Interview of the Wham! boys George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley published in the Star Hits Holiday edition 1984. Written by Ian Birch.
George and Andrew think there’s a big difference between pop songs and con jobs, and that go-going to Number One has gotten rather complicated. Ian Birch is wide awake and scribbling.
Wham! are in a strange position. They’ve been staggeringly successful in their native England, selling just under two million singles. There’s even talk of an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records since George Michael is the first person to have both a group Number One (“Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”) and a solo Number One (“Careless Whisper”) in the same calendar year. And Wham! have just released their second U.S. album Make It Big, with the hope that their British chart success will repeat itself in the New World.
But in spite of all that, some people cannot bear them. They see their confidence and success as arrogance and naked commercialism. They think Wham! are cynical and self-centered, turning away from the social sting of early hits like “Wham! Rap” to the so-called fluffy pop of “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.” It’s high time to find out what George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley think about all this…
Do you set out to make Number One records or good records?
Andrew: Number One records are good records.
George: I would like every song I write to be a Number One. Our last two records sold more than we ever had before because they were very, very good pop records. A lot of people who don’t like us were even shaken a bit by “Careless Whisper.” They say, “We like that song but we don’t like Wham! So help, what can we say? Oh, let’s say what a great sax solo!” It’s as if I had nothing to do with it. It’s a great sax solo because I wrote it!
Have you got a long-term plan?
George: To be in the same league as the best bands in the world for some time to come.
Andrew: And enjoy it.
George: There’s no doubt that we’re incredibly ambitious. What must it feel like to be Michael Jackson? His album is in more homes than any other record in the world. That’s an achievement. As an artist, you want to reach as many people as possible.
What makes a great pop song?
George: A great pop song has something about it that will appeal to millions of people. There are different ways of doing that. You can do it in a crass way, or in an uplifting way like the way we do it.
Andrew: It should be some form of emotion in extreme. I’ll tell you why I think “Two Tribes” by Frankie Goes To Hollywood is so good. You get incredible energy, excitement and that really sad synthesizer bit in the middle. Two absolute extremes.
George: I like to have a line or two that make your ears cock up when you hear them on the radio. Like “guilty feet ain’t got no rhythm.” Or “drag me to hell and back.” How many people would put a word like “feet” in a love song? It’s hardly a romantic word.
Andrew: It’s more than that. It’s the imagery. A really brilliant lyric is one that doesn’t draw your attention away from the music but supports it. Like “a prisoner who has his own key.”
Does success have its drawbacks?
George: If you’re going to be successful, you’ve got to keep quiet about it. Because success does not go hand-in-hand with credibility. Look what’s happening to The Smiths now.
Andrew: It seems you should decry yourself. You know, say something like “this isn’t a worthy thing to do but I can’t help it!” I mean, Duran Duran have done the same thing as we have, but they don’t get the slagging now.
George: We’ve been so aggressive in our marketing that we took the spotlight off them (in England). And we did it with a grin, that annoyed the press even more. We’re helping Duran. Compared to us, they look like a serious band. Girls scream at them but they don’t ask for screams the way we do.
Does it worry you that you don’t have much “credibility”?
George: There’s a certain amount of credibility in selling a million records. When you’re selling that amount, why do you need people who don’t understand what you’re doing? Like the benefit we did recently for the striking miners. We were there to do people some good and all we got were insults. It’s so pathetic.
Andrew: Then we did Capital Radio’s Best Disco In Town which raises money for their charity – Help A London Child. The next day Capital Radio turned around and said we should do something for people other than ourselves.
George: We really can’t win. The reason we used backing tapes at the Miners’ Benefit is that when we play live it’s got to be our show. We don’t trust anybody else but our own sound crews. The fact that we were miming is irrelevant. Our band can play better than The Style Council’s.
Who is your competition?
George: I’d say at the moment there’s only really Duran Duran and Culture Club. There are other people but they’re peripheral. We’re the new circle of bands who are the equivalent of ’70s “scream bands” like The Osmonds, The Bay City Rollers and David Cassidy. Most of them were instruments for somebody else’s songs and made a lot of money, usually for other people. The new breed writes for itself, and of the new bunch, we’re the only ones who are totally unashamed about appealing to that market.
Do you think you rub people the wrong way?
George: It’s amazing how hugely irritating we are to a lot of people. The basic problem is that we make it look too easy. When we do something that seems arrogant we know we’ve got our tongues firmly in our cheeks but they don’t see that.
Andrew: It’s really the music press. They’re not sure what really good pop music is and therefore they attach all this importance and social relevance to music.
George: They’ve got no tolerance of anything they don’t appreciate. I still think that if a bunch of ugly bastards went up on stage and played “Wake Me Up” it’d still be a hit. What they don’t like is us consciously going after the young market. Whether you do that or not, you’re not allowed to be seen doing it. The press sees us as some kind of con. Where is the con, I’d like to know? Physically, there’s no con. If girls are attracted to us, so what? There’s no con with the music because that’s just plain pop.
What happened to the image you had around the time of “Bad Boys,” “Young Guns Go For It” and “Wham! Rap”?
George: As far as our image is concerned, that’s where the con was. We’re hardly young rebels, are we? We weren’t part of the Brixton riots, after all. The image was “we’re tough!” but we looked pathetic. I can’t believe the number of people that bought that image.
Andrew: The actual sentiment in “Wham! Rap” was true but it was also very tongue in cheek.
George: It was like the emperor’s new clothes. The music press really wanted something new to champion and they didn’t listen when we said we weren’t particularly working class.
What’s been the worst moment of career?
Andrew: The Tube (British pop music TV show). We refused to play live when we appeared because we’ve heard how bands sound on The Tube. I died for The Gap Band and Shannon when they were on. But go see them live and they’re great.
George: So we did it to backing tapes and they miscued the tape. If what had gone on TV had been as bad as what happened in the studio, we would have been made to look like idiots. Horrible.
Some people say you take a lot of your ideas from other famous songs.
George: People who write pop songs are nearly always people who have listened to the radio since they were kids. You have so many melodies running around in your head. Plus, there are no such thing as a new melody. Doesn’t matter what you write – there are only a certain amount of notes in scale and that combination is bound to be used in some way.
What does Andrew do in Wham!?
George: God, that question is so boring now. Why does it matter? It can’t be for any other reason than jealousy. If you’re making good records – and as far as we’re concerned we are – why does it matter?
Andrew: All people see is our videos and a few pictures in newspapers. They don’t realize about everything else that goes into making a career. Intangible things – nobody can define creativity. If you don’t have it, you can’t be expected to understand it.
- George Michael Interview with Capital FM Radio with Dr. Fox (Dec 1998)
- Wham! Make it Bigger: Smash Hits Magazine 1984
- Last Wham! Interview: No. 1 Magazine (1986)
- An Audience with George Michael: Interview with Chris Evans (1996)
- Andrew Ridgeley on Life With and After Wham! (Hello!, 1997)