After about six months since the Wham! breakup was announced, we were treated to George Michael having an epic superstar duet with one of his idols, the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin.  That single, “I Knew You Were Waiting (for Me)” delivered the goods with George holding very well in his end in the presence of the always formidable Aretha.  It led to Aretha’s second US Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 single and of course another major feather in George’s cap, and it was a major smash in many territories.

But George didn’t play it safe when he released his follow-up, “I Want Your Sex“.  It courted controversy starting from the title itself, and despite the positive “monogamy” message, we were living in a pretty conservative era then so it was a big deal–though radio stations like 99.5 RT didn’t mind playing it, Casey Kasem only mentions the song but not play it on his Top 40 countdown.  Of course on primetime (or morning or afternoon) music video programs on network TV, you won’t see this video playing, but I was able to catch one on a music video show that airs late in the evening–of course I know even then they would be “sanitizing” and editing out some parts.  Still, it is indeed a sexy video, featuring the exotic Kathy Jeung (his then-girlfriend) as the leading lady.  It only dawned on me now that it borrowed from David Bowie’s “China Girl” video in that aspect, though rendered in a culturally-neutral, cosmopolitan high-fashion style.  At this point, I was thinking George’s sexuality is like David Bowie, that he might have feminine moves but digs exotic girls like what David Bowie does.  Still, I’m glad that despite the controversy it was a very successful single, peaking at No. 2 in the US

Then came the career-defining blockbuster:  “Faith” was unconventional for its time as it is a rockabilly-styled ditty with a sparse arrangement (especially with this era notorious for its overreliance on synths and drum machines), but well, because it’s toe-tappingly infectious it made it so distinct that it’s inevitable that it became a mega-success.  And of course there is the iconic image of George playing guitar while clad in denim jeans and leather jacket with those aviator shades and that stubble (more about his looks when I discuss his follow-up album to this).  That song and that video remains indelible to this day and it always sounds fresh.

This was followed by another stunning single, the soulful ballad “Father Figure“.  The video is also very stylish as it features a plot about a love affair between a chic fashion model and a taxi driver played by George.  The video may not be as awesome as “Faith” (though it’s still a lovely video), but the song still resonates to this day.  In fact, its groove was sampled by rap duo PM Dawn five years later as “Looking Through Patient Eyes” featuring backing vocals by Cathy Dennis.*  George then followed it up with more hits like the ballad “One More Try“, club banger “Monkey“,  and the jazzy ballad “Kissing a Fool“.

* Cathy Dennis is a lovely pop singer in her own right with a bunch of hits in the early 1990s like “Touch Me (All Night Long)” and “Too Many Walls” and a whole host of underrated shoulda-been hit songs like “Irresistible”, but she is now better known as a killer pop songwriter-for-hire, responsible for Britney Spears’ “Toxic”, Kylie Minogue’s “Can’t Get You Out of My Head”, and the theme song to the Idol franchise.

After the Faith juggernaut, George found time to help out his friend Deon Estus, who was the bassist in Wham!’s backing band, as the latter embarked on his solo career.  George lent backing vocals to the 1989 US Top 5 hit, “Heaven Help Me“.  It was a lovely piece of soul.  It also brought back some personal memories as this was the last song played when I visited that college friend I mentioned in my Prince essay before he suddenly gave me the cold shoulder.

It was then almost a year-and-a-half before we get to hear from George again.  But it came with a jolting message–first as he released his ballad  “Praying for Time“, it came with a note that he will not appear in a music video anymore, and that the cover art for the album Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1 will not feature his image.    In our shores, his “no image on album cover” directive was disobeyed as a small profile picture of him was superimposed on the main cover art.  Radio station 99.5 RT also premiered the entire album, and I actually liked what I heard, though it was pretty slow going as it’s laden with ballads filled with serious messages, just like the launching single “Praying for Time“–when it was released I have to admit I didn’t really dig the song that much and found it too dour, but as years wore on its lyrics carry more resonance especially with the state of the world these days.  It’s also noted that it mostly lacks dance groove, with the exception of “Freedom ’90“, “Soul Free” and my second-most favorite track from that album,  “Waiting for that Day“–which qualifies as a ballad, but it samples James Brown’s “Funky Drummer” groove which I thought made this more interesting to listen to, and I have to say its lyrics resonated with me, especially about an important person in my life whose ties I had to sever about four-and-a-half years later.

