George Michael, Faith and Feminism

George Michael was a mess. And how liberating that was for the rest of us, who were also messy, to see someone so handsome, talented and successful also unable to keep their shit together. This has always been one of the reasons I loved the man. His inability to remain compliant, even within the confines of the law, and his dedication to doing whatever the fuck he wanted is inspiring, if not totally reckless. Is this what killed him? Probably, but I imagine he always knew it would and, really, so did we.

George Michael also meant a lot to me, and to many, because he was one of the few men in music, at the time of my childhood and adolescence, who was writing remarkable songs about what it was to be a man in love and in lust and at the same time not reducing the recipients of his affection and desire to objects. There was a real sense of partnership in his music and subsequently in his videos and to a young me, that was fascinating.

In 1987 George Michael released Faith, his first solo album post WHAM!, and debuted his inaugural single, I Want Your Sex. At this time no other popular artist besides Marvin Gaye had dared put the word “sex” in the title of a song and let’s be honest, Sexual Healing sounds a lot less provocative than Michael’s contribution, which also showcased an accompanying video featuring his then girlfriend, Kathy Jeung, strutting round in a basque and stockings while intermittently writhing in the sheets with him. Yum.

The song, with lyrics including, “What’s your definition of dirty, baby? What do you consider pornography?” and the video courted controversy. So much so that the video was banned from the MTV rotation until after 10pm. Watching it now it not only seems rather tame, but also quite lovely. Here was one of the sexiest men alive singing about wanting to have consensual, hot and probably filthy sex with his partner. What the hell is sexier than that? Literally nothing.

The lyrics on the Faith album were finely crafted and showed off Michael’s incredible talent for songwriting. Most especially his ability to write songs that were suggestive, but respectful. As women, we hear a lot about what a man is going to do to us in music. There’s a lot of telling and there rarely appears to be much of a choice for us, so as the subject of these songs we lack agency. But when George Michael sings, on the title track of his debut solo album, “Well, I guess it would be nice if I could touch your body, I know not everybody has got a body like you” he doesn’t declare that he will touch anyone, but instead uses the word “could”, which implies the action of touching necessitates permission. Subtle, but very empowering, especially for a young thang learning how to navigate personal boundaries.

If you had or are currently the proud owner of some heavy daddy issues, then Father Figure was surely your jam. This masterpiece perfectly captured the acute, exquisite pain of unrequited love. “If you are the desert, I’ll be the sea. If you ever hunger, hunger for me. Whatever you ask for that’s what I’ll be.” The achingly sexy video featured George and supermodel, Tania Coleridge, being a beautiful couple and once again, depicted many sensual shots of foreplay and sex that looked healthy as fuck and still make my panties wet. And can we just talk about that final shot of a moustachioed Tania smoking a cigar? That stands up, in my opinion, as one of the sexiest images of all time. BAM!

The whole of George Michael’s Faith album, both the music and the videos that followed, expertly explored and highlighted the duality of a “traditional” relationship. And the message that there were two people responsible for making it work and that each could have equal impact within its sphere was insightful and important.

On the painfully poignant One More Try  (which is my favourite song on the album) he asserts, “I don’t want to learn to hold you, touch you, think that you’re mine.” Inferring that with a new lover there’s an emotional and a physical investment to consider and that learning the landscape of someone’s body is something that takes time. It was also unusual to hear a man refer to his partner as his teacher, especially in a intimate context. That honesty and vulnerability from a man in pop was uncommon and it was thrilling. Through listening to George Michael’s Faith album I learned that a man doesn’t always have to be in control and that my role as a woman wasn’t simply to gratify someone else’s desire, but that I deserved to be gratified as well. Feminist as fuck.

Faith will always be a special album to me because it was forged by a beautiful, sensitive man who seemed to really take his muse(s) into consideration when exploring intention or recounting shared experience. And while I’m sure that most of his songs were written with men in mind that doesn’t change their importance, in fact, it makes his work even more special, as it has the ability to transcend gender and sexuality fluidly.

Throughout his career George Michael was proof positive that being masculine and being emotionally intelligent are not mutually exclusive. In the sea of great losses we’ve all suffered this year it seems so very unfair that three unquestionably different men, who all uniquely embodied masculinity, and who I would certainly consider feminists, are in that number. Rest in peace, George. Thank you for the music.

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