Interview with a 21-year old George Michael of Wham! by Dennis Hunt for The Los Angeles Times. Syndicated and published by Sunday News (Wisconsin) on November 25, 1984.
Bad boy George Michael of the English duo Wham! makes a lousy first impression.
He’s arrogant, aloof, condescending attitude grates on you instantly. It almost bowls you over. But you somewhat expect it.
After all here this 21-year-old singer-songwriter who’s suddenly thrust into fame. And this isn’t a case of run-of-the-mill popularity. It’s bona fide idolatry. Millions of teenage girls squeal and swoon at the sight of him.
The Top five single “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go — a peppy frothy dance tune — is responsible for his sudden celebrity. He and his partner guitarist, Andrew Ridgeley also 21, sing pop peppered with soul reflecting a fervor for black music dating back to their boyhood in Watford, a working-class suburb of north London.
They were recently in town hyping their second Columbia Records – album “Make It Big ‘ — produced, arranged and mostly written by Michael.
American teenagers just discovered this duo. But Wham, with three No. I singles, has been wowing ‘ young English fans all year, battling with the oddball group, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, for English pop supremacy.
The other afternoon Michael stood in front of the Polo Lounge waiting to go in for a luncheon interview. He was still peeved at having to submit to a brief photo session that was sprung on him at the last moment.
His opening line wasn’t exactly dripping with goodwill. “Well let’s get this over with.”
We went in, sat down and ordered lunch. Michael was in luck. He could eat in peace because the Polo Lounge’s afternoon clientele usually doesn’t include teenaged girls. His manner was chilly. It was possible that the interview would collapse before the shrimp cocktail arrived. But it didn’t.
When the food arrived he was lodging a complaint that many people don’t take Wham! seriously.
“I can write very good pop songs, “Michael insisted, “I’m a capable musician. So is Andrew. But some people don’t think we’re much.”
Every teen idol has the same gripe. Legions of panting fans and huge record sales aren’t enough. Teen idols want respect. In music business circles, they’re the lower class. Their music is considered juvenile and exploitive.
What’s more teen idols are short on longevity. Their young fans are notoriously fickle. Passions flame out as quickly as they flame up.
“The papers say young girls are the only people who buy our records,” Michael observed. “They like to think we have a short life span like the other groups that have just a teen following. But we have a wider audience than that.”
According to Michael, female teens aren’t the only object of his writing. “People who accuse me of doing that just don’t know what they’re talking about. I’m writing for my own age group but they’re put off by all these screaming young girls who like us. It’s really a shame. That’s not a good reason not to listen to our music.”
Despite some reservations, Michael isn’t ready to relinquish his teen star status just yet.
“You take every advantage and play on it,” he said. “It’s so hard getting started in this business. I’m a writer; I want people to hear my music. This appeal to young girls is important to us now.”
As he discussed his music and Wham’s career, enthusiasm crept into his voice. There was a slight thaw in his attitude.
Discussing Wham’s sexual appeal to young girls struck a nerve in Michael. He became sheepish, occasionally flashing an embarrassed smile.
“I don’t take it too seriously,” he said. “But I do have to deal with it.”
Despite appearances, Michael claimed bis ego hasn’t been affected by his glamour-boy image. “I’ve always found the idea of girts screaming over me to be vaguely ridiculous,” he said.
“There’s no way I’m going to let this go to my head and make me think I’m gorgeous. I’m presentable; I’m not ugly. I see people all the time who are better looking than I am. I see people who make fools of themselves because they believe all the praise about their looks.”
“You have to be vain to enjoy this kind of thing. I’ve never been vain. But Andrew has always been vain. He s different from me in that respect.”
Michael, trying desperately to sound modest, revealed something that had to be ego-boosting. “There was a poll taken by this large Sunday paper back home (in London) to decide who’s the most beautiful pop star in London. I won. Silly, huh.”
He looked cheerful. He was trying to be friendly. What happened to Michael the ogre? That, he confessed, wasn’t the real Michael.
“I put on a hard front,” he said. “I have to. I want to make sure nobody walks on us. If you let people think they can walk all over you, they will. If they ’re not sure they can walk on you, they won’t try it. So I come off tough. I don’t like doing it. It makes people think I’m difficult. I’m not really.”
“I do it because we came into this business so young. We were 18. We’ve only been in the business on a serious level since March 1982 … Sometimes we didn’t know what to do. We managed ourselves at first. We were leery of everybody We didn’t want to be stepped on. After a while we had a reputation for being tough, for being people you couldn’t step on.”
What’s under that tough-guy exterior? “I’m perfectly shy,” he replied. “When people are around me long enough and talk to me long enough, they can see that.”
Michael also admitted that he’s a cynic. “That’s what happens when you start so young. It’s strange having to grow up so fast and do it in public. You have to be cynical. It’s another defense.
“If I acted like this shy person, this nice young kid, this innocent idealist who liked everybody and believed what everybody told him, I’d be slaughtered. I wish it wasn’t that way but it is. So I have to hide the real me sometimes; it’s for survival.”
- Last Wham! Interview: No. 1 Magazine (1986)
- George Michael Interview with Capital FM Radio with Dr. Fox (Dec 1998)
- Andrew Ridgeley on Life With and After Wham! (Hello!, 1997)
- An Audience with George Michael: Interview with Chris Evans (1996)
- Wham! You’re On Your Own, George (Sunday Times, 1986)