As the history of popular music develops, one fact shines through: talent wins. You can't cheat and survive for any length of time. You can't hype and fool people more than once. You can't hide behind image makers, or alluring videos, or the cut of this season's clothes. Or you can - but then you die. To survive you must evolve, improve, have faith, still thrill. Longevity depends on making the best music.
George Michael has never thought of popular music as a career: it's far more personal - more precious - than that. But he has always taken the long-term view, that ultimately an artist's achievement will not be judged in terms of number one singles, or magazine covers, or prestigious awards, but by a large body of work, a collection of albums over time, a lifetime's development in an art form that no longer depends on shock or rebellion or the quick burn-out to make a mark.
In 19 years, and at 38 years of age, George Michael can already look back on more than 67 million record sales worldwide. He's notched up six U.S. Number One singles from his debut album, eleven British number one singles and six Number One albums to date. He has also played at some of the biggest and most important concerts in history (Live Aid, the Nelson Mandela Freedom Concert, the Freddie Mercury Tribute), all in front of capacity audiences at Wembley Stadium and in front of many millions watching throughout the world. But that was the beginning, an early phase or two.
George Michael was born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou on 25 June 1963 in North London, and went on to meet his future Wham! partner Andrew Ridgeley at a nearby comprehensive school. They formed their first band, The Executive, in 1981, but soon realized their chosen path lay as a duo: Wham! was born.
Within a year they had released their classic debut single, “Wham Rap”, but it was their second single, “Young Guns (Go for It!)”, which became the first in a string of Top Ten hits.
In the summer of 1984 George unveiled a glimpse of what was to come by releasing the classic “Careless Whisper”. His first solo single while still with Wham! became one of the signatures of the Eighties and one of the most-played radio songs of the decade. It was written when he was still only 17.
His growing maturity was further established with the release of “A Different Corner”, his second solo single, and another mature ballad of lasting worth. A few months later George and Andrew decided that Wham! should disband while still at the very peak of their success. This announcement was followed by a unique final concert at Wembley, an emotional farewell in front of 72,000.
Their place was assured as one of the most exuberant pop bands of the Eighties. Equally certain was that George was set for a remarkable solo career.
In 1987 George became the first white male vocalist ever to duet with soul great Aretha Franklin. The resulting recording, “I Knew You Were Waiting”, shot straight to the top of the charts worldwide, starting off a year which saw George jetting between London and Denmark, recording tracks for his outstanding debut Faith album.
The album, released in November 1987, showed George Michael to be one of the finest songwriters of the decade and guaranteed him a whole new audience. The album was a number one on both sides of the Atlantic, with worldwide sales approaching fifteen million.
Faith received a Grammy for the Best Album of 1988, and won George two Ivor Novello Awards for Songwriter of the Year and International Hit of the Year (“Faith”). George also won American Music Awards for Favorite Male Vocalist (pop/rock), Favorite Male Artist (soul/R&B) and Favorite Album (soul/R & B).
In America, the outstanding success of Faith was marked by six number one singles: “I Want Your Sex”, “Faith”, “Father Figure”, “One More Try”, “Monkey” and “Kissing A Fool”.
The live Faith tour followed in February 1988, taking the hits package to a momentous opening date at Tokyo's Budokan Stadium, and then on to ecstatic audiences in Australia, Europe hand North America. In June, George interrupted the tour to sing three songs at Wembley Stadium's Nelson Mandela Freedom Concert.
By September 1990 George had gathered together a new body of work - Listen Without Prejudice: Vol.1 - and another new direction was visible from the first single, “Praying For Time”. Much of the album had a raw, stripped-down feel, and drew heavily from classic Sixties tracks, black rhythm and jazz moods. Mostly they were personal, increasingly philosophical songs; once again they went against the prevailing chart trends.
His videos created new waves too: it was almost unheard of for an artist of his stature not to appear centre-stage, but for Freedom 90 he found other stars - Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington and Linda Evangelista. This was the first time these supermodels had been seen together away from the catwalks, and it was an attraction no one found able to resist thereafter.
The album was another British number one, and also spawned the hit singles “Waiting For That Day”, “Heal The Pain” and “Cowboys and Angels”. Still in his twenties, Michael was already being classed alongside those artists he admired most, and with whom he had the honor of dueting: Aretha Franklin, Elton John and Stevie Wonder. He brought out an autobiography to coincide with the new album (Bare, co-written with Tony Parsons), and was granted a UK television special, an ultimate cultural sign of arrival.
In November 1991 George released “Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me”, a duet with Elton John from one of George's Wembley concerts. The song was another number one worldwide, and all proceeds went to the AIDS hospice London Lighthouse and the Rainbow Trust Children's Charity.
A few months later George was in the charts once more with “Too Funky”, a single from the Red Hot and Dance AIDS charity album, which included a collection of remixed hits by artists such as Madonna and Seal as well as three brand new George Michael songs - the only new songs on the album.
“Too Funky” went on to become Europe's most played record of 1992, helped partly by the video directed by George and styled by designer Thierry Mugler.
Early in 1993 George spent three weeks at the top of the charts with the Five Live EP, featuring duets with Queen and Lisa Stansfield on tracks from the 1992 Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert and from his own Cover to Cover tour in 1991. All proceeds went to the Freddie Mercury Phoenix Trust.
In October of the same year, in a bold statement, making headlines worldwide, George appeared in court against his record company Sony Music Entertainment, as he attempted to break free from the company he claimed no longer accepted his musical direction. Nine months later, the judge found in favor of the record company. An appeal was issued, and was due to be heard in 1996.
