2016 was an all-around shitty year. Personally I dealt with a family health crisis, relationship challenges, work and house stress and an overabundance of terrible things happening to people I know and love – accidents, illnesses, multiple deaths of people and their pets. It was unrelenting and I was counting down the days until it was over. And then George Michael died. On Christmas. I mean, REALLY WORLD???
At the start I had no love for George Michael. This particular 13-year-old found Wham! cheesy and deeply uncool. I loved English Pretty Boys in bands and Duran Duran occupied my walls and my record collection. Even though there seemed to be enough similarities between the two bands, for me there were none and I had no place in my heart for two goofballs dancing around in short shorts and fake trumpet playing in pools (however, saxophone playing on beaches was a-okay. Such is the mind of a fickle teen girl!)
My junior high best friend and I were downright hostile about Wham! Their songs were lame. They were so dorky and they just were trying so damn hard which was probably the ultimate Wham! trait that cynical girls like ourselves with a growing appreciation for The Cure found most unforgivable. My mom and I giggled over George’s dramatics (see, “Everything She Wants”) and the fact that they let themselves get into absurd photo shoots like this:
Then George went solo and became a massive, MASSIVE superstar. He was all over the radio and MTV, he was spoofed on SNL (I still randomly quote Dana-Carvey-as-George’s “look at my butt! It’s hypnotic! You can’t look away!”), he was friends with Elton John and ultimate A-List. His songs started worming their way into my head and staying there. I still remember sitting in the front seat of our school van with my heart aching over every word of “One More Try” on the radio, despite the fact that I hadn’t yet had a boyfriend or any sort of heartbreak (and now decades later with plenty of both under my belt, these lyrics are even more painfully true). I can vividly recall a party at my first college where I was outside cooling down with friends and the first notes of “Freedom 90” came thumping from inside the campus center causing me to race back inside so I wouldn’t miss a single opportunity to holler “YOU GOTTA GIVE WHAT YOU TAKE!!!” while doing a fist pumping dance.
(Sidebar: How fucking GREAT is this song?? IT IS FUCKING AMAZING. End of story!)
When I transferred to Smith College and met my friend Heather that’s when all Wham! Hell Broke Loose, so to speak. Heather and I share a lot of pop culture trivia, Fangirl obsessions, Royal Family knowledge, and deep, deep adoration of 80s music. Being faced with her joy in George Michael’s music made me realize what I already knew but had been held back from admitting by my grumpy 13YO self for so long: I loved George Michael and every damn song he did. We applied for a radio show at our college station and were refused because our eclectic proposed playlist included disco, Nine Inch Nails, Pearl Jam and Wham! (BTW, we are still bitter). We had a pledge that if Wham! ever reunited for a tour or even just one show, we were going to go no matter where it was or how much it cost. To this day, in all honesty only days before his death, we were discussing whether George had reunited with his ex Kenny Goss and I was agreeing to make sure “Wham Rap!” was played at her future funeral, should she pre-decease me.
And that’s the thing that has hit us the hardest: George Michael and Wham! were not just music we liked in our youth and had an appreciative nostalgia for. We talked about, listened to and quoted his music weekly. For us he is an artist who is just as relevant in our current lives and playlists (if not more so, at times) as if it was 1988 right now.We are devastated we will never be able to go see him in concert and clutch each other with joy while singing “I’m Your Man”. For us there was no sadness or bad day that couldn’t be polished up by the appearance of a “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” gif or even a simple text bubble reminding the other “I Love Wham!”
George Michael was rich with talent, a beautiful voice and a complicated personal life that gave him the fuel to write so many iconic songs that we are lucky to have with us forever. I recently watched a 1990 documentary about George and this moment was so very poignant:
I don’t believe I’m important as a pop star…I don’t believe that I will leave a great mark as an entity. I think I’m more realistic than that. I do believe now that I’m a lot better singer than I ever thought I would be but at the end of the day I want to leave something as a writer. And I think to have a passion or to have something that drives you on through life in a creative sense, most of us want to leave something, want to have something that will be remembered without having people really having to search in their memory and I want to leave songs, I believe I can leave songs that will mean something to other generations.
Every few months it seems I find myself seeking comfort in his hit “Praying for Time” which is in fact, timeless given the state of the world today. I post these words after a lot of mass shootings, terrorist attacks and all around awful news because they capture the hopelessness I feel in such a beautifully accurate way:
You were wrong George. You’ve left us so very much and I hope you knew how grateful we were, THANK YOU. XOXO.