Ladies and Gentlemen: For the first time in more than 17 years, George Michael is coming to a city near you! Supporting his new retrospective record, Twenty-Five, which celebrates the 25th anniversary of his music career, the out legend brings his record-breaking 25 Live Tour to North America this summer following last year's 80-show European run. (It hits NYC's Madison Square Garden July 21 and 23.) No topic was taboo during our exclusive one-on-one chat — "You can ask me whatever you like," he insisted straight off — so read without prejudice as the Grammy winner, who turns 45 on June 25, squashes tabloid rumors and plays favorites with gay fans.
By Brandon Voss
HX: Have you altered your tour for North American audiences?
George Michael: I’m making adjustments. There are a few more tracks from Faith, but other than that, not really. I’ve got to play to the fans that have been buying my stuff that hasn’t been on the radio for the past 15 years. In other words, I’ve got to not play down to anybody. Ultimately, there’s enough old stuff in there for people who don’t know the newer stuff, so they’ll be alright.
Is there any song you’ve officially retired?
Not really, but there are only a couple of Wham! songs I can get away with — “Everything She Wants” and “I’m Your Man.” Other than that, there’s nothing that I have a real objection to.
Are you trying to please gay fans in particular with this tour?
There is such a large part of that audience that’s stuck with me in America. In America I think there will be a lot of gay people in the audiences — I really think it will be 50/50. In Europe the front rows were just full of these gorgeous gay men, but when we got back to England, they were few and far between. Funnily enough, the more right-wing or Catholic the country, the more gay people were at the concerts; in places where gay people are still more oppressed, they will absolutely support a gay artist. In England, they don’t feel the need to identify. I constantly chip away at my female audience by insisting on writing about my life — though you’d never know it when you go to the shows because they’re all screaming their heads off. But I’ve literally paid a price just for being unapologetic, and I thought that was very important politically.
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 butt in the Faith days.
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.
Did you get any positive feedback from a gay fan that made coming out professionally worth the drama?
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.
If I were looking for “fastlove” outside, what would be your best advice?
Well, if you’re American I’d say don’t bother. You’re too likely to get arrested.
Can a gay artist succeed if he’s out from the beginning?
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.
Would you advise a closeted performer in America to stay in the closet?
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.”
You recorded a great cover album, Songs from the Last Century, in 1999. Is there any artist you’d like to hear do a George Michael cover?
Maybe Amy Winehouse, although I think maybe my stuff is a bit straightforward for her.
How did you feel about Carrie Underwood’s cover of “Praying For Time” on American Idol’s Idol Gives Back?
I thought it was very flattering. She really sung her heart out, didn’t she? I’m going to find some opportunity to thank her. That’s probably why they invited me on to the American Idol finale.
Do you wish more Idol contestants sung George Michael songs?
Well, normally Simon Cowell tells them, “You just don’t touch a George Michael song,” which I thought was quite complimentary.
Earlier this year you made your American acting debut on Eli Stone. On which other American show would you like to appear?
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.
Are you really holding dinner parties with old friends to help jog your memory in preparation for writing your upcoming autobiography?
No. Nothing you read about me is true. If there isn’t a picture of me and if I haven’t been arrested, it’s not true. They write so much crap about me, I’m a fictional character as far as I’m concerned. Apparently I asked the artist Banksy to paint the side of my house for 2.5 million quid.
I believed that one.
You shouldn’t have believed that. What am I going to do — sell the wall to my house?
The British tabloids also love to follow your friendship with Geri Halliwell. Are you guys okay?
I swear to God, I don’t read them, so if nobody actually tells me what this week’s rubbish is, I don’t know. So what’s supposed to have happened now? I know they got pictures of us when we went to dinner recently.
Yes, so it was assumed that you had made up after your alleged falling out over your not writing the Spice Girls comeback single.
No, no, no. What it was is that I offered them the track, but didn’t get it finished in time. But they weren’t upset. I think Geri only half-expected me to finish it anyway — she knows what I’m like. They have us falling out all the time, but we never do.
How do you maintain such a good sense of humor about your mishaps?
Well, with the stuff that I get up to, if I didn’t have a sense of humor I’d really be up shit creek, as they say. I can always see the funny side, especially if it’s about sex.
So who looked better while performing community service — you or Naomi Campbell?
She turned it out — absolutely! Good for her. I think I should’ve done a bit of shopping, shouldn’t I?
SIDEBAR: How'd You Not Know?
Even before George Michael's 1998 outing, these queer clues were there all along!
1. Forget the fruity outfits — Wham!'s single titles included "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go," "Bad Boys," and "Young Guns (Go For It!)."
2. That Levi's-clad booty-shakin' video aside, the 1988 Faith World Tour featured a cover of "Lady Marmalade." Lady, please.
3. 1991's "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me." A duet with Elton John. Need we say more?
4. The models in "Freedom '90" might've seduced straights, but the fashion show-set video for 1992's "Too Funky," for the AIDS charity disc Red Hot + Dance, was totes for his homos — complete with Thierry Mugler designs and a Lypsinka cameo. You betta werq, Linda Evangelista!
5. On a serious note, we wouldn't know for another few years that 1995's "Jesus to a Child" was actually a tribute to Michael's Brazilian lover Anselmo Feleppa, who died from AIDS-related complications in 1993.
HX, June 2008.