Original cover art for Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1
Some superimposed this image to the above cover art.

My favorite track off the album–and my all-time favorite George Michael song–is “Freedom 90″.  They had to tack on the “90” to this song so to avoid confusion with his previous Wham! song with the same title, but this is way superior to that song, as most (including myself) would attest.  Though the verses are specific to George’s own experiences, the soaring “FREEDOM!” chorus carries such a universal resonance that everyone can relate.  So I’m a bit frustrated that this only peaked at No. 8 in the US and didn’t even hit Top 40 in the UK–this deserves to be a much bigger hit.  Well, at least the music video featuring supermodels Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Tatjana Patitz, and Christy Turlington is now one of the indelibly classic music videos of all time.  But I have to note that though there is so much focus on the five female supermodels, there were male models in the video, too.  At the time, I thought there were perhaps two models at most, but it turns out there were five.  I know male models tend to be at the bottom of the fashion totem pole, but I want to elevate them and identify them by name (and scenes):  John Pearson (the guy who was most like the “substitute” George reclining on a couch clad in leather jacket, T-shirt, and jeans), Mario Sorrenti (young guy reclining with a lamp–he eventually became renowned as a famous fashion photographer), Todo Segalla (the shirtless guy doing upside-down abdominal exercises on a horizontal bar), Peter Fromby (long-ish haired boyish cutie under a lit cellar), and Scott Benoit (sexy guy in shadowy close-up towards the end of video seemingly taking a shower and occasionally covering his face).

I can recall reading an interview of him in a magazine where he explained why he did what he did.  Some important takeaways from it are these:

1) He was asked point-blank about his sexuality, and his response at the time was evasive, declaring he would neither confirm or deny he is gay.  If you ask me, this kind of evasiveness usually is as good as confirming that he is, but of course not making it “official”.  I can understand why–at the time I’m also struggling with my sexuality and “gay” was a label loaded with a lot of unwanted baggage that most people would demean your value as a person in the process, and of course I don’t want my value as a person to be solely defined by my sexuality.

2) The magazine article featured this self-portrait drawn by George himself.  It was a pretty unflattering self-portrait, that it dawned on me that George probably has low self-esteem and thinks of himself as ugly.  Admittedly during his Wham! days I did find his features a tad harsh, but as he grew his stubble since 1985, I suddenly found him good-looking and those “harsh” features seem to now all make sense (and I think George also arrived at the same conclusion).  In many ways, he’s the forerunner of today’s “scruffy-is-hot” trend for men. It also now makes sense why he’s reportedly very particular of the images released of him, and why (like Mariah Carey) he tends to prefer to be shot at one angle over the other.  In a certain way, this also could explain why he had Andrew Ridgeley with him when he started out–from many accounts I have then read over the years, the story goes is that George was introverted and Andrew helped George step out of his shell, and Andrew wanted to become a star, and George has that prodigious talent with his terrific singing voice and knack for creating great songs, so these friends banded together, with Andrew building up George’s self-esteem and confidence as George delivered those songs and the rest was history.  So Andrew served a purpose in Wham! after all.

A childhood photo

Later I watched the 1991 Brit Awards, and George was present to receive an award.  I think it was presented by some model so George had to point out in his speech that the reason why he did the “Freedom 90” video the way he did is he pointed out he thinks the public would prefer to look at the prettier faces of models than someone like him.  I kinda beg to disagree here as I think people do want to see him and think he’s attractive enough to fit with the “beautiful” ones.  Now, the armchair psychologist in me also speculates that he started to chafe at the image he crafted when he promoted the Faith album that he started to feel like a fraud, that was why he decided to scale down and repudiate that previous persona.

