Article “Top 10 Single Takes the Heat: George Michael’s ‘I Want Your Sex’ gets criticized, edited” was written by J.D. Considine of The Baltimore Sun and published in Philadelphia Daily News on July 16, 1987.
The easiest way to understand the controversy surrounding George Michael’s new top-10 single is simply to say the title: “I Want Your Sex.”
Immediately, people take notice. Never mind that, grammatically speaking, it doesn’t make sense. What has everyone from pop fans to radio programmers upset isn’t bad English, but bad intent, the notion that, in these AlDS-aware times. George Michael is encouraging casual sex. But is he?
If you listen to the song, Michael is not singing about having sex so much as wanting to have sex. “Sex is natural sex is fun,” he sings. “Sex is best when it’s one on one.
“He’s talking about sex as being monogamous-type sex,” in the opinion of Kris Earl Phillips, research director at WBSB-FM (B-104). In Phillips’ view. Michael is “encouraging marriage, things like that. I don’t really see a problem with that.”
Well, in theory, anyway. “Unfortunately,” says Phillips, “people don’t listen to all of the lyrics. They hear what they want to hear. And when they hear, ‘I want your sex,’ people — especially people with young children — say, “Oh, my god. I can’t have my child listen to this.’ And I can understand that.”
Which is why B-104 is not playing “I Want Your Sex.” but an edited version that substitutes the word “love” for “sex.” “Because of the recent FCC rulings and interpretations of the obscenity laws,” says Phillips, the station “just felt it would be in better taste to use the version with ‘love rather than sex.”
“I believe we did get a few complaints about the sex version when we first put it on,” he adds. “Luckily, the record company came out with the newer version, ‘I Want Your Love,’ and we were able to play it.”
Trouble is, Columbia Records, Michael’s record company, didn’t actually release a newer version. The “I Want Your Love” edit was created by WZGC-FM in Atlanta. which sent a’ copy to Columbia, which then distributed it to interested radio stations, among them B-104.
But although Phillips says his station got its copy “from the record company,” Columbia has taken a strict “no comment” policy to inquiries about the tape. Why? Because George Michael wanted his “Sex.”
“In no way, shape or form would -George endorse any edit like that,” Rob Kahane, one of Michael’s managers, told the Los Angeles Times . “We don’t want the song altered at all.”
Whether this means trouble between Michael and his record company remains to be seen, but after seven weeks on the charts, one Columbia publicist shrugs: “At this point, the song’s in the Billboard top 10, so any kind of re-edit is almost a moot point.”
Not to the Parent’s Music Resource Center, it isn’t. Although this watchdog group feels the song’s content “is very borderline, in terms of the agreement that we have with the major labels about lyric content referring to explicit sex,” says PMRC : spokeswoman Jennifer Norwood, the group is requesting a warning label because the controversy around the song “pushed it over the edge.”
But what really bothers the group more is that a pop fan who hears “I Want Your Love” on the radio may be unprepared for the “sex” in the stores. “When programmers edit and change the song — for instance, “I Want Your Love’ versus ‘I Want Your Sex’ you have no indication that that is not what is available on record or whatever,” says Norwood.
The video version also has faced its share of editing problems. Although Michael stresses the monogamy message even more intensely, his methods are a bit unconventional. One scene shows’ the singer scrawling “explore monogamy” in lipstick on the naked back of his real-life girlfriend. Unsurprisingly, the clip had to go through three sets of edits before being approved for broadcast on MTV.
MTV’s vice president for press and public affairs, Barry Kluger, characterizes the edits as “brief,” but declines to say more.
- George Michael Interview with Capital FM Radio with Dr. Fox (Dec 1998)
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- BBC Hardtalk Interview with George Michael (2003)
- George Michael: The Reluctant Pop Star (Calendar Magazine, Sept 1990)
- George Michael: Artist or Airhead? (Musician, 1988)