5 times George Michael made a major impact on pop culture
What time will never mend
2016 has been a rough year, for politics and the world in general. And with the deaths of David Bowie, Prince and Leonard Cohen, the music world has lost some genuises as well. George Michael, tragically passed away at the age of 53, on Christmas Day in his native UK. But while his musical successes in the 1980s and '90s will not be forgotten, nor his soaring vocals on songs like Kissing a Fool and Bonnie Raitt's I Can't Make You Love Me, we pay tribute here to Michael's influence on the world, that spanned fashion, culture and even politics. (One of the running jokes on Arrested Development was that Michael Cera's character George Michael Bluth was named after the late singer.) A gifted lyricist and songwriter, charismatic performer and talented multi-instrumentalist, in a world of largely disposable music, George Michael will be greatly missed.
1. WHEN HE MADE A FASHION STATEMENT BEFORE HOUSE OF HOLLAND AND VETEMENTS DID
George Michael started his pop career with '80s duo Wham!, along with bandmate Andrew Ridgeley. While their infectious pop confections — like Last Christmas and I'm Your Man — were karaoked to death, their daring, slightly androgynous '80s fashion — think crop tops, short shorts and gold hoop earrings was probably not attempted by many beyond that decade. But then we saw this video for Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go — the bold, slogan tees made us realise he was way before his time. Michael's lustrous, golden mane, dangly jewellery, leather jacket and fingerless gloves will live on in fashion history forever.
2. WHEN HE BROKE CULTURAL BOUNDARIES
While China has opened up tremendously in the last 30 years, back in 1985, Michael and Ridgely as part of Wham!, were the the first Western pop group to ever play there. Their 10-day tour was documented and also appeared as part of the music video for their hit song Freedom. The trip culminated in the duo's performance in front of a roaring crowd of 15,000 at Workers' Gymnasium in Beijing. Fun fact: Queen also wanted to be the first Western group to perform in China, but due to clever marketing by their manager Simon Napier-Bell, Wham! beat them to it.
3. WHEN HE WAS NOT AFRAID TO GO THERE WITH HIS MUSIC
Throughout his career, Michael has pushed the limits of what was acceptable in pop music. While Madonna might have been the (visual) queen of raunch, it was Michael's bold lyrics on songs like his 1987's I Want Your Sex, that were pretty daring for its time. While it was banned by the BBC and even US radio stations when it first came out, Michael never shied away from potentially controversial topics and alternative viewpoints singing in Fastlove, "My friends got their ladies, they're all having babies, but I just want to have some fun."
4. WHEN HE ELEVATED THE ART OF THE MUSIC VIDEO
In 1990, fed up with being in the spotlight for a decade, Michael declared that he did not want to appear in music videos and photos anymore. For his music video for Freedom! '90, he asked five supermodels who were shot on an iconic British Vogue cover by Peter Lindbergh to appear in lieu of him. Directed by a then-unknown David Fincher, who went on to direct Se7en and Gone Girl, this was the ultimate lip sync battle featuring Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Cindy Crawford, Tatjana Patitz and Naomi Campbell, as well as five, male models. Stylish, sexy and looking like a behind-the-scenes high fashion shoot, the resulting video — which also showed old symbols from Michael's career like a jukebox and leather jacket bursting into flames — was one of the most iconic of the'90s.
5. WHEN HE DUETTED WITH MUSIC ICONS
One of his first, post-Wham! hits was I Knew You Were Waiting For Me with living legend Aretha Franklin, one of Michael's favourite singers. He continued to make beautiful music with other soul singers like Mary J. Blige on 1999's As and Whitney Houston on If I Told You That in 2000. And while he has sung Somebody to Love with Queen as a tribute to Freddie Mercury showing off impressive vocals, it was his duet with Elton John on John's Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me that went down as one of the most memorable of the nineties and of his career. On his passing John wrote, "I have lost a beloved friend — the kindest, most generous soul and a brilliant artist. My heart goes out to his family and all of his fans. #RIP."