I like to think of George Michael as someone who saw the album cover of Bruce Springsteen‘s Born in the USA, thought about the Boss in his blue jeans for a moment, and declared, “I could make this gay.” No one filled out a pair of Levi’s like Mr. Michael, who turns 49 today, and still no one has that voice, the crystal-clear cry that made Faith the first ever platinum-selling compact disc and 1989′s Grammy winner for Album of the Year. Though George has had a rough (and unforgettable!) streak of arrests, public statements, and health problems in recent memory, he’s a singular pop music force and today, we honor him as such. Here are my 10 favorite things about the carelessly whispering crooner.
1. Wham! outgayed the ’80s.
George looked like Fantastic Mr. Fox‘s hot gay cousin and Andrew Ridgeley spun and jammed like a magical Christmas ornament. It didn’t get much gayer than Wham! in the ’80s, even if Ridgeley is a certified heterosexual who lives with Bananarama’s Karen Woodward. The otherworldly perkiness of “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” the timeless groove of “Everything She Wants,” and the clap-along effervescence of “The Edge of Heaven” fill you with gay electricity. The fun is so undeniable, you can’t help but wear a “CHOOSE LIFE” sweatshirt and yellow dishwater gloves! Jitterbug!
2. “Father Figure” is the creepiest pop song of all time, and thank God.
I am an avid connoisseur of creepy pop songs. My favorites: The Police‘s “Can’t Stand Losing You” (suicide threats!), The Vapors’ “Turning Japanese” (disputable masturbation metaphors!), and The Crystals‘ “He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)” (self-explanatory!). But the creepiest is George’s “Father Figure,” a gorgeously bleated tune that happens to feature plenty of our birthday boy proclaiming, “I’ll be your daddy” and “Put your tiny hand in mine.” I mean, sure, but still. It was the late ’80s, so the video featured shadowy religious iconography and a grimacing model (Tania Coleridge, pictured). We’d get more of that in Bon Jovi‘s “Living in Sin” and Madonna‘s “Like a Prayer.” For a great cover of “Father Figure,” give a listen to Tori Amos‘ concert version here.
3. “Freedom ’90″ gives us supermodel culture at its most cheeky and glorious.
David Fincher gifted the world with so much gay iconography as a music video director that I think we should name a holiday for him. From the vamping homosexuals of “Vogue” to the groping dancers of “Cold Hearted,” he went for gay gusto and nailed it every time. “Freedom ’90″ is his Herb Ritts-iest triumph, as it features a cavalcade of supermodels like Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford, and Tatjana Petitz slinking around lip-syncing Michael’s song. Michael himself doesn’t appear in the video because he wanted to place more emphasis on his work as a songwriter than a pop icon. That’s also why “Freedom ’90″ features a shot of his trademark leather jacket being burned to bits. Symbolism! I miss it in music videos. Don’t talk to me, Katy Perry. (Photo credit.)