On December 1, 1993, World AIDS Day, George played a benefit concert in front of the late Diana, Princess of Wales. This Concert of Hope also featured K D Lang and Mick Hucknall and was televised worldwide, doing much to raise funds and awareness of the disease.
Towards the end of 1994 Michael performed a new song on the first MTV European Music Awards, in the shadow of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. “Jesus To A Child” was the first new George Michael song the huge television audience had heard for almost three years, and the acclaim was universal.
Undeterred by the fact that he still wasn't able to release any new material, “Careless Whisper” was voted Londoner's “Favorite Record of All Time” in January 1995 in a competition run jointly by the capital's leading evening newspaper and radio station. He was then voted Best Male Singer by the same radio station, and by the readers of a national newspaper.
By July 1995, after many months of negotiations, it was agreed that Michael would leave Sony and sign two new deals, one with Virgin Records for the World excluding the United States and the other with Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg's newly formed SKG Music in North America.
In April 1996, George won the Capital Radio award for Best Male Singer once more and was also honored with an Outstanding Contribution To Music award.
George's first album for Virgin Records, Older, was released in May of 1996 and thus far the global sales have been outstanding. The album has already earned multi-platinum and/or gold status in 34 countries.
Written, arranged and produced by George Michael, Older was recorded in London and features eleven brand new tracks including the huge international hits, “Jesus To A Child”, “Fastlove” and “Spinning The Wheel”, the double A-side “Older”/”I Can't Make You Love Me” and “Star People '97”.
The video for “Fastlove” was also the top choice of MTV Europe viewers in September 1996, as it picked up the 'MTV Europe International Viewers Choice Award' at the MTV Video Music Awards in New York.
At the beginning of October 1996, George performed his first live shows for five years with a gig for Radio 1 FM followed by an Unplugged Session for MTV. Although these concerts were attended by the smallest audiences George has ever played to, he claims they were nevertheless two of the most enjoyable, due to the intimacy of the occasion. The Radio 1FM audience consisted of just 200 people and the MTV Unplugged session slightly larger at 500. Both audiences included competition winners, some of whom had flown to London from all over the world, as well as various specially invited guests.
At both these events, George performed a stunning set which included the tracks “Father Figure”, “One More Try”, “Waiting For That Day”, “Freedom 90”, “Fastlove” and “Older”, closing with the up-tempo “Star People” which had the audience up on their feet begging for more.
In 1996, George was voted Best British Male, at the MTV Europe Awards and the BRITs; and at The Ivor Novello Awards, he was awarded the prestigious title of Songwriter of The Year for the third time.
In September, George released a four-track E.P. entitled You Have Been Loved, which debuted at number two making him the first artist in chart history to have six top-three singles from one album.
In November of 1997, his former record label Epic released If You Were There - the long-awaited collection of Wham's Greatest Hits and in December Virgin Records released a limited edition version of George's Older album, which contained a bonus disc of six remixed tracks entitled Upper. The Upper CD is exclusive in that it includes interactive elements, allowing fans access to George's web site, videos and fan club through the Internet.
In 1998 Ladies and Gentlemen - The Best of George Michael was released on Epic Records as agreed in the Sony settlement in 1995. The album soared to the top of the charts in the week of its release in November, and remained at number one for eight weeks, selling over two million copies, during the notoriously competitive Christmas period.
The album features songs from every era of Michael's career from “Careless Whisper” to the three brilliant brand new tracks. “Outside” was released in October of 1998 with an accompanying video that had George Michael's controversial stamp very clearly on it.
The end of 1998 brought George Michael more accolades. Ladies and Gentlemen shot straight to number one (and is now eight times platinum) in the UK. The album also reached number one on the combined European Album Chart. Michael also topped the polls of the 95.8 Capital FM Hall of Fame for a record eighth time.
In March (1999), George Michael released “As”, a duet with R and B Diva Mary J Blige, written and originally released by Stevie Wonder on his Songs in the Key of Life album.
Early October saw George Michael back on stage. He gave a rare live performance at Wembley Stadium for the NetAid benefit concert. For many this was the highlight of the evening as a full gospel choir and 20 dancers joined Michael for songs including “Father Figure” and a moving rendition of “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime”. The set opened with the recreation of the “Fastlove” video as Michael appeared seated in the famous black leather chair with in-built speakers and closed with the 70,000 strong Wembley Stadium audience singing backing vocals for “Freedom 90”.
As the 20th Century comes to a close George Michael releases his fourth solo album which features songs written by some of the greatest composers of the last 100 years. This retrospective collection released on Virgin Records includes tracks such as: “Roxanne” written by Sting, “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” written by Ewan MacColl and the Frank Sinatra classic “Where or When” written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. Each of the eleven tracks have been co-produced by the legendary Phil Ramone and George Michael.
His work covers a variety of pop styles, from ballads to funky dance tracks. In a career spanning more than 20 years, George Michael has been responsible for more than 80 million album sales.
Having decided to release his new material through a number of labels on a single-by-single basis, George found a home at Sony for his new, highly anticipated album Patience. It was released in March 2004 after two less-than-successful singles came out on Polydor and it debuted at number one on the UK album charts and Number Two in Australia.
During Live 8, George Michael joined Paul McCartney on stage, harmonizing on “Drive My Car”. He couldn't perform a separate set himself because of a cold. At the event, George told BBC Radio1 that he's writing and recording music at home.