At the “Freedom 90” video shoot featuring Christy Turlington (L) and Linda Evangelista (R)

For many lesser artists, the numbers delivered by Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1 would be something to celebrate, but because it was a steep drop from the levels delivered by Faith, it was deemed a disappointment.  Anyway, after the singles from that album died down, his next releases were earmarked for charity.  First up was his duet with Elton John covering the latter’s “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me“, which became a major international smash.  This was then followed by “Too Funky“, which is supported by a video in a style similar to “Freedom 90” featuring Linda Evangelista (the only holdover from the “Freedom 90” video), Tyra Banks, Nadja Auermann, Eva Herzigova, Emma Sjöberg, and Estelle Hallyday, plus celebrities like TV Catwoman Julie Newmar, Pedro Almodovar muse Rossy de Palma and drag queens Joey Arias and Lypsinka.  George’s stance on not appearing on his videos mellowed down as he was featured in fleeting scenes culminating in the ending when he’s shown as the “director” of the video (though the text art states “Drected by: ?”.  It was a highly saturated visual delight.  As you, the reader would know by now, I tend to have a bias towards George’s uptempo numbers, and I enjoyed the sensual and yes, funky song immensely.  It was another successful single (peaking in No. 10 in the US and higher positions elsewhere).

I read somewhere that the video was originally a joint directorial effort between George and fashion designer Thierry Mugler and the latter supplied the fashions sported by the models.  But there was major friction between the directors during the shoot and a clash of editorial visions.  After almost two decades of the video’s original release, we got to see Thierry’s edit, and it was a revelation.  First, there were a lot more models, like veteran Beverly Johnson and then up-and-comers Shana Zadrick and Emma Balfour and there were a whole host of male models featured too, reportedly including eventual Grey’s Anatomy star Justin Chambers and eventual Oscar-nominated actor Djimon Honsou.  Second, one beefy male model was lip-syncing George Michael’s lines by standing on a wall clad only in tight denim jeans.  Third, there seems to be a more coherent narrative in Thierry Mugler’s version, as it turns out Julie Newmar’s role was actually more prominent and so she appeared last on the catwalk in this version–note that the sequence in which the models appeared was radically different between the released version and Thierry’s original cut.  So why did George object to Thierry’s version?  My speculation is because he’s still very much in the closet and the sight of those hot homoerotic male models made him uncomfortable that he wanted them edited out, along with the “lesbian” sequence between Linda and Estelle.

George was among the artists who performed at Freddie Mercury‘s tribute concert with Queen, singing a duet with Lisa Stansfield on “These Are the Days of Our Lives“,  and then went on to do “Somebody to Love”  It was a perfect fit, as George’s voice has a similar tone and timbre to Freddie’s vocals–which goes to show how impressive a vocalist George is; in my reckoning George and Freddie are the top two pop/rock male vocalists of all time.  Those performances are then compiled in a charity EP called Five Live and featured George’s other live performances from his 1991 Covers to Covers mini-tour (concerts where he mixes his own songs with him covering many of his favorite songs from other artists), including a medley of “Killer/Papa Was a Rolling Stone” (from Seal and the Temptations respectively).

Around that time, George filed a lawsuit against his record label, Sony, to free himself from his record contract.  Some of the arguments in that suit is that Sony sabotaged promotions for Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1 that is why it underperformed–at the time I didn’t quite sympathize with George’s stance on this since I felt he brought that to himself because he didn’t want to appear in videos and go on tour to promote that album–that Covers to Covers tour barely focused on material from that album, for instance and it wasn’t an extensive tour.  I suppose because of that, the jury didn’t rule in George’s favor.  But Sony’s reputation got hurt so they were able to come up with a deal to let Geroge buy out of his contract (reportedly costing George US$40 million) so he could be free to pursue other labels.

This led to the Older album.  His launching single”Jesus to a Child” was a ballad dedicated to a deceased Brazilian friend of his who died of AIDS, Anselmo Feleppa–who as we would eventually find out was his boyfriend.  Then came “Fast Love”, another awesome groovesome toe-tapper that philosophically is the opposite of “I Want Your Sex” as he touts the joys of casual sex.  Another track I like from the album was the jazzy “Spinning the Wheel“–I’m a bit obsessed with the black female backup singer with the frizzy hairdo and flower on her hair.  I also kinda like “Star People” but yes, they had to remix it to make it a single.  At this point, George’s successes are mainly confined outside of the United States even if “Jesus to a Child” and “Fastlove” made the Top 10 there.

