Wham! has been a cultural phenomenon in the music industry even long after George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley decided to split and pursue their own paths. They last performed together in 1986, but ever since, the two of them have left a mark, especially in the pop genre, that not many have been able to surpass. This ninety-minute documentary film is directed by Chris Smith, and it takes us through the ups and downs that the pop group went through during their four-year stint. It is interesting to come across many of their anecdotes that raise many topics that might have been frowned upon back then.
The film begins with George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley’s voiceovers talking about their friendship since their school days. They have been each other’s support since kindergarten, and they have had each other’s back ever since. This documentary is not just the story of the pop group they started together but also the story of their friendship, which is something that needs to be cherished because it helps the viewers understand how appreciative they are of each other’s talent and recognizes their weaknesses, and how working around it helps strengthen their bond as a group. It is shown throughout the film that George was the one who initially always remained on the back foot, and it was Andrew who was keen on writing songs and being at the forefront.
The two begin their journey with ‘the Executive,’ a band they joined as rookie 16-year-olds which disbanded rather quickly. Being a part of this band inspired them to pursue music full-time. They came up with the name “Wham!” during one of their nights at a disco, and they pursued it relentlessly till it became a reality. The two of them were only a bunch of 18-year-old kids wanting to fulfill their dream to write, compose, and produce songs, as they realized there was nothing else they were good at. The lyrics were supposed to be more fun and attractive to listeners of their age. The duo was rejected by many record labels until their neighbor, an executive with Innervision Records, came to George and Andrew’s rescue and released their first single, which was not a hit at all. Not to forget the film also talks about Andrew’s mother maintaining plenty of scrapbooks that contain clippings of the coverage Wham! received in the print media over the years. This is a rather special way to cherish memories, and Andrew speaks about it with a lot of love.
Thanks to their appearance on ‘Top of the Pops,’ one of the leading television programs that relaunched Wham! as one of the leading pop groups in the country, George and Andrew were in demand, and there was nothing that could have stopped them from relishing the success of their hard work. It was during this time that George struggled with coming out as gay to his family, but Andrew and the rest of the band were supportive. Andrew, though, stopped him from coming out to his father, wondering if the family’s reaction would affect George’s work. It might come across as a selfish move, which Andrew admits, but all of them were 20-year-olds who did not know anything better. Their only passion remained to create more music. George never spoke about his sexuality in public and remained focused on his talent.
George also had a go at producing the music, and it worked in his favor, as it turns out he had a knack for it, which helped him churn out some of the classic hits by the group, including ‘Careless Whisper.’ With George donning the hat of three roles, Andrew slowly went on the back foot, for he only concentrated on the songwriting. Thankfully, the duo’s realization of how much they can contribute helps us understand that there is hardly any ego clash between the two. Throughout the film, there would be snippets to showcase the fact that their friendship is the core of the group, and they don’t let anybody take advantage of any minor friction between the two.
Though the two of them do not talk about the disagreements they have as individuals, it is hard to believe that conflicts did not occur. If there were any, perhaps they weren’t major enough for the documentary’s producers to focus on it. The makers also brought up the topic of how Wham! did not make much money from the first few of their singles, even though they had become chart-busting hits. It was smart of them to bring up this subject because, back in the 1980s, this topic was hushed, especially by artists like George and Andrew, who were just up and coming.
With popularity came the press and the negative comments about their songs and albums, which they slowly became used to, but since their songs were hitting the charts, the bad press did not affect them as such. Both came from immigrant backgrounds and even though they had waddled into new territory, losing was not a part of their upbringing. They wanted to prove themselves to be good at what they did and only march ahead. Their familial background was also a minuscule part of the narrative of the documentary, which talks about how Andrew’s family was aware that he would be doing something different, while George’s conservative family had other plans for him. He decided to follow Andrew’s path. This was the case with Freddie Mercury as well. His immigrant and queer background was something unheard of before he broke out as one of the best frontman, paving the way for artists like George and Andrew. There is also a snippet of an interview done by George’s father on how he was proud of his son because of the large number of people that turned up for his concerts, and that was the day he conveyed his happy feelings to his son. There is nothing better than validation from your parents, especially when you realize they finally understand what you do. This was a big deal for George.
Wham! also did two successful tours of China and America, two ideologically disparate nations, yet it was their music that worked as a comfort factor that let the citizens of both countries welcome them with open arms. These tours branded them as one of the superstars of the pop genre, and it was only an upward journey for them from here on. Soon the band became more about George and less about Andrew, not that either of them were affected by it because George admits that he would not have existed without Andrew’s blind faith in his talent. The two of them never let the media speculation affect their standing in the group because they knew the responsibility they had on their shoulders.
Sadly, one of them started feeling the burden of popularity, and it was getting to him. Andrew was the one who was deeply affected by his stardom, while George felt his journey had only just begun, and he was in no mood to stop. Andrew was also tired of being questioned about his position, keeping in mind that it was always the two of them who made the final decisions. Andrew probably reached a point of burning out after four years of being massively popular, with a humongous fan following. All of this tends to take a toll on the artists and their capabilities to churn out better songs in the future. Andrew was not willing to perish on that path. He would rather exit on his own terms than fade away into oblivion. George, on the other hand, wanted to get into a space where he could write, compose, and produce songs that were different from the kind of music they gave out as Wham!. He wanted to change his path just to be able to explore, and this led to an amicable decision between the two to split.
The ending portion of this documentary film was about Wham!’s farewell concert, which was filled with tons of emotions as they performed all their cult hits from the last four years. The farewell tour was the culmination of all the hard work they put into their careers, ending their short stint on a rather positive note and then breaking up bitterly. George, by the end of it, talks about how the end of Wham! was the end of an era and youth and the support that Andrew was to him till the end. The success and camaraderie shared by the two of them can never be replicated, for there is only one of them in this lifetime. George Michael is gone, but his and Andrew’s music still exists for all of us to hear and cherish.