On a forthcoming album, George Michael is addressing the gay community, because it’s become all ‘dance, sex, fun’ and completely apolitical, even though there is still a lot to fight for and against for homosexuals all over the world.
You seem to be working on a lot of different projects at the moment.
Yes – creatively, I’m so motivated at the moment because I’m attempting to do two things that I’ve never done before. One is to play with a symphony orchestra, which is a very traditional ambition for singers. I’ve never done it before and it expects different things from the audience, which makes me nervous, which makes me excited creatively. I’m working very hard on the arrangements. I think it will be very original and I hope people will be blown away by how intimate the whole thing is.
The other project is a dance album. I hope it will be universal in its appeal but it will be very directly gay in its lyrical content because as a gay man who has been living out – in public – for about 15 years, I feel it’s about time I put my life into my work the way that I’ve always said that I do. And I do – I’ve just tended to write about my relationships, but gay relationships are really not that different – falling in love is falling in love, being heartbroken is being heartbroken.
What is the point of making a ‘gay album’?
It’s about dance, sex, fun – that’s what a lot of being gay is now – but the gay community has become so apolitical, it’s so not sexy to be an activist. It’s considered ‘spoiling the party.’ We’ve become this a-politicised community, which has so much to complain about still. The album is not about ‘Stop the homophobia’ – it’s about making people understand how damaging stereotyping can be. Stereotyping is not necessarily homophobic, it just stuff that doesn’t occur to straight people. It’s the same kind of stuff that wouldn’t occur to me about straight people’s life because I don’t have children. I’m addressing gay people in gay terms, and a lot of people will be shocked and won’t like it. A lot of gay kids will love it, I hope. But it’s all honest and I have the best intentions. I have to make these statements in gay terminology, to gay people, with lots of club remixes and sex and, hopefully, some humour.
You will be playing a concert to benefit Elton John’s AIDS foundation. Why?
I have a perspective in HIV and AIDS because I lost somebody to it. Anselmo (Feleppa, his first boyfriend) died the year before combination therapy became commonly used – it’s absolutely distressing to think that had he lived another year, he would still be here today. Because of Anselmo and because I’m the generation that I am, I never struggled with the idea of safe sex. My generation of gay men believed somewhat that the wrath of god was somehow involved in this disease – that we were being punished for having too much fun. That made us very responsible, people used condoms very quickly.
The young, modern gay man is at a disadvantage – one: because he is naïve enough to think – just like straight people do – that it will never happen to him, two: naïve enough to think that it’s no big deal to be on medication for the rest of your life. I think it’s dreadful that there is so little AIDS education in the general public now compared to those days, when there are more people affected by it now than ever. Gay men are worse off because they don’t practise safe sex and they open themselves up to all kind of diseases. Gay people are being as careless as straight people because they now feel much closer in their experience of life to straight people, less stigmatized (in certain parts of the world).
Which is good – you can’t help but be happy that the young generation of men don’t feel there’s any retribution and that they don’t deserve to get it because they’ve had fun. There’s an obvious trend towards a better society where gay men feel less persecuted and ashamed of their sexuality. They’re much better off than my generation in that degree. But they’re far worse off in the fact that they’re not taught enough about what they’re exposing themselves to. I’m happy that gay people feel less shame; I just wish they knew more about the risks they’re taking.
You will be touring again soon. What can we expect from your Symphonica tour?
What I don’t want is a saccharine version of the records I’ve made, and that is a very easy trap to fall into with an orchestra, because it’s so lush. Some of my songs are borderline schmaltzy, anyway. This one is probably the one I’ve been most excited about since the very first tour with Wham. I love playing. The last tour became three years – when I hadn’t played live for 17 years. That wasn’t because it was profitable, that was because I loved it. I absolutely couldn’t believe the difference in playing for an audience that’s known you for five years – which is what I did with Faith – and coming into a room filled with people who have listened to your music for 25 years. They express something completely different and that blew me away. It gave me such a sense of purpose. I want this tour to be the same kind of shared experience. And I’ve decided that I will talk more between the songs. I don’t think I’ll venture into stand-up comedy, but I want to explain to people what the songs are about. I know many people have their own interpretations, but some of the actual reasons for the songs are much more interesting and funny. There will be another ‘bells and whistles’ tour too, I think – the kind I never thought I’d do again.