In April 1998, George was arrested for “lewd behavior” in an entrapment operation in a men’s restroom at Will Rogers park in Beverly Hills.  Of course the tabloid press pounced on this and finally when he conducted interviews in the aftermath of that event, George confirmed what I had always known when I first saw him in “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”–that he’s gay.  I have to say I relate to this particular predicament–how or if I was in an exact situation like George, I would have to plead the fifth on that.  Later that year he released a greatest hits collection called Ladies and Gentlemen: the Best of George Michael.  It didn’t dawn on me the title of the collection was a nod to the arrest (remember that restrooms are designated as “Ladies” and “Gentlemen”, but obviously the carrier single “Outside” makes that reference obvious and I loved how he made it cheeky and humorous, like transforming the urinals into a discotheque, for instance.  It felt liberating, and George looks finally comfortable in his own skin.

The double album was divided into two sections–“For the Heart”, which features ballads, and “For the Feet”, which features songs with a groove (not necessarily all unconditionally uptempo).  I do appreciate his talent with ballads, and I like his duet with Brazilian jazz legend Astrud Gilberto (“Girl from Ipanema”) on the Portuguese language song “Desafinado (translated as “Out-of-Tune” in English).  But of course on heavy rotation in my CD player was the “For the Feet” CD.  Another highlight for me is his cover of Stevie Wonder‘s”As“, a duet with Mary J. Blige.  It’s such a missed opportunity that this is not a bigger hit as this is just utterly terrific and needless to say I adore the video with multiple Georges and Marys.  This is not the first time George covered Stevie–he did that beautiful, mournful ballad “They Won’t Know When I Go” on Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1 previously.

The following year, he came out with an all-covers ballad album Songs from the Last Century.  I basically ignored it since, well, I have always preferred his danceable uptempo stuff and there was none of it here.  It was successful in Europe and a big flop in the US.  Two and a half years later, he released this dance song called Freeek!”  Now, I was disappointed with that song and music video–its mechanical rhythms didn’t have the uplifting grooves we have come to expect from his uptempo stuff, and the music video seems he returned back to the closet as he strutted and preened like a hetero lothario surrounded by girls, which felt hypocritical.  It was a big hot mess in my opinion, even if it was a hit throughout Europe.  His follow-up single, “Shoot the Dog“, a discofied political protest song on then-US President George W. Bush and then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair‘s decision to invade Iraq, was an improvement, but it took the release of his Patience album to get on board especially with the singles “Amazing” and “Flawless (Go to the City)“.

The years since Patience was filled with turmoil as he had multiple arrests for driving incidents where he’s under the influence of drugs and again for anonymous public sex.  It seems his relationship with then partner Kenny Goss was an open relationship, and I didn’t mind the sex thing, but the drugs thing alarmed me and I hope he would recover from this.  But then he was felled by pneumonia in late 2011 and it seemed he has not recovered fully from that as his output significantly slowed down.  He did release a few singles like “White Light” in 2012 after his near-brush with death and a live album, Symphonica (based on his 2011-2012 tour where he sang accompanied by a symphony orchestra various cover numbers and rearranged versions of his hits).  But at this point, George is now regarded as a “legacy” artist, not at the forefront of pop relevance.

On a piquant note, another lasting legacy that George left behind is that he’s the guy who inspired James Corden‘s now famous viral segment in his talk show, Carpool Karaoke.  It came from a comedy sketch for Red Nose Day for Comic Relief in 2011 where they were brainstorming ideas for that charity event and James was driving George around town.

Turns out George’s life in many ways mirrored mine, especially in coming to terms with my own sexual identity.  I think we both struggled because of the milieu we were in then–it was pretty repressive in those days (and unfortunately with the rise of the likes of Donald Trump and to a lesser extent Rodrigo Duterte), there might be a chance that our hard-won freedoms would be reverted back.  Considering the drug issues George had been through, I’m actually certain the latter president’s sentiment would be “good riddance”.  It’s such a shame because George’s singing and songwriting talents have been proven to have withstood the test of time, and his musical legacy and his now-disclosed acts of generosity are definitely going to be missed.





