George was the embodiment of 1990’s pop, but there were hints throughout his career, and in revelations since his death that he wasn’t simply the rich playboy the media often portrayed him as.
The seemingly apolitical Wham! released “Wham!- Rap!” with the lyric “I ain’t never gonna work” advocating the dole life as a good life in Thatcherite Britain where cash success meant life success. In London in 1984 they played at a miners’ strike benefit at the Royal Festival Hall and although the media at the time treated their participation as a farcical mistake it was Wham! taking a stand against a horrible, oppressive government. The famous “Choose Life” t-shirts Wham! wore were “a comment against war, death and destruction” rather than the conservative statement some people made it out to be, and t-shirt designer Hamnett to this day denounces the use of her design in anti-abortion campaigns. Michael’sAnother music called for liberation, pride and sex without shame.
George hid his homosexuality for years. There was fear of negative reactions from family, friends and fans; the terror of the AIDS epidemic; and the pressure to be the straight boy that teenage girls could fall in love with and, importantly, buy records from. In hindsight his 1990 hit song Freedom clearly tells the story of him being straight for pay. He sang about hiding “something deep inside of me” for the good of his career “knowing what side my bread is buttered on” despite the cost to his mental health “I guess it was enough for me”.
In 1998 his arrest in a New York park bathroom led to his public outing, and he met the media-frenzy and condemnation which followed with dignity, honesty and candour and in doing so became an icon for the Gay Rights Movement.
He was a charitable man, volunteering time and donating millions to charities- the Elton John AIDS Foundation, Childline and to strangers who just needed a helping hand for IVF or to get out of debt.
He didn’t air his political viewpoints often, so when he vehemently spoke out against against the Iraq War people were taken aback. In a short but worth-a-watch BBC interview he condemns Blair for “ignoring all the debates” and going to war “despite 90% of voters saying that without the UN they were against it”. He invites the public to be suspicious that now, after “years of Saddam in power, we decide to do something about him now when Sharon is bombing the West Bank” (of Palestine). The video for his 2002 song “Shoot the Dog” characterizes Tony Blair as the puppy of an imbecilic George W. Bush, and missiles landing back in the bed of Tony and Cherie in Downing St.
George said that he always wanted to become famous but not if the cost of the success was making immoral choices or stepping on other people. 2016 robbed the world of much musical genius, and 53 year old George Michael deserves to be remembered along with Prince, Bowie and Cohen.