This George Michael interview “Michael’s New Muse: The Singer Takes Pride in Prejudice” was written by Edna Gundersen for USA Today and published on September 11, 1990.
Only three years ago, with a stunning solo debut album called Faith, George Michael shed the bubblegum image that stuck after Wham!’s success.
Having secured global fame as a respected pop icon, he’s now wriggling out of his superstar skin to expose the third George Michael. “I believe I have some kind of gift, but I don’t believe in myself as a star,” says Michael, 27, poolside at his manager’s Encino home. Deeply tanned and barefoot, he wears a tank top, black shorts, a Lakers cap and one gold earring. He sips ice water under the full sun of a 90-degree afternoon, as two Labradors vie for attention.
“To be happy as a star,” he continues, “you have to believe you’re really removed from people. I’ve never been comfortable with that. I know that deep down I’m the same as everyone else.” As starspeak goes, this is a party line many tend to dismiss as calculated humility. But Michael’s retreat from pop’s starmaking machinery is plainly evident on several levels.
Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1, out today, abandons the dance floor for soul-baring regret about romantic loss and career strategies. On Freedom 90, an address to fans, he sings, “When you shake your ass/They notice fast/And some mistakes were built to last.” The cover depicts a 1940 crowded beach scene, not the coiffed and stubbled singer.
Once MTV’s favorite fixture, Michael declined to make a video for Praying for Time, No. 18 in Billboard this week. With his consent, Columbia instead released a stark video of the lyrics. He’ll make a video for the next single, Freedom 90, but won’t appear in it.
He rarely poses for photos. This peacock is folding up his feathers. “The person I was four or five years ago was perfectly happy to stand in front of the camera all day,” he says. “Now it makes me so miserable. I’ve never been happy with the way I looked. Maybe I needed physical adulation to make up for things I didn’t see in myself…. I realize it’s not everything to be attractive.”
The grueling 10-month Faith tour took Michael to the brink of a breakdown and prompted a re-evaluation of priorities. A homebody who enjoys walking his dog and playing squash, Michael has decided against touring. Instead he’ll stick close to his London home and return to the studio to record Prejudice’s second volume, out in late 1991.
During a brief U.S. visit, he’s granted only three print interviews – to explain this abrupt reversal to his fans. “About halfway through the Faith tour, I realized I was very unhappy with my position,” he says. “I’d set my sights on American superstardom and getting up there with Michael Jackson and Madonna and Prince, simply because my ego and my ambition needed a new challenge. Once I was getting into that bracket – I was on the third or fourth No. 1 hit – I realized I didn’t want to be there. There was financial reward, but no spiritual reward. I had to step back from promotion and selling and place the emphasis on songwriting.
“For the first time, I recorded the exact album I wanted to make without thinking of the market,” he says of Prejudice. “There were compromises on the earlier albums that I haven’t made this time. There was no strategy in this, whereas there was a lot of strategy involved in maneuvering myself between Wham! and Faith.”
Believers will applaud what appears to be his sincere reform. Skeptics might wonder whether this anti-promotional turnaround isn’t just Phase Three of Michael’s amazing image salesmanship. The current recoil is an industry rarity, a commercial risk and a surprising answer to 1987’s Grammy-winning Faith, which topped pop and black charts, sold 14 million copies, spawned a record six top-five hits and established Michael as a consummate rock star.
“I realized I didn’t believe in that person,” he says. “The only thing I had of any value was my songwriting and my ability to sing those songs. I was doing the wrong job.”
Despite his aversion to the camera, he may accept future film offers, though he rejected starring roles when studios courted him three years ago. “Everyone wanted me to play a sexy rock star or playboy,” he says. “I would never be interested in playing the same character I’ve essentially been acting for seven or eight years. When I get older, when the public’s vision of me as a person is a lot more blurred, and if there is no pressure to be a sex symbol, I’d consider it.” For now, Michael is portraying himself.
Raised by a Greek immigrant father and English mother, the pudgy youngster’s insecurities fed his craving for stardom. It was realized in his rapid rise to fame with Wham! partner Andrew Ridgeley, who by his own admission became a lazy drunk as Michael blossomed into a songwriter and sharp market strategist.
Bare, Tony Parsons’ authorized biography (available in Europe with U.S. publication planned in 1991) details personal ups and downs of Michael’s career: the drinking and debauchery on Wham!’s first tour and romances both recreational (aggressive groupies) and meaningful (makeup artist Kathy Jeung, co-star in the I Want Your Sex video).
The anguish of soured affairs emerges on Prejudice. “Some of the songs are about very desperate moments. It’s definitely been a catharsis. When I look at the lyrics of the last album I can’t believe how much I wrote about sex.”
While Bare reveals his heterosexual exploits, Michael never pointedly denies tabloid reports that he’s gay, a media fixation he finds baffling and prefers to leave unanswered. “I could sit here and say, ‘I am a red-blooded male and you’ll never catch me in bed with Arnold Schwarzenegger,’ but ultimately you don’t know anything about anyone’s sexuality unless you’re with them in the bedroom. “Denials would be cheap and shallow and would lead to the impression that I thought it was an accusation. Almost everyone in my position has been the object of speculation about being gay, but maybe they don’t let it run. My pride forces me to let it run.”
Michael has been romantically uninvolved for nearly two years – “the happiest time I’ve spent since I was 17 or 18.” He enjoyed but never embraced the rock lifestyle’s revolving door of sexual favors. “I’m quite monogamous,” he says. “I couldn’t say I’m celibate outside a relationship, but I’ve been faithful in relationships; that’s in my character. “I’m not very good at relationships. I’m quite self-destructive in a way and that’s caused a lot of pain. I’ve changed as a person, so maybe I’ll approach the next relationship differently. I’ve had a couple of pretty disastrous ones.
“You don’t necessarily fall for people you want to or who are good for you.” He’s not ready for marriage or fatherhood. “I don’t think marriage holds people together. To have a child must be the most wonderful experience, and it should not be gone into lightly. Right now, I still have so many other goals. I’m content in my work.”
- George Michael Interview with Capital FM Radio with Dr. Fox (Dec 1998)
- BBC Hardtalk Interview with George Michael (2003)
- George Michael: The Reluctant Pop Star (Calendar Magazine, Sept 1990)
- George Michael: The Long Goodbye (US Weekly, 1991)
- ‘Souled Out: George Michael’ Published in Interview Magazine (1988)