Even in the carnage that 2016 wrought among pop royalty, George Michael is a major loss at 53.
There was a time when I really did not like the music George Michael made – I was 13. The thing is, even then, even at that age, the talent was somehow undeniable. That, or his ubiquity, were the two possible or joint explanations for the fact that all through the years when I didn’t care for him I was always aware of his every move.
George Michael was, for a large part of his career, effortlessly brilliant, which makes the silence of his later years just that much more tragic. The ease with which he sang and came up with killer hook after killer hook was a joy to behold. He held his own with singers like Aretha Franklin and Mary J. Blige.
Another thing George Michael rarely gets credit for is his social activism. He may have appealed to yuppies in the mid-80s, but especially in later life he played concerts for NHS nurses and stood with miners. He was a defiant and unapologetic gay icon and rights champion. He blazed many of the same trails Madonna gets all the credit for these days.
When the news of his death was first written about in Finland, the headlines were still likely to say “ex-Wham vocalist”, but he’d eclipsed his old band ages and millions of records ago. George Michael was a holistic work of art, from his music to the disarmingly open interviews with The Guardian’s Simon Hattenstone, among others.
Even among the slew of one-of-a-kind artists who have left us in 2016, George Michael merits special attention. Making the transition from teen heartthrob to adult artist as revered for genius as he was is even more rare than doing the same in mainstream movies and almost as rare as making the leap from pornos to serious movies. And George Michael managed it as a distinctly melancholy figure – open, vulnerable and human. Despite his obvious talent, there was never anything alien or otherworldly about him, like Prince or Michael Jackson. Or even strange, like Scott Walker.
And I’ll always love him for having written the sexiest sax line in the world on public transport.
Unfortunately the ultimate Wham! deep cut is not available on Spotify, so here it is on YouTube. Check out those delicious synths.