Here’s the interview of George Michael with John Norris of MTV on November 1998. The interview was to promote the release of Ladies and Gentleman: The Best of George Michael album and to premiere the video of his song ‘Outside.”
Click on the video to watch (ignore the “broken image” thumbnail)
How are you doing, everybody? I’m John Norris. Welcome to everyone here and welcome to you at home and welcome to George Michael TV where for the next half hour we’re going to be joined live here in the MTV studios by the man himself. He’s got a new greatest hits album on the way next week, a terrific new video I promise you don’t want to miss this one. It’s going to be premiering just a little bit later on in the show. He’s going to be taking questions from these guys here in the studio but before we get to any of that, please welcome with me one of the great pop singer-songwriters of certainly the past two decades, George Michael.
Welcome! Welcome back again.
GM: Good to see you welcome to you I was gonna say …
JM: It’s been, I guess you’d have to say an interesting six months.
GM: Uh, yeah, very interesting. Very interesting.
JM: Well we obviously have a lot to talk about, not only about that about the new record, the video certainly which is coming up. Before we get to any of that, not only an interesting six months but I think in a sense an interesting 15 years plus for this guy.
Right now, before we get to anything, a quick look at how we got where we are today.
[SHOWS VIDEO CLIP]
Let’s suppose for a minute that you’re part of one of the biggest teen pop acts of the early 1980s whose success owes as much to well-crafted pop songs as it does to teenybopper sex appeal. And yet your love life, and even your preference, is something of a mystery.
You break free of your squeaky-clean image with a smash hit solo debut. However, its racy lyrics and even racier video comes at a time when AIDS hysteria has the world in its grip.
[GM: This song is not about casual sex]
Your multi-platinum success puts you exactly where you want to be — in the pop stratosphere alongside the likes of Madonna.
[Madonna: Ladies and gentlemen, the diva himself, George Michael]
Only problem is once you get there, you decide this superstardom thing is not all it’s cracked up to be. So you put out a more personal and ultimately less commercial record, decide your record company’s not handling it properly or supporting you as a maturing artist. You barely tour, refused to do interviews, promotion or appear in videos.
And then you get the big idea to sue your label to get you out of your contract. The resulting court case keeps you off the music scene for five years. After losing the case, Dreamworks and Virgin Records team up for a mega expensive buy-out of your old contract.
Finally, you’re able to record again and you release a somber and lyrically genderless album dedicated to the memory of a close male friend, reigniting long-standing rumors about your sexuality.
[GM: And I have no absolutely no problem with people speculating about my sexuality: is he gay, is he straight. I have a real problem with people who think the hope that somehow it’s strange that they’re not given the answer. People are angry that the questions aren’t answered. And it’s like, piss off, this is my life!]
Although the album is a huge international success, it is inexplicably a commercial disappointment stateside. Then after a year out of the limelight, you burst back onto the world’s headlines in a most unplanned and inauspicious way.
JM: Oh yes, you gotta love this New York Post headline.
GM: Absolutely! They’re quite tame, the New York Post is like you know it’s like Roget Thesaurus compared to English tabloids
JM: Exactly, exactly. So first a very basic question April 7th
GM: 6th, six
JM: I’m sorry!
JM: April 6: what was going on that led to the arrest? What was going on in Rogers Park?
GM: What was going on that led to it? I have no idea because I went there and it was all over in [waves hand] done within about 2 minutes. What was going on beforehand was a couple of glasses of wine at lunch but nothing spectacular was happening before
JM: The cop came in and ..
GM: Well, I got followed into the restroom and then this cop — I didn’t know he was a cop obviously. He started playing this game which I kinda think is called, ‘I’ll show you mine, you show me yours, and then when you show me yours I’m going to nick you.’ That’s basically it. ‘Nick’ in English is kinda like, ‘I shall arrest you.’ So that’s basically what happened.
Actually what happened was that once he got an eyeful, he walked past me — went straight past me and out. I thought, ‘That’s kind of odd.’ I thought maybe he just wasn’t impressed. And I went to walk to my car, and as I got back to the car, I was arrested on the street.
JM: You said this is not the first time you were necessarily in a situation like this.
GM: I’m not .. not necessarily as stupid a situation as that. I’m saying it’s not the first time that I have … had fun outside of my own four walls, put it that way, or anyone’s four walls.
JM: Exactly. As the video you’ll see again it kinda alludes to. But I guess the question that … it was on sort of everybody’s immediate reaction, many people I know anyways, I mean this is George. This is George Michael, right? He can probably have it wherever, whenever with to a large extent whoever he wanted, you know. Why? Why be in that kind of a situation?
