If you’re reading this it’s too late: George Michael passed away on Christmas Day, 2016, capping off a year that has seen many iconic stars depart this earth including Prince and David Bowie. These men dared to be themselves and buck the prevailing trend. That’s what icons do: they challenge us to see ourselves in relation to society in a different way, in a freer, more fluid way, as was the case with those aforementioned legends.
George Michael’s passing seems personal because many of us identify with these celebrities through their music; we think we know them because we can feel their emotions, ones that are present in all of us. For me, George Michael represented the quest to be free: free from the expectations of others that are often hoisted on all of us in one way or another. Hence the name of this blog, Not In My Colour, which means the rejection of the expectations of others based on nothing more than fulfilling the prevailing norm. It should not be surprising that my favourite George Michael song is Freedom ’90.
The video was shot in a dark, brooding tone with careful use of shadow to emphasize the invisibility of parts, while using spotlights (a symbol of fame) to emphasize parts of the subjects, never the whole. The first scene is a boiling tea kettle, giving the impression that something serious will be discussed; a kettle represents renewal and rebirth. In fact, in dream interpretation, boiling water in the tea kettle means that you are about to lose material things, which is emphasized by the lyrics, “Sometimes the clothes do not make the man”. The burning of his iconic leather jacket from his previous album, Faith–the album that turned him into a megastar–visually buttressed the aforementioned lyrics. George Michael is telling us that he is rejecting those materialities and embracing authenticity.
This music video was revolutionary at the time, since it does not contain any shots of the artist. His fame was replaced by icons of fashion: the 90s supermodels. In his stead, Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford and Tatjana Patitz lip-synced the words to the song which include:
I went back home, got a brand new face
For the boys on MTV,
But today the way I play the game has got to change.
Now I’m gonna get myself happy.
I think there’s something you should know.
I think it’s time I stopped the show.
There’s something deep inside of me.
There’s someone I forgot to be.
Take back your picture in a frame.
Don’t think that I’ll be back again.
I just hope you understand .
Sometimes the clothes do not make the man. —Freedom ’90, George Michael
Those words touched me: first, as the only black kid at an all-white school, which carried its own difficulties, and second, as someone who doesn’t fit into anyone’s mold of what a woman should be, moreover of what a black woman should be. And it seems as though George Michael–who finally shed his heterosexual sex symbol status in 1998 when he came out, after being arrested for “engaging in a lewd act”–battled his own demons, mostly with his sexuality and acceptance. This came out in Freedom ’90, a song whose melody oscillates between aggressive and imploring, talked about rejecting that need for acceptance and just doing you. For me, it was autobiographical and it continues to be. The battle to be free of the prison of other’s expectations, of your own self-doubt, of your own constant evaluation of your value is a battle I hope he won because in the end, it is a battle that will always be worth fighting.
But for the next album “Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1,” released in 1990, Mr. Michael set out to jettison his pop persona. The autobiographical “Freedom ’90” declared his independence from the pop machine along with his determination to “stick around”; he didn’t appear in its video clip, which had models lip-syncing the lyrics. —New York Times
You have to know the rules to break the rules.