Arts & Entertainment
5 min

George Michael: 25 years of Faith and Freedom

North American tour hits Canada this month

Fly-Life Inc. Credit: Andrew MacPherson

Since his earliest days of 1980s Whamboyance, George Michael (né Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou on Jun 25, 1963) has sold more than 80 million records worldwide.

His 1987 hit “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me,” a duet with Elton John, topped the charts around the globe and cemented his status as a star to be reckoned with.

But it was his 1988 smash album Faith, which turned out six number one solo singles — including “Father Figure,” “I Want Your Sex,” “Kissing A Fool,” and the title cut that won Album of the Year at the Grammy’s — that made George Michael a bonafide superstar.

With success came strife.

Michael soon found himself feuding with his record company, Sony Records, over royalties. In 1993, he sued Sony, attempting to free himself from his contract. The court ruled in favour of Sony.

The two finally parted company and Michael began recording for Steven Spielberg’s label Dreamworks in 1996. The resulting album, Older, was a critical and financial success, earning multi-platinum and gold status in 34 countries and going five times platinum in the UK.

It did well in America too, but apparently didn’t impress the American suits. What’s a girl gotta do?!

Older was followed by a few more successes, but it was his 1998 arrest in a public washroom in Beverly Hills that not only outed the star, but put him in a dangerous category for much of the public.

He wasn’t just the man who wanted your sex, it seemed he wanted the sex of a male stranger — heavens! It may not sound like a shock for most of the gay community, but it sent shockwaves through his faithful straight fan base.

Soon after the scandal, Michael turned the incident to his advantage and publicly embraced his sexuality — and public sex — with the release of “Outside” extolling the joys of outdoor sex, gay and straight.

The accompanying video depicts Michael in a police uniform, dancing near urinals while all kinds of people have sex outdoors and in public washroom stalls, occasionally getting busted by police. The video ends with two male cops sharing a hot lip lock.

While it may have amused his gay following, it did little to make amends with his straight audience.

But true talent stands the test of time.

After a 17-year hiatus from touring, Michael ventured back out on the road last year, touring in Europe for over a million and a half fans. Last month, he brought his tour to North America. Now he is bringing his 25 Live Tour to Vancouver on Jul 4.

Xtra West: Why are you going on tour for the first time in 17 years?

George Michael: I sat in my front room one day about a year and a half ago and thought: ‘You know, apart from the fact that you probably wish you had done it while you could still stand without help (laughs), there is going to be a day you regret not having done this thing you’re so afraid of — which is repeating the experience of the ’80s of going out on tour and living in the eye of the storm.’

XW: Are you nervous about going out on tour in North America for the first time in almost two decades?

GM: I think I’ve probably needed to perform a lot more than I’ve wanted to admit.

I haven’t performed for many, many years and I think it’s something I’ve not done through fear and it’s a shame because all fear does is waste time.

I’m delighted I’ve decided to do it again because it’s gone so well and makes me realize I should’ve done it a long time ago, but you can only do what you’re capable of at the time.

I mean, I think it’s a way better show than I’ve ever performed before.

XW: Are there any songs you’ve officially retired?

GM: Not really, but there are a couple of Wham! songs I can’t get away with — “Everything She Wants” and “I’m Your Man.” Other than that, there’s nothing that I have a real objection to.

XW: Did you feel a special connection with gay fans even before you came out in 1998? Surely you must’ve known it wasn’t just girls eyeing your ass in the Faith days.

GM: Oh God, yeah, I knew that.

With all those number one club records and stuff, I really have had a great amount of support from the gay community in America in the last 15 years, so absolutely that’s special. I actually write about my real experience now, and I think that’s one of the things that makes it easier for gay people to listen to.

XW: Did you get any positive feedback from gay fans that made coming out professionally worth the drama?

GM: Quite a few people have written to me over the years on that basis. From the moment I outed myself when I wrote “Outside,” immediately I thought: ‘Wouldn’t it be great to make a video for all those kids that are now where you were 25 years ago, with your only experience being cruising and feeling terrible about it because you’re 16 or whatever?’

If someone had made a video like that for my entertainment when I was a young guy, I would’ve loved it.

XW: Can a gay artist succeed if he’s out from the beginning?

GM: It’s happening in Europe — Will Young was out from day one and it didn’t hurt him at all. But it’s still very tricky in America where you’re so categorized as soon as people realize you’re gay.

XW: Would you advise a closeted performer in America to stay in the closet?

GM: Absolutely not. There is no career that’s worth that. I’d just say, ‘Come out and accept that you’ll lose some of your audience.’

XW: Earlier this year you made your American acting debut on the ABC series Eli Stone. How did that come about?

GM: The story apparently goes that Greg [Berlanti] wrote the initial draft — the idea for the series — and I was included in that original draft. Apparently, the studio didn’t think that I would say yes, so they wrote it again and I think they went for Phil Collins or somebody else but they didn’t realize I’m a telly addict so I love American TV drama, so I said yes the minute I heard and I wanted to know what the concept was.

Of course, when they told me they wanted to name every episode after a song of mine it was very flattering to the ego.

I prefer watching TV; I don’t think I’d like a career in it. It was just a remarkable thing because they wanted to name all of the episodes after my songs and write me into the actual storyline, but the music was the main reason I did it.

People think because I did Extras and Eli Stone that maybe I’m trying to make a foray into acting, but I’m not.

XW: How do you maintain such a good sense of humour about your mishaps?

GM: Well, with the stuff that I get up to, if I didn’t have a sense of humour I’d really be up shit creek, as they say. I can always see the funny side, especially if it’s about sex.