GM: Well I, you know … To be honest with you I probably could have had … What can I tell you? It was stupid. It was a stupid thing to do. I’ve never been able to turn down a free meal [LAUGHTER], and really there’s nothing more to it than that. It was a moment, it was a moment … It was a stupid thing to do — a stupid moment. And I guess the risk was part of the excitement. I certainly had no clue. People have said things to me like ‘Surely, you knew…’ or ‘How could you possibly have been so stupid?’ But, I’m sorry — the fact is there was absolutely no one else in the vicinity — whatever the police arrest report says. There was no one else in the vicinity. There was just me — well actually, it was two undercover cops, only I couldn’t see one of them — two undercover cops and a randy pop star, you know what I am saying. There was no one there. If someone’s waving their genitalia at you, you don’t automatically assume they’re an officer of the law. Excuse me, am I anywhere near the library?
JM: A randy popstar, however, who was, and is, in a relationship. So I have to ask you …
GM: That to me was the crime. That is the only crime as far as I’m concerned. Because I wasn’t being exhibitionist. I thought I was having some kind of consensual encounter. There’s no way that I would have thought I was being set up that way. So, yes, it was stupid, but it wasn’t inconceivable. Of course, everyone thinks that rock stars have such a glamorous life and such a glamorous sex life so why would they possibly want anything as seedy as a quick situation like that, and I would say that’s probably why.
JM; But as I was saying, you didn’t break up? You didn’t break up your relationship; you guys are still together.
GM: No, no, no. Apart from anything else … even though .. I’m not saying that I have an open relationship with my boyfriend, but he knows who I am. He knows that I’m generally oversexed so …
GM: He’s been very, very good and he’s the only…
JM: He gets the same latitude I take it if that’s …
GM: No, no, no .. it’s just .. We love each other, and he understands that it was a stupid mistake, and he’s forgiven me — I hope.
JM: Cool. Well, you guys are gonna see in a few minutes what he’s managed to do with this incident. Make the best of it; it’s terrific. Also, of course, these guys have plenty of questions. We’re gonna open up the floor for those questions and as I mentioned right after the break.
Finally the premiere of the video that so many people are talking about. George Michael’s ‘Outside’ right after this. Stick around.
JM: Yes, some classic video images from George Michael. Welcome back to George Michael TV. we’ve got some more soon-to-be classic video images right now because the wait is over for you guys. Here it is, for the first time in the good ol US of A, I think without whom this video probably wouldn’t exist.
GM: Absolutely not! Thank you, America!
JM: Here it is the premiere of George Michael’s ‘Outside.’ Enjoy
JM: Alright. Amazing! [indistinguishable]
GM: Actually some of them are cuter than that
JM: Some of you guys have done it outside, right? I mean, I’m sure, right? Anyway, we should mention that was not the actual park where the arrest happened.
GM: “No, no, no, no, no… ‘cos I’m not allowed to go back there. That was my dream actually — that we would redo it in the same park. And the police, as is the normal behavior in Hollywood, would have to cordon off the street. That was my thing, but it wasn’t to happen.”
JM: “Outside” is not getting a ton of radio airplay in America.
GM: I have to be honest. Outside of the States, it’s the fastest record I’ve had at radio since Wham! which gives you some idea of how popular it is, okay. And over here for some strange reason, nobody is playing it. I’ve had absolutely no problem anywhere else but here in the States.
JM: Yeah what could it be? What do you think? What other fallout have you seen since this thing here in the States?
GM: Well, actually, quite a lot. Quite a surprising amount. I’ve had absolutely no problem anywhere else but here in the States I’ve had … well, the main problem being it’s not on the radio. But other problems I’ve had… I recorded a track with Mary J. Blige, which is on the international version of my greatest hits album. It’s a fantastic recording of an old Stevie Wonder song called ‘As’ from The Songs in the Key of Life album. And the president of Mary J.’s record company here in the States, a Mr. Jay Boberg — and I’ll spell that for you — B-O-B-E-R-G. Any fan that wants to know why they haven’t got the track that I’ve sung with Mary J. Blige on the greatest hits album should write to Mr. Boberg and ask him what his problem with George Michael is. We’ve heard some fairly wimpy excuses, but basically, it was taken off after the arrest. You know, that was basically the thing.
JM: Ok, well if lucky New Yorkers we have import record shops so we can go get the UK copyright and get that track. Anyway, we do have some audience questions, not to cut you off but go ahead
Girl in Audience: Hi George. My name is Sumi. To me the video is great. I love it. But I was wondering won’t certain people think that you’re not sorry for what you did.
GM: I’m only sorry in regards to my partner, in reality. I’m sorry for the embarrassment it might have caused fans, but the truth about that is that I didn’t present my sex life to them, you know.
