Before we begin we want to give a shoutout to all our pansexual listeners who celebrated Pansexual Pride Day on December 8th. If you are new to the podcast or aren’t familiar with the term pansexual, this refers to individuals who are attracted to others based on their connection and not limited by sex or gender identity. This is not the same identity as bisexual, and many pan individuals are often overlooked or ignored by the larger LGBTQ+ movement. You can learn more by checking out the video linked in our script or picking up the book “How Queer! Personal narratives from bisexual, pansexual, polysexual, sexually-fluid, and other non-monosexual perspectives” by author Faith Beauchemin. And we hope all our Pansexuals out there feel some extra love this week.
As we move full-force into the Holiday season, we can’t go another minute without recognizing one of the most popular songs of the holiday - and the man behind it. For the last 26 years, the song Last Christmas has remained a consistent, holiday favorite, continuing to top the charts again and again through the month of December. Part of this is due to the unique style of the song; which tells the sad story of unrequited love, while jamming away to a smooth, almost happy, electric beat. While most Christmas songs tend to all sound the same, Wham!’s 1984 hit remains a refreshing break from the traditional.
The storyline is far too familiar to so many LGBTQ+ people returning home to the holidays. The protagonist runs into their former lover and is reminded of being dumped this time last year. A feeling of clandestine meetings and forbidden love seems to tease as an unspoken theme throughout the song. So many questions are left unanswered as listeners hear the singer pour out his heart. In the final verse, he bemoans the disappointment of the breakup before breaking out into a bridge that almost sounds like a coming out. The lyrics read:
A crowded room, friends with tired eyes
I'm hiding from you, and your soul of ice
My god, I thought you were someone to rely on
Me? I guess I was a shoulder to cry on
A face on a lover with a fire in his heart
A man under cover but you tore me apart
Now, I've found a real love you'll never fool me again
For those who aren’t queer, the lyrics seem to only imply the freedom found in new love. But to those who have been rejected by someone not yet ready to come out of the closet, the story hits hard. Many of us have found ourselves back home for the holidays, running into a former flame that no one else ever even knew about. In fact, this storyline has actually become quite popular in recent LGBTQ films - with Hulu’s Happiest Season serving as a perfect example. And though the writer never revealed any personal events that inspired the Christmas classic, plenty of speculation has been made about whether George Michael’s time in the closet played a role.
The song Last Christmas is attributed to the band Wham! but only one member actually had anything and everything to do with the hit. Born in East Finchley, London in June of 1963, Georgios was the son of Greek immigrants. In secondary school, George would meet one of his lifelong friends - and future bandmate - Andrew Ridgeley. The two formed a larger band with a group of friends, but the duo soon broke away to create their own musical franchise. Their first record, Wham! Rap dropped in June of 1982 and met mild success. The profanity on the album caused many stations to shy away from playing some of the more popular songs.
The same year the band released their first album, George told Andrew he was bisexual. He also attempted to come out to his family but was advised by a sibling not to tell his parents. Like many LGBTQ people during the 80s, Michaels risked facing harsh backlash, losing his musical career, and even being imprisoned if he came out as bisexual. English law during this time was ruled under the Sexual Offense Act of 1967. This ruling only allowed acts of homosexuality if the individuals were all 21 or older, all consenting, and if sexual experiences were contained privately and between 2 people only. At the time that he first came out to close friends, George Michaels was only 19 years old. Making any sexual interactions between him and another man illegal.
In later years, George would open up about his story and tell the Huffington Post:
"My depression at the end of Wham! was because I was beginning to realize I was gay, not bisexual..”.
This is a feeling that only those in the queer community can understand. Coming out once is incredibly vulnerable and terrifying, even for those from the most supportive backgrounds. After we have cleared this hurdle. a feeling of relief and comfort often takes over. Realizing there is more to explore and understand about ourselves can feel like we’re losing that sense of safety all over again. Especially if this new identity will put us in a higher risk group than before. To be clear, this is not to say “there’s no such thing as bisexuality” or any type of biphobic commentary. That is not the point of our explanation or George’s own revelation. It is to point out that some people take small steps to fully realizing their identity and everyone’s journey looks different.