Image courtesy of

Just when you think 2016 has taken away enough legends, on Christmas Day another music icon joined David Bowie, Prince, Glenn Frey (of the Eagles), Maurice White (of Earth, Wind & Fire), Natalie Cole, Leonard Cohen, and so many others to the other side.  George Michael reportedly died peacefully in his sleep due to heart failure on the morning of that day (and reported to the police at 2 PM GMT).  I was already turning in for the night (it was 10 PM in our shores) after a usually sweet and quiet Christmas at my home so I only got to learn about this news several hours later when I woke up and checked my Facebook news feed and saw some of my friends posting their respects to him.

I first encountered George Michael back in 2nd year high school when he was still part of the two-person boyband Wham!  I was starting to become obsessed with the Billboard Hot 100 charts and listened religiously to Casey Kasem’s American Top 40.   Around this time the peppy “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” was the Number One song in the USA.  The song was an unapologetically bright and peppy retro trifle, and the music video was a bright explosion of pastel, with the now iconic “Choose Life” T-shirt and those colored short-shorts.  Besides the utter boppy catchiness of the tune, another standout quality about this song (and performance) was George’s singing–his range is wide and amazing, and I thought he was one of the best singers I have ever heard.  But one thing that I noticed about the video even then was his feminine mannerisms, and it made me wonder–is he gay?  It mirrored my own experiences in high school as I have been taunted for my own mannerisms and couldn’t forge close male friendships because of it.

Things get even more confusing when his follow-up single, “Careless Whisper” came out.  Remember in this video he was playing a studly leading man who philandered and the love of his life walked out in the process.  So he made me wonder if he’s actually straight as he’s showing in that video, but still I had my lingering doubts…  Anyway, I was aware also that in the UK this was credited as a George Michael solo record while in the US it’s credited as “Wham! featuring George Michael”, and I bought their Make It Big album and making things a bit more confusing is that this is one of the very few songs where his Wham! partner, Andrew Ridgeley, had a songwriting credit–and I’ve been reading about how people are wondering what Andrew was bringing to the table besides adequate guitar playing skills in the first place since George does practically everything?  With the song’s mega-success and lasting impact, Andrew seems to be able to live comfortably from the royalties of this song alone (and to his credit, he’s also pretty wise about his finances).   In our shores, this song’s impact remained potent almost 25 years later,due to leaked sex tapes involving celebrity doctor Hayden Kho and some starlets like Kathrina Halili, one of the tamer ones showing him sensually dancing to this song.

In the UK, “Careless Whisper” already hit its peak and there was room for a follow-up Christmas-themed single from them, and actually George got involved in two eventual big Christmas mega-smashes.  He was part of Bob Geldof’s now-famous charity project for the famine in Ethiopia, Band Aid‘s “Do They Know It’s Christmas” and he came out with his group’s own Christmas single, “Last Christmas“.  The latter of course couldn’t hit Number One in the UK as the former hogged all the spotlight, but of course in the end both emerged as winners as time goes on as both became almost permanent fixtures on Christmas playlists everywhere.  In the US, the Band Aid single went only as far as No. 13 and had a short chart life and “Last Christmas” was not released as a single in those shores then (and if it was, at that time it wouldn’t be eligible to chart in the Hot 100).  Though it figured in the Holiday charts in subsequent years, it’s only this year with George’s death that “Last Christmas” made its mark on the Hot 100 (debuted at No. 50 and will most likely surge on next week’s chart).

At the time, my favorite track from Make It Big was the retro-bopping ditty  “Freedom“, and I was slightly disappointed that in the US it only peaked at No. 3 (though it was also a UK number 1 the previous year, but I wasn’t following the UK charts that religiously then).  But then as years wore on, this song would be overshadowed by another composition of his with an identical title. (more on that later).  Prior to the release of the “Freedom” single, Wham! scored another Number One hit with “Everything She Wants“.  I didn’t think much of the album track then, but when I saw the music video I was intrigued by the extended bridge.  The song grew in regard as years wore on also, and I now understand why this is one of only two Wham! songs George usually would performed in his solo concerts…

