George Michael abhorred fame and avoided interviews. In his 30-year career, the “Faith” singer has only released four studio albums as a solo artist. But his figure left a lasting impact on popular culture. The public’s fascination with him still persists today, as evidenced by the recent release of a documentary and a book about his life, just when the artist would have turned 59. The two works depict the pop star’s life from radically different angles.
The musician himself worked on the film George Michael: Freedom Uncut with his former collaborator, David Austin. It follows the career of one of pop’s greatest voices, starting in the 80s and ending in 2016, the year of his death. Narrated in the first person, the documentary gives a partial look at the star. In contrast, journalist James Gavin’s book George Michael: A Life explores in detail the dark side of the singer. The biography chronicles Michael’s addiction to GHB, also known as liquid ecstasy, his depression, and his addiction to sex. According to the account, Michael spent his final years getting into drugs and prostitution and alienating his friends, including Andrew Ridgeley, the other half of Wham!. Gavin spoke to over 200 of the artist’s friends and acquaintances, resulting in a portrait of an emotionally fragile and insecure man. According to the author’s thesis, which several friends corroborate but his family denies, the interpreter died not of a heart disease, as it was said at the time, but of an intentional overdose: suicide.
The documentary film focuses on the 80s and 90s, the artist’s creative heyday. The book, meanwhile, mostly describes his last years of life, when he made headlines more for his arrests than his music. Both are pieces of a puzzle that the artist has created in front of the public for three decades.
Difficult to understand the course of George Michael, who would be 59 years old on June 25, without delving into his biography. Born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou in 1963, he rose to worldwide fame alongside his school friend Andrew Ridgeley. Together they form Wham!, a band beloved by teenage girls and despised by critics. Michael enjoyed worldwide fame that he never wanted. He felt underappreciated as an artist, relegated to teenage star status. He also disliked playing the role of a heterosexual idol to sell records to female audiences. He was ready to embrace his sexuality, but society was not. At the time, Elton John and Freddy Mercury were married to women. In Spain, Miguel Bosé walked hand in hand with Ana Obregón. A mainstream artist couldn’t afford to be gay.
Still, George Michael portrayed his sexuality with a certain brazen glee in public. In his later years, looking back, Michael said his sexuality had been an enigma, even to him, but his music was always honest. “I want people to know that the songs I wrote when I was with women were really about women and the songs I’ve written since are pretty obviously about men,” he said. . “So when it comes to my work, I’ve never been reluctant to define my sexuality.” George Michael was sex. His music was too.
On his first solo album, he broke away from his good boy image to present himself as a sexually liberated man – in a trajectory later imitated by many pop artists, including Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. Her first solo song, “I Want Your Sex,” was dedicated to a man, but her then-girlfriend, makeup artist Kathy Jeung, appeared in the music video. “[Kathy] was in love with me but she knew that I was in love with a guy at that time. I always said I was bisexual,” he explained in a 2004 interview with British magazine Attitude. The song attracted controversy for advocating promiscuity in the harshest years of AIDS, and its explicitly sexual lyrics were censored on several radio networks.
In the music video for his second single, “Faith,” Michael starred as the American macho, dressed in a leather jacket, jeans, and cowboy boots, combined with close-ups of his butt cheeks. swinging to the beat. The singer asserts himself as a mature composer. At the same time, he sexualized himself. The song made him a worldwide hit. He began rubbing shoulders with pop royalty including Michael Jackson, Madonna and Prince. At that time, pop stars were at the heart of popular culture. But only George Michael used his role to take on the record companies and finally give up the media overexposure.
If singers were kings, MTV was their palace. In the 1990s, a good music video could boost the sales of a song and the notoriety of its artist. It was then that George Michael decided to disappear. He barely promotes his long-awaited second album, which is much less commercial than the first. Her first music video, “Freedom”, featured the five most important top models of the moment. The video was directed by debutant David Fincher, who before revolutionizing Hollywood had already revolutionized MTV. It went down in history as one of the best music videos of all time.
Freedom: uncut, the new documentary, focuses on this creative stage of the singer. Some of the participants in this video, such as Cindy Crawford, Kate Moss, and Naomi Campbell, give interviews about Michael, and the film includes discarded footage that Fincher did not use. While the documentary focuses on his art, it also touches on aspects of his personal life, including the death of his mother and Anselmo Feleppa, his great love, who died of complications from AIDS in 1993.
Both deaths had a devastating effect on Michael, and they set off the spiral that Gavin focuses on in his book. The author describes the singer as a “pathetic, lonely and broken character”.
George Michael has not publicly come out of the closet. It was ripped off in the most shameful way possible. In September 1998, an undercover agent made a pass at her in a public restroom in Los Angeles, California. When the artist played the game, he was arrested. While searching him, the police found marijuana and crack. The former leader of Wham! was fined just $810, but the media punishment was devastating. Tabloids on both sides of the Atlantic lashed out at him. It wasn’t the 80s anymore, but a scandal like that could still end anyone’s career. He explained himself as best he could: with a song. The music video for “Outside”, the single from his greatest hits album, was based on the famous incident. It features several men dressed as policemen kissing in a club bathroom, while a press helicopter films different couples having sex. Michael took control of the narrative, as sexual and as honest as ever.
But no song could silence the news that followed. A few months later, the musician was again arrested after a car accident. Police found him “soaked in sweat” with “open eyes and dilated pupils”. It was his seventh arrest in 12 years. In the biography, Gavin expands on this scene, at the time portrayed by the press of the time in a rambling and sensationalized way. The author places it in the context of the impulses of a depressed and frustrated man taking refuge in drugs and sex. “For Michael, GHB seemed like heaven,” the reporter writes of the drug, a central nervous system depressant closely associated with sex parties. “Besides fueling his sexual compulsion, it made a depressed, self-loathing man attractive. He brought joy where there was little. GHB gave him confidence…but it also brought him to a new and terrifying level of self-destruction.
Gavin describes one of the music industry’s brightest stars as a lonely, friendless man isolated in his mansion. He spent his days watching episodes of his favorite soap opera, coronation street, while eating Haagen Dazs ice cream and junk food and using GHB. The author writes that the singer hosted parties with prostitutes and large amounts of drugs at his North London mansion.
The journalist’s description is consistent with statements made this week by Kenny Goss, who had a relationship with the singer between 1996 and 2009. In an interview with the English program Piers Morgan Uncensored, the art dealer said that all the everyone around him knew that Michael would die soon. “I spent a lot of time worrying about him,” he recalls. “What is the phrase he says in one of his songs? He says, ‘I can see it in your eyes when you look at me like that, it tears me in two. And it really did.
George Michael died on Christmas Day 2016. The official report states that the death was due to heart failure. His fans remembered him with “Last Christmas,” a song that many read as a Christmas carol, but actually tells a tragic story of heartbreak and mistrust. “All my songs are autobiographical”, said the singer.