During the height of his internal struggle, George would go on to write and record the song that became a worldwide Christmas favorite. And when we say George Michael, we mean George Michael alone. After going home for the holidays, with his business partner Andrew, the teen pop star says the inspiration hit him while watching a game of football. Michael’s ran up to his childhood bedroom and wrote the first verse and bridge before calling Ridgeley in to hear the song. Though Andrew appreciated the tune, it would be several months before George would make it into a recording studio to create his Christmas record. Wham! was struggling to stay relevant in a booming U.K. pop industry and the 1984 tour was grueling and disappointing. Critics were especially harsh on the duo and George was beginning to wonder if he could make it on his own.
In August, George finally had time to record his holiday song. A tech hung a few Christmas lights to set the mood but aside from George Michael, only the engineer and two assistants were allowed in studio. The artist insisted on doing every piece of music himself from singing every line and every part to playing every instrument. Most interesting is the fact that George had no professional training on the instruments and tediously pounded out the notes one at a time. This is why the music to Last Christmas is so simple and fairly unoriginal. However, the poetry of the lyrics and the intricate story told in the song is what made the record a lasting success. Even with the stiff competition that year, Last Christmas hit number 2 on the charts in both 1984 and 1985. Losing out the number one spot to George Michael’s Christmas collaboration song, the charity group Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas.
In fact, during its 26 year run on the radio, Last Christmas has charted in the top 3 spots for 24 different countries. Topping number 1 in 7 of those countries; though never quite passing the number two slot in George’s home in the U.K. Yet still, the Christmas bop has remained a consistent favorite and it’s smashing success gave Wham! a much-needed boost. For the next two years, George and Andrew delivered several number one hits including, Careless Whisper and Wake Me up Before You Go-Go. George also did several more collaborations and became much more serious about his career and ambitions. The resounding success of his Christmas song had shown him as a capable musician and given him the confidence he needed. In 1986, Wham! finally came to an end and George launched his solo career.
Over the next 30 years, George Michael enjoyed one of the most successful music careers any celebrity has ever experienced. He sold more than 80 million copies of his solo records alone. He was awarded numerous awards and twice voted as Best British Male Artist. By the time he passed away, Michael’s had amassed a fortune of nearly 100 million dollars. But his legacy did not just include his music, it also included his philanthropy and activism. Like several other LGBTQ stars of the era, George became committed to fighting the AIDS crisis. Of course, much of this was due to his own personal invested interest. Especially after suffering a deep loss that he couldn’t share with the world.
Throughout the 1980s, George continued to date women though most of them were props. He later admitted that he felt guilty using them and as the AIDS pandemic grew worse, he feared he might infect someone as he was still hooking up with strangers. In 1992, as his solo career was exploding, Michael fell in love with a dress designer named Anselmo. He told the Advocate a decade later:
“I thought I had fallen in love with a woman a couple of times. Then I fell in love with a man, and realized that none of those things had been love” .
Sadly, Anselmo would be diagnosed with HIV 6 months later and passed away in 1993. George was devastated but could not reveal his personal grief to the world. He said of this time:
“It was a terribly depressing time. It took about three years to grieve, then after that I lost my mother. I felt almost like I was cursed."
However, George could mobilize to raise money to support victims. He did just that by getting involved in the Elton John Foundation, taking a position as an LGBTQ Rights campaigner, and donating the proceeds from Last Christmas to AIDS research. And then, in 1996, George met and fell in love with executive Kenny Goss. The two would remain together for more than a decade and whether they would have stayed in the closet no one knows. In 1998, George was outed after being arrested for “public lewdness”, a term for homosexuality. But the artist saw the outing as a relief, even with the harsh backlash he faced. And of course, he faced a torrent of outrage, telling The Huffington Post.
“Right up until my arrest, I was still totally naïve about the level of homophobia. There’s no question when I look back it really would have hurt me [if I had come out sooner]. I didn’t realize how much I was protecting my career. I probably wouldn’t have got to sing with Aretha Franklin, or to rise that high.”
But even though his career never fully recovered in some places, George Michael would still continue to remain an icon until his death. The years following his passing saw the Christmas hit top the charts once again. The musician found his true abilities when he created the song Last Christmas, he paid for countless treatments and research through the song’s royalties, and he had his Last Christmas on December 25, 2016 - the day he passed away. Your recommended resource is - of course - the song Last Christmas and its many, many, many variations through the years. We also encourage you to check out the other songs of George Michael this holiday season and into the New Year.
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