Label Music Editor, Matthew Rousou, reminisces the rise of singer-songwriter George Michael, in celebration of LGBT+ History Month, through a whistle-stop tour of his career.
With February being LGBT+ History Month, I thought it would be nice to celebrate the success of George Michael, who was an inspirational and highly successful figure in the music industry, which continued following coming-out as gay on live TV in 1998. Michael received numerous awards in his illustrious music career, including 2 Grammys in successive years (1988 and 1989) and 10 awards Billboard Music Awards in 1988. According to Official Charts, the English-Greek Cypriot artist also recorded 12 UK Number 1 singles and 9 albums in his time with Wham! and as a solo artist. According to the George Michael website, more than 120 million of his albums were sold worldwide, emphasising his success as a musician both in the present and the past.
George Michael’s rise to the top began in 1982 with the group Wham!, that was set up with his best friend, Andrew Ridgely. The group brought to the world a plethora of pop classics; the two that stick in my head most prominently are Last Christmas and the uplifting beat and lyrics of Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go. Michael continued to rise in the music industry with his solo career, with iconic songs such as Careless Whisper, Faith, and Freedom! ’90. The former was even voted as “London’s favourite all-time record”, evidence of Michael’s influence in music, which was later emphasised through his debut-solo album, ‘Faith’, rewarding Michael with 1 of his 2 Grammy Awards. The artist also collaborated in his career with other music greats, such as Aretha Franklin who combined with Michael to release the single, I Knew You Were Waiting.
George Michael announced that he was gay to the public on CNN in 1998. In his interview, Michael stated that “I want to say that I have no problem with people knowing that I’m in a relationship with a man right now”, and explaining that “I was going to do this [reveal his sexuality]from the moment I was arrested” (Michael was arrested earlier the same year for lewdness with an undercover police officer). In his interview, Michael seemed to want to clarify the motivations behind his songs following his coming-out on live TV, reflecting that “the songs that I wrote when I was with women were really about women, and the songs I have written since have been fairly obviously about men”. However, he revealed his sexuality to Andrew Ridgely 15 years prior, which his friend recalls in his memoir ‘Wham! George Michael and Me: A Memoir!’ with the quote “I didn’t know whether to tell you this … but I’m going to: I’m gay”.
Later in 1998, Michael released the single, Outside, a song that ultimately mocked his aforementioned arrest, with the music video ending with a homosexual encounter between two police officers. The song was heavily supported by the public, reflected through its Number 2 spot in the UK Official Charts, being his second longest solo song present in the charts after Careless Whisper, according to Official Charts.
George Michael’s career continued to thrive with the turn of the millennium seeing the artist release more singles that proved to be successful in the charts, whilst also releasing 3 more Number 1 albums, according to Official Charts, with ‘Twenty Five’ (an album of his greatest hits) being present in the chart for 200 weeks! Michael also continued with his charity work, such as performing at the Equality Rocks show in 2002, which was “then the largest-ever concert in aid of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender awareness”, as well as for the Elizabeth Taylor Memorial Fund in 2011 (Elton John’s AIDS Foundation). George Michael was also one of the artists who sung at The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert in 1992 which was used as a platform to raise awareness and money for research to tackle AIDS.
Prior to wrapping up, I just want to touch on how George Michael has also played a great influence in recent popular television culture. I’m sure that many of you are familiar with James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke on The Late Late Show, a sketch where the British presenter speaks to and performs with artists such as Ariana Grande and Ed Sheeran, as well as celebrities such as Stephen Curry and Michelle Obama. Well, Carpool Karaoke’s origin arguably comes from Corden’s Comic Relief sketch (as his Gavin and Stacy character, ‘Smithy’) with George Michael in 2011, where the pair sung along to Wham!’s 1986 hit, I’m Your Man, as well as the intro to Wham!’s 1984 song, Freedom. His influence was also held greatly by the President of the National Federation of Cypriots in the UK, who stated that the singer “highlighted the proud and exceptional contribution of Cypriots to the UK”, following his death in 2016. George Michael was clearly a significant figure in the music industry and to support against AIDS, where his career can be celebrated through his hit singles and albums as well as his incredible charity work.
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