If there's one term you could use to sum up George Michael at this stage in his career, it might be '30 and not out' - to borrow from and paraphrase a rather familiar term in cricket scoring. Because this world-famous singer/songwriter, acclaimed international artist and celebrated global icon is still, after 30 years, as popular as he was when he first burst onto the music scene in the early '80s as one half of super duo Wham! Probably more so, in fact. This weekend sees his European orchestral tour, Symphonica, which comes to Dublin in November, start in Praque. He talks to Alex Canfor-Dumas about the inspiration for the tour and his current projects.
Q: What was the inspiration behind this orchestral tour?
A: I was actually inspired when I heard that Tony Bennett had done a tour like that. I've always wanted to sing with this sort of backing so that I can really, really use my voice. There are two elements in my music that I want to explore further. One being the use of my voice and the other is dance music. I think my fans would like to both these things too.
Q: What sort of covers can we expect on this tour?
A: I think people will be quite surprised because I'll be doing a lot of songs that I haven't sung live before. Some will be the sort of compositions that only really lend themselves to the sort of intimate venues that I'll be playing in, and some will be from artists who have influenced me over the years. And of course I'll be doing a few numbers from my 'Songs of The Last Century' album. I've found some really nice ways to cover these beautiful songs, so I don't think my fans will be disappointed at all. Far from it, I hope.
Q: Of all the people you've sung duets with, who are your favourite?
A: It would be hard to single anyone out, because so many were really amazing. But I'd have to admit that my duet with Aretha Franklin was a dream come true. I was only 24, and she'd actually asked me to write and produce for her a few years before that. I bottled out though, it just seemed too scary at 21!
Q: Could you tell us some more about the Dance Album that you're working on at the moment?
A: I love the fact that house and dance music - which have basically been the staple of the gay community since they emerged - has now been brought into the mainstream by people like Lady Gaga and Rhianna. It makes for some really exciting pop music. For this album I'm going to be working with either gay or gay friendly artists, and it'll be a mixture of tracks sung by me and others by young gay artists - possibly unknown ones. And I've lined up some really great dance producers to work on it too, so it'll be a pretty stunning record, I hope. I know I'll be 48 when the album comes out, but I have to say that gay men's relationship with dance music probably doesn't end at the same time as straight people's does!
Q: Can you tell us what sort of backstage/dressing room riders you'll be stipulating for the Symphonica tour? It looks like it's going to be quite an illustrious event.
A: Oh my God, if it was boring before… Actually all I tend to have is stuff that my friends and family can wonder in and eat backstage if they're bored. That's it really. Oh, and I quite like flowers in my dressing room, but I don't stipulate any particular kind. So I have quite a cheap rider really.
Q: Have you been surprised at the way your fans have stuck by you over the last 12 months?
A: No, not really. I've always known that I have incredibly loyal and amazing fans, and they've never let me down. But I was pretty overwhelmed by the love and support they've shown me in the last 12 months. I've always felt that there's something very special about my audience. When I perform, I can sort of feel from their energy that they're very kind people.
Q: Did you ever imagine that the boy from a small town just outside London would one day be appearing at The Royal Opera House?
A: Funnily enough, the very first show that I ever played as a teenager with Wham! was in a small cut-scout hut, just up the road from my school. The audience was mostly made up of my family and friends, but it went incredibly well. And that's one thing that's always stayed with me throughout my career: I've never the left the stage feeling disappointed with either my performance or the audience's reaction. But coming back to your question - no, I really never imagined I'd be here today in a place like this. I mean, if anyone does dream of a 30-year career that takes them to the Royal Opera House and the likes, well, they'd most likely be disappointed, wouldn't they? When I was young and just starting out, my idea of success was appearing on 'Top of the Pops'. As far as I was concerned, that was the be all and end all. Of course, I made it onto Top of the Pops with Wham! and I just couldn't believe how small the studio was!
George Michael will be in Dublin on 1st and 3rd November, on his 'Symphonica' tour which begins in Praque on 22nd August.
Part 2 of the interview with George Michael. He talks about Elton John and his child.
George revient sur l'affaire du tabloïd News of the World.
Des titres qu'il interprétera lors de sa tournée Symphonica, dont certains qu'il n'a
chanté dans de grandes salles et de son nouvel album pour l'année prochaine qui sera très dance. Premier album dance depuis Wham !
11 MAI 2011
CD maxi single
Conférence de presse du 11 Mai 2011