The article “Michael in the Mirror: Singer Molds New Image to Gain Some R-E-S-P-E-C-T’ was written by Jon Bowenmaster for The Atlanta Constitution published on October 15, 1988.
George Michael sits, staring at his own reflection in the silver tip on the toe of his boot He is looking deeply into his own eyes, for what he will not say. Is he measuring the look of his affected, two-day stubble? Checking for bits of room service muffin that might be lodged in his all-too-perfect pearly whites? Or is he just gazing into his own azure eyes? No, I think he’s just taking in, like the rest of the pop-music-loving world these days, the new George Michael (nee Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou). What he sees is a respectable singer-songwriter, no longer just a silly Wham!ster.
Gone from his career is childhood buddy Andrew Ridgely. So are the hot pants, golden mane and Tanfastic that made him into an international teen idol in the early ’80s. They have been replaced by a solo album (“Faith”) that has sold 20 million copies worldwide and produced sold-out dates at stadiums around the world. But best of all, as far as Mr. Michael’s concerned, he’s getting favorable reviews from a press that dismissed him during the Wham! era as just another pretty face.
His North American tour — which began in Washington, D.C., on Aug 6 and brings him to Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium Thursday, Oct 20 — got off to a rousing start, including three sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden, where he proved that, while millions of baby boomers may have helped turn “Faith” into a multiplatinum success, his most ardent fans are still gape-mouthed and miniskirted teenage girls. They “ooh!” and “aah!” his every onstage thrust and pout requiring even the star to ask for a little temperance from his audience during his ballads. The shows are essentially a rundown of “Faith” including its four No. 1 singles accompanied by a couple of “Wham!” hits and covers (such as the most appropriate “Shake That Funky Music, White Boy” and LaBelle’s “Lady Marmalade”).
All are delivered under precise, computer-driven lasers. His band takes a back seat clothed in darkness most of the show, while Mr. Michael sprints from side to side across the stage.
The morning prior to the Garden shows, he’s all business the business of convincing people, through words and music, that he is a consummate musician to be reckoned with. “I’m waiting for the day when I’ll be forgiven for being half of Wham!” the duo that made him a world-famous sex symbol.
“I’ve always resented that image of me, now I just want to say, ‘Hey, give me a break,’ listen to this album. But it’s not an image I can change just by doing a bunch of promotion or saying ‘it’s an album I’ve worked a year on and am very proud of.’ I’m not going to let this opportunity pass me by and let people’s prejudices keep on running. So here I am.”
He claims he is not bitter about the bad rap given, him during the string of Wham! hits (the group sold more ‘ than 38 million records, making him a very rich 25-year-old. In fact in a perverse way, he is enjoying this rebirthing process, under way since “Faith” was released nearly a year ago.
The tour has allowed him to spread his new image like melted butter around the globe. But it also brought – about the demise of his yearlong relationship with Los Angeles deejay Kathy Jeung (her thigh can be seen to great advantage in his “I Want Your Sex” video).
Seen in the Wham! videos and concerts as a happy-go-lucky, naive young Brit Mr. Michael managed to remain relatively private during those boom days. Still, the tabloids in his home country had a heyday speculating about his love-life, his sexuality, even his brains.
Now he says he’s ready to let people get to know “the real George Michael”
“I didn’t let people know much about me when I was perceived as all teeth and earrings we were selling loads of records and it didn’t really seem there was going to be any problem.”
His former partner, Mr. Ridgely, recently told the British press that “no one will ever know any more about George Michael than they probably do about the next man’ on the street But nowadays, he’s letting his character come out a lot more in his music. Wham! was very much a created, artificial image and George’s image is a lot closer to what he actually is as a person.”
Despite almost patently disclaiming those Wham! years, Mr. Michael does allow that they gave him a good jumping-off point for “starting over.” “It’s one thing to have to fight for your credibility from a position of success. It’s another to have to fight for both credibility and success from nowhere. So I don’t find this a difficult position at all.”
“Faith,” heralded by the controversial “I Want Your Sex” single previewed on the “Beverly Hills Cop IT soundtrack, is a mature mix of dance, rock, torch songs, even skiffle. The LP is more confessional and boldly sexual, more Prince than Wham! Its songs range from rock ‘n’ roll through a ’40s jazz ballad to a Percy Sledge-style ballad.
“I knew this album would be a shock or a surprise to people in this country,” he says.
“The uptempo side of the new music is more overtly sexual, more black,” says Mr. Michael who had a No. 1 song in his duet with Aretha Franklin, “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me).” And “Faith” is the first album by a white solo artist to reach No. 1 on Billboard magazine’s black music charts.
Mr. Michael is now getting the respect he’s hungered for all his life. As a child, he was certain he would be a “pop star” and never considered another career, growing up the son of a Greek-Cypriot restaurateur and an English mother in suburban London.
He and Mr. Ridgely (who met when they were 11) demonstrated dance routines in discos, busked in the subways, made demo tapes with a four-track tape recorder and a microphone attached to a broom handle and debuted Wham! in 1982. Five years of best-selling records, sold-out tours and screaming teenagers followed. They performed together for the last time at Wembley Stadium June, 1986, and split up six months later.
Mr. Ridgely lives in Monaco and races cars. Mr. Michael splits his time between exclusive Kensington and the Riveria — and makes music.
Like many musicians, Mr. Michael enjoys the process of making the music more than promoting or touring. Ironically, it’s making the videos, the medium that turned him into a “sex symbol to thousands of virgins,” that he dislikes most “I don’t know what came over me,” he says today of those bouncy, lovestruck Wham! videos. (Who can forget “Wham! goes to China”?)
“It was being 19 years old and suddenly having loads of girls after you, having everybody say you’re a star,’ says the man one critic dubbed God’s gift to MTV. “When you’re young and have wanted to do something for that long, it’s very hard not to be seduced by it Now, I swear, if I never have to stand in front of a camera again, I’d be happy.”
As for life on the road, it’s the “living with that public persona 24 hours a day” that he doesn’t like. But he admits he loves being onstage. ‘There is no better feeling in the world. I often think it would be hard to decide which I’d give up first walking on stage in front of tens of thousands of people who have been waiting for me, or sex.”
The young star is taking the success of “Faith” (he has now written, produced and performed more No. 1 hits — six — than any other performer in the ’80s) with ease.
“The one thing that frightened me when I was making this album was that people expected me to move into a . middle-of-the-road bracket right away. They expected that two years ago after Wham! broke up, and for a 22-year-old, that was really frightening. So I wanted the album to be more representative of what I am.”
He folds his big, surprisingly rugged hands on one knee and goes back to staring at the toe of his boot I ask him what he sees, and he responds evasively. “At 25, 1 still need challenges, apart from the main challenge of just writing better music. Being successful has to be something you earn, and my challenge now is to have my music heard above people’s perceptions of me. So this is a new beginning, this is a new me.”
George Michael. 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 20. (Date changed from Oct. 21.) Opening act is the Bangles. $22.50. Tickets at SEATS outlets. Call 577-9600 to charge. Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, 521 Capitol Ave. S.W.
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- An Audience with George Michael: Interview with Chris Evans (1996)