For those who grew up in the 1980s, it is unnecessary to explain who George Michael was. As he himself says, without false modesty or arrogance, in the documentary George Michael Freedom Uncut, there were Michael Jackson, Madonna, Prince, and George Michael. One of the most awarded and adored musicians of all time, he was a worldwide fever. Two days before the day he would turn 59, it is worth evaluating his latest work, the documentary that is now in theaters and that gives voice, one last time, to one of the most beloved and talented stars we know. And worth seeing!
Born in England as Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, the son of a Greek immigrant and a British mother, he adopted the stage name, George Michael. It’s hard to remember, but he was only 18 years old when, with his high school friend Andrew Ridgeley, he made it big with the band Wham!. Between 1981 and 1985, the band dominated the charts, MTV, and played in sold-out stadiums. But George wanted more. He embarked on one of the most successful solo careers of all time. His legendary album Faith won Grammys and sold over 35 million copies. It made him a pop phenomenon.
When he released Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1, in 1991, the singer managed to surpass himself artistically with a brilliant second album, but from then on, his life would take a 180-degree turn. His personal life, professional decisions, and scandals became a reference, no longer his beautiful voice and so perfect music. For that reason, in 2016, George Michael was personally directing and editing the documentary. His goal was to remind everyone that his legacy would be his music, not the tabloid image. But it never ended, as he died suddenly, in Christmas 2016. He was only 53 years old.
In a first assessment, thanks to the rare sincerity of an artist of his size, the documentary is about “the weight of fame”. No, it’s about the cost of freedom. Something that has always been present in the art of George Michael (who has at least two great songs called Freedom, one in his solo career and another with Wham!).
George humorously reviews his firsts in the band that revealed him to the world, how he made every thoughtful gesture in the Faith years, how the world tour and attention drained him, and how, daring to question the status quo, he was slaughtered by Sony. George, who was aware that he had been overexposed in promoting Faith, wanted to slow down so that he would maintain health and room to grow. The greed of the music industry (which would crash years later) did not want even to consider the request. The legal fight was ugly, he lost and that image was marked in his trajectory. George wanted the freedom that was making Sony millions and he sang perfectly: You’ve got to give what you take.
And George Michael‘s beauty wasn’t (only) physical or vocal, his melodies and lyrics gained a maturity that makes him one of the greatest songwriters of all time. After he had gone through so much loss and conflict, he had no time for hypocrisy. That’s why he spoke and speaks with so many generations still.
For Brazilians, there is a special affection. It was in Rio de Janeiro, in 1991, that George Michael met the man who changed his life, Anselmo Feleppa. The romance of just 2 years encouraged the singer to come out as gay, start singing about serious topics and change his life. Anselmo died in 1993 as a result of AIDS and – according to the singer – from then on he entered a spiral explored by the tabloids. Losing his mother soon after, to cancer, contributed to the isolation that yielded the beautiful Older, in 1997.
George Michael Freedom: Uncut is a good way to remember and honor the artist. Responsible for the narrative, he doesn’t hide that he was always stubborn, demanding, and occasionally egocentric, but always honest. The documentary is about his musical legacy, including personal influences for each period, co-directed by a friend, musical partner, and confidant, David Austin. It aired on British TV in 2017, but now it won the “uncut” version, with home videos of George and Anselmo, among other images. Therefore, it does not address the singer’s last years or arrests for traffic violations in the 2000s, nor does it mention the boyfriends he had after Anselmo.
Two excerpts are particularly moving, when he recalls the controversy and his identification with black music, as well as the recognition that made him a white artist topping the black charts as well. And the Freddie Mercury tribute show, where George sang Somebody to Love to Anselmo, who was in the audience.
In the end, what remains is the music and the brilliance of George Michael is undeniable. He is missed. Dearly.