Part 2 of the interview between George Michael and journalist Mark Goodier in Spring 2010. This was from a booklet that was included in the Faith: Legacy Edition release (deluxe box version).
MG: What it seems to say is that, before anybody else knows your audience, you know your audience.
GM: I suppose, as a writer, but then I had complete confidence. At that early stage what you’re trying to do is constantly win new fans. You’re constantly trying to write for different groups of people. It wasn’t about marketing, it was simply the fact that I was like a kid in a sweet shop. I could do any period I wanted, any style I wanted and I’d get a hearing. Not that people would buy everything but however good or bad it was, at that point in time, it would get a hearing and be played on the radio. It was still the era where we expected more of records and we were allowed to do different things and you could have incredibly unusual sounding records going to Number One. We were still in the period were you could leap about, so it was the freest time in my writing. There was also the freedom of someone who had only been writing for a certain amount of time and was still constantly referring to their influences and deciding what they can do
MG: And your influences were so broad as well.
GM: Exactly. Most of what’s huge about my career is completely coincidental. It’s just luck of the draw that the music I love means I don’t have to compromise in any way to make successful records. It’s not like I don’t love records that aren’t symmetrical and poppy — I grew up listening to Joy Division — but I always knew that wasn’t what I was supposed to do, that wasn’t where my talent was. I remember sitting in Andrew Ridgeley’s bedroom when we were kids and hearing the Human League’s ‘Don’t You Want Me’, and it wasn’t that I loved it, because I much preferred ‘Love Action’, but I said, “This is going to be f****** massive.” And at the time no one would have believed the Human League would have a number one in America. This was when we were still at school and I remember being in awe of the perfection of it — the commercial perfection of it; it could not fail. But it wasn’t cheesy … Maybe it was a bit cheesy, but it was still a cool record. I just knew that they’d made this perfect commercial record and I knew which influences responded with what I could do.
MG: And you were absolutely sure that you could use those influences to deliver a song you’d written.
GM: I don’t think I knew it. I certainly didn’t understand. What I really didn’t understand at that stage was how much success I was going to have in America in the black community. I hadn’t got to the point where I really understood that. You seem to hit a middle ground that convinces both sides, and it’s completely natural. Also, if you could make a pop record and an R&B record, in that period of time especially, you were on to a winner. And that was just what I did: if I made a pop record it was always going to have a bit of R&B in it, because that’s naturally what I do.
MG: We’ve forgotten how controversial ‘I Want Your Sex’ was at the time.
GM: There’s nothing gratuitous in the lyric is there!
MG: It’s a very positive lyrics in every sense.
GM: The fact is, I was trying to be funny when I said, ‘Sex is natural, sex is good, not everybody does it but everybody should.’
MG: Was it surprising at the time, that radio was scared of it?
GM: Well, in one sense I must have been going for that. When you think about it, it’s post- Frankie Goes to Hollywood, so I knew you could have a massive record without the BBC playing it. And independent radio was exploding at that time, so you could lose the BBC and still have a huge audience. I’m sure I was going for that. For somebody who had made Wham! records it was controversial, but actually it wasn’t that controversial at all. It’s not a particularly brave lyric. It’s very knowing, I think, in the fact that it’s the only strategic record I ever made. That said, I’ve never liked it very much. I love ‘Part 2’, but ‘Part 1. You know why I don’t like it? Because I was so enamoured with Prince at the time, and it shows on that record so much. I thought it was really naff to be so enamoured with one of your peers.
MG: The stats on FAITH are remarkable. You mentioned Prince and you mentioned Michael Jackson and I may be wrong about this, but I’m sensing that you admired them and saw them as competitors. This record actually surpassed them.
GM: I absolutely wanted to be in the same stratosphere as them, definitely. I’d gone from, a couple of years before, being perfectly happy with being on Top of the Pops, to thinking, “I can do what Michael Jackson can do.” I mean, he’d just done Thriller for fucks sake! I wouldn’t have the guts now. I wanted to be in that vein but, mostly, I wanted to make music as good as theirs. It didn’t occur to me what I was doing in terms of image. I was perfectly aware that Wham!, even though half the time I thought it was disastrous image-wise, I was perfectly aware that, accidentally, it just brilliant for us. The naivety of it, the 80s-ness of it all. I had been very clueless and kind of copied Andrew, any in a strange way I don’t think I noticed that I was suddenly less clueless. Within the period of recording FAITH I fell in love for the very first time. That’s why that record was all about sex. I knew I was gay, gay, gay, because I knew that it was my heart. I didn’t realize that people would look at the FAITH image and go, “Fuck, that’s cool!’ And, actually, it was very close to what I was wearing then. I was really overwhelmed, so I lived in sunglasses. I couldn’t make eye contact with people, it was bizarre. I think it’s a perfect example of how ill-suited I am to the job.
MG: You only realized that when you got there?
GM: It never occurred to me. You have to understand that when I was making these decisions early on …. for instance, it’s really sad but still, whenever people talk about my “closeted-ness” they still talk like, “Oh, the record company must have pressured you,” and this and that, which are all feeble reasons as far as I’m concerned. I was closeted because I was trying to protect my mother from the total fear of HIV that I had. I knew how it felt, and I knew that our minds were alike like that so I knew she would worry every day.
MG: If it worried you, you knew it would worry her.
GM: I knew that, feeling she had no control over it, she would be terrified. Now she’s dead it’s very easy for me to think, ‘Well I’d do it all again, if it protected her’, but she would have hated that. She would have thought it was absolutely worth it if it meant I had my freedom. I never ever let her understand that, because she would have been devastated by the idea that I protected her more than myself.
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- Desert Island Discs: George Michael Interview (2007)
- George Michael in Q Magazine Interview (October 1990)
- George Michael: The Lone Star State Interview on Q Magazine (June 1988)