RIP George Michael: The death of an entire chapter of dance-pop music lovers
Sir George Michael has died, and with him, a chapter in the lives of an entire generation of music lovers.
With denim hot pants, glistening earrings and an attitude like none other, Michael was the voice of a generation that did not make the cut to the coveted 70s rock-meets-disco era. He broke into the scene as the duo Wham! with Andrew Ridgeley just as the disco era waned; together they shaped the unique sound of what is today considered a quintessentially 80s dance-pop genre.
One of my earliest memories in life has been watching my maternal uncle dance to Wake Me Up Before You Go Go while singing along to it. There was something about the way he moved that was so infectious. Way before I could deconstruct a song and a genre, way before context and lyrics were considered, and way, way before I eventually got to watch the music video, this song was a pick me upper for a child with uncertain body equilibrium.
Even today, when my mind wants to cringe at just how overplayed and fairly “uncerebral” it is, the heart wants to dance like my uncle did. Because for him George Michael represented unbridled fun, and for me — like most toddlers — it was my uncle who represented the same. One riff of the song and the reaction is Pavlovian.
So when news of Michael’s death in the late hours of Christmas flashed and Whatsapp groups went on a Last Christmas reference overdrive, my mind naturally veered towards what was possibly my earliest musical memory. After all, our lives are a sum of our musical memories and our personalities are reflective of that. Somewhere along my thought process, I had this immense urge to dance. George Michael had died and all I wanted to do was dance.
Born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, George Michael has sold over 100 million records around the world. His debut solo album Faith sold more than 20 million and with seven Number Ones to his credit, Michael is one of the most successful artists of all time.
With songs such as Last Christmas, Wake Me Up Before You Go Go, Careless Whisper, Freedom! ‘90, Father Figure, Papa Was A Rolling Stone among others to his credit, Michael was a definitive pop star no doubt, but one with an irresistible penchant for reinvention. At the peak of his top-billing career as Wham! Michael decided to throw caution and care to the wind, to embark of a solo career. Faith was a runaway success but was obviously a laurel Michael refused to rest on. In an act that literally tore into his past, the video of Freedom ’90 from his next album Listen Without Prejudice Vol 1 saw the iconic jukebox, his ubiquitous leather jacket, and guitar — all souvenirs of his Faith days — go up in flames, as if to reiterate that he’s moved on, and so must we.
Michael transformed from the superficial dance-pop sound to the pensive gravitas of a singer-songwriter, as his life simultaneously transitioned from his confusion over sexuality to embracing his orientation. His growth reflected in the songs and today we are left with some true gems like Older, Jesus To A Child, and Spinning The Wheel.
Among his greatest performances has been his rendition of Queen’s Somebody to Love at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert. Joining a bevy of class acts, Michael gave the song his unique touch during an emotionally charged performance.
A life that has had a generous sprinkling of alcohol, drugs, arrests and promiscuity thrown in for good measure, George Michael’s journey has been a tabloid favourite. His sexuality formed a greater part of public comment. Unlike other LGBTQ musicians of his time, Michael was in no hurry to talk publicly about it. His music videos and songs were filled with innuendoes and although he never shied away from related philanthropy, he largely remained an unwitting champion of the cause.
It wasn’t until after his arrest for indulging in “a lewd act in a public space” that Michael confirmed in 1998 a long-suspected belief that he was homosexual. And in true George Michael style, he re-enacted the episode in his song Outside with a music video to boot for anyone begging more clarity.
At every stage of his life, Michael lived on his own terms, even if his fans felt he owed them greater honesty. In his own words, “I'm surprised that I've survived my own dysfunction, really.” Not only did he survive it, he also articulated his thoughts through his music, not once settling for being a happy pop musician. His scathing critique of the War on Terror and the Tony Blair/George W Bush relationship in Shoot The Dog is one such instance.
He was clued in to the politics of his time, the evolving and disintegrating international relations, and the unchecked humanitarian horrors from around the world, always being among the first to participate in any act of charity. As part of the supergroup BandAid, he joined British and Irish artistes for the charity song Do They Know It's Christmas? for famine relief in Ethiopia. It became the UK Christmas number one in December 1984, pushing Michael’s Wham! classic Last Christmas to Number 2. He dedicated his 2007 concert in Sofia, Bulgaria, from his Twenty Five tour to the Bulgarian nurses prosecuted in the HIV trial in Libya.
Michael remained a highly successful musician whose live performances were just as riveting as his studio albums. Yet the one thing that most of his fans had come to associate most with him, was his irreverence. Cheeky grin and a glint in his eyes, Michael could get away with almost anything. Unless of course the police were at hand.
Go away 2016, you prude. The vengeance with which you’ve taken away iconoclastic artistes has been seriously suspect. Why else would artistes like George Michael, Prince, and David Bowie — ones who’ve tested the limits of morality, combined sex with music and cocked a snook at authorities, all leave us for the greatest gig in the sky? I can already see Bob Geldof planning an AfterLife Aid.
The author runs a content consultancy firm, after ending her decade-long stint with The Asian Age
Updated Date: Dec 26, 2016 12:58:13 IST