After showing all those big Wham! hits on TV, the music video shows in my shores then aired some pre-Make It Big Wham! songs.  In particular, they showed  Bad Boys”, “Wham! Rap (Enjoy What You Do)“, and “Club Tropicana“–they ignored their first UK hit, “Young Guns (Go For It)“.  Indeed the material was way inferior to the Make It Big stuff, and a bit cringe-worthy in those days (but revisiting them on YouTube now, they can be fun listens).  The videos are silly and campy, especially “Club Tropicana”, which I’ll highlight below for the skin factor–I can imagine the sight of George and Andrew in skimpy swimwear making teenage girls swoon then, though again, something about George’s mannerisms made me wonder…

In late 1985, Wham! released another infectious hit, “I’m Your Man“.  Again I wished it did better than its No. 3 U.S. peak but at least I can console myself that it was another UK No. 1.  It’s a song that also wore its years well that this is the other Wham! song that George doesn’t mind performing (or even coming up with an updated, funkier, hip-hop-infused version in the mid-1990s).  But little did I know then this is the beginning of the end for Wham!  When they announced in June 1986 that they will be breaking up after releasing “Edge of Heaven“, I was slightly surprised but then again, the signs were there when in between “I’m Your Man” and “Edge of Heaven”, he branched out into collaborating with Elton John on the US Top 20 hit  “Wrap Her Up” , an underrated catchy ditty when I first listened to it, slightly leaden and dated when you hear it these days.  In early 1986 before the Wham! breakup was announced he released another solo single, the classical-styled ballad “A Different Corner“.  It wasn’t a devastating blow when I learned of the news, but I was intrigued with what George will be doing on his own–I was hoping there would be toe-tappers in his future repertoire on top of those solo ballads he released thus far.



Catriona Gray (image courtesy of Jory Rivera for OPMB Worldwide)

Like the majority of my countrymen, I was shell-shocked at the end of Miss World 2016 when Miss Philippines (Catriona Gray) was not announced the winner as many have expected.  And it’s not without lack of effort on her part as she was practically perfection all through the night, which makes the defeat sting.  But while there are several netizens who are in uproar and expressed extremely negative messages against the Miss World Organization over these results, after quickly undergoing the five stages of grief I have come to accept and respect the decision–I still disagree with it, but I choose not to be disagreeable.  I’ll discuss this further when I post a full-fledged review.

Anyway, I got 15 out of 20 right, and with the five I didn’t get, four of them in my “Striking Distance” list.  The one who was outside my radar was Ghana (Delali Kemavor)–I guess I have yet to learn how to appreciate her type of exotic beauty, but I realize she does have a radiance about her and can look distinctively elegant.


Though I included her in my “Striking Distance” list on the basis of her BWAP project, I was also shocked how far Belgium (Lenty Frans) has fared, as she ended up as Miss World – Europe as she’s the only European who made the Top Ten, eclipsing the likes of Hungary (Timea Gelencser).  We may attribute to her most likely acing the interview and the judges digging her medical school background, along with her BWAP project.


There is one clear winner for the Ruth Ocumarez award, and she also is the Holly Carpenter award winner–she is none other than Mexico (Ana Girault).  Her over-the-top antics and that nude selfie leak may have done her in, even if she’s forgiven and allowed to continue to compete.


I got six of the Top Ten right and three of the Top Five.  In some ways, we kinda expect Dominican Republic (Yaritza Reyes) and Indonesia (Natasha Mannuela) to rank high, though many feel the latter on the basis of key power players.  I predicted the eventual winner, Puerto Rico (Stephanie del Valle) to remain relegated in the Top 20, but I have a high regard for her and know if she won favor to advance further (thanks to a situation similar to Indonesia), she’ll do well.  Her Q&A responses and overall presence made her win kinda justified, though of course, I still maintain that Catriona was the best of them all.

Miss World 2016 Stephanie del Valle (image courtesy of Jory Rivera for OPMB Worldwide)

Surprise results and stunning upsets are part and parcel of every pageant, and to be honest, so are elements of influence-peddling.  Sometimes it works to our advantage and other times it may not, and perhaps it’s just unfortunate that this time it came a bit at our expense.  I’ll discuss these issues further in my full-fledged Miss World review, but for now, I’ll say that congratulations to the winner as she is a strong choice, and let’s respect the judges’ decisions even if it didn’t work in our favor this time.  There might be big and better things in store for Catriona in the future.