Back on stage after 15 years - and still doing things his way
Emotions high as George Michael reminds fans how he became a global star
Esther Addley in Barcelona
Monday September 25, 2006
When you have sold 85m albums around the world, and survived an undignified public arrest for cottaging, an acrimonious courtroom dispute with your record company, and even the memory of having worn shuttlecocks down your shorts, you can afford to do things your way, and hang the critics.
And so it was that halfway into his first concert for 15 years, George Michael grinned like a delighted schoolboy and unveiled his big showstopper: a 50ft inflatable puppet of George Bush being fellated by a union flag-clad bulldog. Shoot the Dog, Michael's 2002 single satirising the special relationship, may have won him a ferocious backlash from the US and a scathing reception from British critics. But where another artist might have preferred to forget their flirtation with career suicide and stick to the hits, Michael seemed gleeful to be having another go at the Palau Sant Jordi arena in Barcelona. The 18,000 fans who were there to see the start of his 25 Live European tour to celebrate a quarter of a century in music obliged by turning up the hysteria a further notch on Saturday.
For a man who, by his own admission, has spent sizeable chunks of the past two decades smoking marijuana in his Hampstead mansion, and in recent years has earned more headlines for his occasionally erratic lifestyle than for his music, it was a highly emotional return to live performance. Michael has scarcely sung in public since the early 1990s, around the time that he was named by Forbes magazine as one of the three biggest entertainment stars in the world. That the other two were Michael Jackson and Mike Tyson illustrates his remarkable survival.
Although he was at the height of his popularity, the singer now admits it was a deeply unhappy period; the once shiny-toothed boyband heart-throb was in fact secretly gay, and had nursed his lover, Anselmo Feleppa, through his death from Aids. That loss, along with the later death of his adored mother, catapulted him into a period of crazed self-destruction. He refused to promote his second solo album, Listen Without Prejudice, and embarked on an ill-advised court battle with his record company, Sony, which he lost. After such a long time in the closet, he has said, he did not quite know how to admit the truth about his sexuality; a 1998 arrest for cottaging in an LA public toilet took care of that.
His good-natured lampooning of the incident in the single Outside won him a gay fanbase which reinvigorated his career. In recent years he has hit the headlines more for his lifestyle than his music, having been found in February slumped in a marijuana-induced slumber in his car, and photographed in July having sex with strangers on Hampstead Heath.
But Michael, who is in a long-term open relationship with his Texan partner, Kenny Goss, insists he is neither troubled nor going off the rails, but merely a contentedly promiscuous dope-smoker who has been on an extended sabbatical.
The thing about taking a 15-year career break, however, is that no one quite knows what to expect when you return. Would Michael play it kitsch, perhaps rattling through some of his cheesier early hits with Wham!? Or would he aim for the "housewives' favourite" market inhabited by some of his contemporaries, heavy on ballads and light on irony? The answer was somewhere between the two. Michael's own particular brand of high camp comes dressed only in black Armani, and though he did include a number of Wham! songs in the set, he opted for the grown-up pop of Everything She Wants and I'm Your Man, rather than the giddy adolescent silliness of Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go and Club Tropicana that first made him a star.
Perhaps forgiveably, it was a slightly nervy performance, Michael slickly moving from one hit to the next - he has had 11 British number ones, so there are a lot of them - without daring to risk too much chat with the audience, who are likely to add to his prolific sales when his new album of greatest hits is released in November.
Although the trademark stubble is now greying, the 43-year-old still has one of the finest voices in British pop, singing for more than two hours without a single faltering note. It was a welcome reminder of quite how a shy Greek Cypriot schoolboy from East Finchley in north London managed to become one of the biggest stars in the world.
Michael's private jet will crisscross Europe for a 50-date tour which will culminate in four dates at Wembley Arena in December. It is certain to be an emotional homecoming. "I've been waiting for this moment," the singer said simply as he took his final bow. His fans clearly have too.
lundi, septembre 25, 2006
listen without prejudice
"Freedom '90" is still one of my favorite songs. And I dare you not to tap your toes when "Faith" comes on. So, yes. George Michael's music rocks. But his politics also please me immensely.