning. While the old guard understood Borg’s humility, they are horrified by John McEnroe’s arrogance. When Wham were bad boy rebels, the music biz understood them. Nowadays they look like a cross between pools winners and Ronnie Biggs sunning himself in Brazil.
They’ve changed the image of the pop star from the malcontent of punk days, back to the old showbiz tradition of the star delighted by his own success.
George Michael’s one new touch is to suggest that not only is he delighted by his success but also that he planned it. George would never say that he was lucky.
“Our image is what we are,” he says. “We’re very happy with the last year, with the new album and the prospects for the future. We’re very happy and relaxed.”
George Michael wants to make it clear that he’s a pop writer. His ambition now is clear.
“I just want to be able to write a better pop song that the last one.”
Yet he knows that Wham’s success has lost him a few fans and a lot of respect.
“The people we’ve got to win back are the people of 20-25 who were dissuaded from buying a really good pop record like ‘Wake Me Up’ because they don’t think we’re credible group. If we can keep producing really well-crafted pop songs, people will buy the records even though they’re made by us.
After all, most people buy records because they like the song, not because of the group’s image. We’ve got to let people realize we’re capable of more than showing our legs.”
George’s solo single is a step in that direction. He knows that as a ballad, “Careless Whisper” will reach wider age group and he’s happy that Wham have made his name well-known enough for him to release a solo effort.
Yet he’s clearly more excited by the new Wham record. Such is his confidence, he can already image “Careless Whisper’s” success and so he is less interested than he might be.
The song was written when George was 17 and working part-time as a cinema usher. Already he finds the song rather naive, especially when compared to his new songs. Yet he’s recorded it four times and produced two videos for it. George is a perfectionist.
“I always have been,” he laughs. “Now I can afford to be. If something’s not right, you have to be confident enough to throw it away. That’s why we didn’t release the version I recorded with Jerry Wexler. I was so nervous recording in the same booth as heroes of mine like Ray Charles that I froze up. I wasn’t confident enough that my best was good enough.”
But how does Andrew Ridgeley feel about George going solo on “Careless Whisper”?
“He’s very pleased,” says George, “not least because he co-wrote it and he stands to make a lot of money from it.”
So Wham aren’t going to split?
“We’ve had to put up with split stories for a year. He’s not a songwriter naturally. If he was a drummer in a four-piece band, everyone would accept that and not wonder about us splitting up. We’re duo, not a songwriting partnership. Our image and our friendship has had a lot to do with why we’re so successful. I don’t think solo artists get known as easily. If I was on my own, the songs wouldn’t sound the same. Everything I write goes through Andrew automatically. If he doesn’t like it, it probably means that I’m in an area I can’t handle or which isn’t that suitable for Wham. If I’m writing something as Wham, we both have to like it.”
And what about Andrew’s nose scandal?
“It was brilliant. Andrew couldn’t fly because of his nose so he came over here a week late. I was pissed off because I thought all the papers were hysterical and I couldn’t be there to enjoy it. I would never have dreamed a year ago that we’d get so much attention from the press. They’ve realised that pop sells papers and it’s done us a lot of good…”
The interview is over and George goes back to the poolside to catch some evening rays and think about the new LP.
“I was expecting it to be a very pop LP. But as it turns out, it’s a far more black-influenced record than the first one; we seem to be making a commercial soul LP. We’ve carried on the Motown and rock feel of ‘Wake Me Up’. We’ve got a track that sounds like a cross between Bruce Springsteen and The Ronettes and we’re doing an Isley cover. All the songs have a 60’s and 70’s feel to them; there’s nothing from the 80’s I’d like to imitate. It’s going to be a lot better than ‘Fantastic’. We want to reach a wider audience now, and that depends on good melodies and song structures with a good feel. We get that form the rhythm section. It’s definitely derivative but I don’t want to be original, I want to write good pop songs.”
George Michael – a young man who knows what he wants. No wonder he’s so easy to dislike.
- An Audience with George Michael: Interview with Chris Evans (1996)
- George Michael: Artist or Airhead? (Musician, 1988)
- George Michael Interview on Q Magazine (June 1988)
- ‘Souled Out: George Michael’ Published in Interview Magazine (1988)
- Last Wham! Interview: No. 1 Magazine (1986)