And if the truth be known, I am not at all … well, I’d say I was to understate the fact to say that I don’t think it was an accident. I don’t think it was by chance that this happened to me. We have some fairly vicious people in the country where I come from and they work in a certain street in London. And I think that might have had something to do with it. To be honest, when I did the CNN interview, I was convinced that the reason I didn’t go into any detail about the arrest was because I was convinced that I was not going to be charged because there was an obvious … Let’s say there was a little more cooperation than you would expect between the police and the paparazzi. And I thought the suspicions around that would actually mean that the charges would be dropped, apart from the fact that the actual arrest itself was illegal because entrapment is illegal. But at the time, I didn’t know what was going to happen with the case. So now, I mean having been given twice the probation people normally get, given my fine which normally if you pay your fine you don’t do community service. But I am doing community service which is yet to be arranged but I will do and I have no problem doing it
JM: Have you done the community service?
GM: I’ve kind of started and I’ve got more to do with it with a group called Project Angel Food in Los Angeles, who I already do work with and .. So I have no problem with that, no problem with some, you know, I was going to say hands-on charity work [laughter]
JM: You have to be careful now you see, very careful ..
GM: Everything I say could be taken the wrong way, exactly. I really didn’t think I was going to get charged, but I have been. And you know, I just thought really that the video, although I’m sorry for any embarrassment it may have caused, I think that there were more important issues to deal with and there are about people’s rights and the behavior of the police, etc. etc. etc. so I didn’t. It wasn’t really a major consideration my, my repentance was not really high on the list of priorities.
JM: They’re giving me the wraps sign. We’re gonna go to another break. Obviously, these guys have a lot more to ask George, as do I, so we’re gonna be back with more George Michael TV. Stick around, please right after this.
JM: That, of course, is ‘Fast Love,’ one of the many tunes you’ll find on George Michaels new best of collection. That record arrives in stores Tuesday – minus one track as we mentioned before. Yes, all right time running short, back to the audience right now for more questions. What’s up?
Man in audience: Hi George, my name is Damian and my question is if this hadn’t happened to you would you ever have uh outed yourself?
GM: In all honesty, I really thought to my fans, I thought I had outed myself with the last album. It wouldn’t seem that way in America because in America there hasn’t been that much publicity about me in the last seven or eight years because I just haven’t been here or been on TV. Actually, there’s been a lot of publicity about my sexuality over the years in Europe. And my ex-partner’s death was reported very widely. When I dedicated the album to him and wrote the album for him, I felt like I was coming out to my fans and you know, I didn’t really care about people who weren’t interested in my music. So, I certainly wasn’t going to go to Fleet Street and say, ‘Yes, I’m gay.’ The main point is that I outed myself in my life about eight or nine years ago. I’ve been out with everyone in my life, even casual acquaintances like family and friends. Anyone who’s met me within that time has known I’m gay, just not the press. Really, this doesn’t feel like an outing — this is just a public outing. Any gay person who comes out realizes the tough bit is your friends and family, and that was the great thing. It was a great liberating thing, and I did it a long time ago so this really… I don’t know if I would have come out to the press. They would have got me some way or another. This is how it ended up because I wouldn’t give it to them.
JM: Another question?
Man in audience: Hi George, I’m Jason. Did working on your new songs get you excited about your next full album?
GM: Well, to be honest with you, I think my next full album … I’m kind of at a crossroads. I think the greatest hits is exactly at the right time because I feel like I have to move off in another direction now. I’m excited about the fact that because .. probably because of the trouble I’ve gone through in the last five or six years and the bereavements that I’ve dealt with — my mother last year and my partner five years ago — that I’m really sick of writing about being miserable. It doesn’t seem to stop it from happening again for a start. So even though it’s cathartic, I always feel like I’m bringing more on. So I think the next album will be a pop album. It will be an uptempo album. And I’m looking forward to that. But outside of that I’ve no idea of what it will be right now so I can’t really get excited about it.
JM: Great! Well, they gave me the wrap sign okay quickly a half hour flies.
GM: I know, especially with all these commercials.
JM: Exactly! Something else, something else for him to love about America! Exactly! Anyway good to see you as always. Thanks so much for doing this. Thank you guys, too.
George Michael: Ladies and Gentlemen The Best Of flies in stores next week on Sony Records. Back with Sony believe it or not just this one album. Thank you very much!
- George Michael Interview with Capital FM Radio with Dr. Fox (Dec 1998)
- George Michael’s Interview with the Gay Magazine ‘The Advocate’ (1999)
- An Audience with George Michael: Interview with Chris Evans (1996)
- Desert Island Discs: George Michael Interview (2007)
- Q Magazine: George Michael The Only Interview (December 1998)