Get ready to tear a smile from start to finish with the new Netflix documentary, Wham! which harkens back to 4 glorious years in the 80s.
Yes, it’s only been 4 years, 1982-1986, since Andrew Ridgeley and George Michael meteored the world of pop music, selling 30 million records.
In 1986 George Michael began his superstar solo career after one last sold out concert as a duo at Wembley.
Director Chris Smith’s new doco special (Tiger King, Mr.) and producers John Battsek (deepest breath) and Simone Halfon (Supersonic) is equipped with extraordinary personal archives including extraordinary and never-before-seen footage, alongside rare, candid and unpublished interviews.
Michael and Ridgeley’s voices recall memories of the special completely, rather than just being tweaked here and there.
From their meeting at Bushey Meads School – at ages 11 and 12 – to No. 1 chart success and world tours, this covers it all.
“Wham! it would never grow…it was like a dream,” they recall. “How could these two idiots get so damn massive?”
By the age of 16 the two were trying out for a teenage band, The Executive playing ska music in 1979, but that was the start of songwriting.
Even then, Andrew and “Yog” were musically close and danced together at the local Beetroot Club, a precursor to what would become “Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do).” The boys were writing social lyrics with disco beats but not they managed to land a record deal until they met Mark Dean of Innervision Records, who had discovered ABC and Soft Cell.
But record sales were slow with Wham Rap at No. 105 until a rousing performance on Top of the Pops in 1982 with backing dancers Dee C. Lee and Shirlie Holliman. He sparked chart sales with the release of Wham Rap which peaked at number eight.
“Careless Whisper” was also written in 1981, with Michael admitting at the time, “I don’t know if I’ll be good enough to sing it, but that’s a number one song.” It would not come out until 1984 with a hypnotic video, years after more Wham! successes.
Michael told Ridgeley of his attraction to men during a visit to Ibiza for ‘Club Tropicana’ (1983), which saw him remain in the closet largely due to his conservative Greek Cypriot father (the lyrics to ‘Bad Boys” reflect his feelings) but also due to the pressure of fame, the band was idolized by teenage girls across the country.
Michael admits that he created a “character” to front the pop act who had transitioned into wholesome bubblegum pop, a factor that chafed Michael’s burning desire for songwriting recognition. Despite a string of hits including “Freedom”, “Everything She Wants”, “Last Christmas”, “I’m Your Man” and the smash hit “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”, the band was panned by the music criticism.
Among some of the most fascinating archives of the doco is the 1985 trip to China, designed to attract the interest of the US market as a cultural revolution in two. As the first modern pop band to play in communist China, it worked. The viewing here of Chinese concert fans and the band walking on the Great Wall of China is a rare access.
Ridgeley acknowledges Michael’s star power, but does not reproach him for the desire to pursue a solo career. At the same time, Michael was struggling with his hidden sexuality.
‘I want to be able to develop as a human being, but I feel trapped,’ recalls Michael.
“It must be one of the noblest gestures in pop music for Ridgeley to accept a split at the height of fame and allow a childhood friend to follow his true calling.
Australia appears briefly in the doco, with an interview with Molly Meldrum leading up to the special and a subsequent reference to fans who have slept overnight at Melbourne airport to check out the band.
In 2017 a Channel 4 doco of the director and close friend, David Austin, reflected on George Michael’s stardom not long after his untimely death.
But Wham! is the pop duo’s definitive cinematic archive. Choose life. Do not miss it.
Wham! screens Wednesday, July 5 on Netflix.