Television Reviews

Documentary Review: Wham! on Netflix

I was a teenager in the early 1980s when “new wave” music hit, and living on Long Island, I had a front-row seat to the second British Invasion thanks to WLIR. Yet, at the same time I missed the beginning of Wham! mania. I only became aware of them in 1984, once they had already had some measure of success in their native England. Having already read Andrew Ridgeley’s book, I knew a lot of Wham!’s story already, but was eagerly looking forward to viewing this documentary. It did not disappoint.

George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley narrate the story of their success, through early interviews of George and Andrew, who also provides some newly recorded commentary. The early pictures show a very confident, self-assured boy (Andrew) and someone who is very unsure of himself (George). There are lots of pictures because Andrew’s mother kept a scrapbook. In fact, she kept volumes of scrapbooks over the years of Wham!’s success. There are also early videos of them performing in clubs.

Knowing George Michael as the gorgeous pin-up that he became with the success of the group, many people will be shocked at what George Michael looked like as a teen. As we were watching the documentary, I told my husband what I’d read in the book – of how shy George was and how little self-confidence he had. He was incredulous when we look at this man who was so talented and good-looking. It just goes to show that we all believe the worst about ourselves, even when it seems that the entire world is in love with you.

Shirlie was Andrew’s girlfriend so they incorporated them into their act as Wham! Their break came when Top of the Pops called them to fill in last minute for another artist who dropped out. The dancing routine they crafted themselves might be cringe-worthy now, but it showed an exuberance that had been missing from music up until that point.

This documentary also dispels the rumor that George Michael wrote Careless Whisper and just added Andrew’s name. It’s clearly one of their oldest songs written together and they knew they had something special. Careless Whisper was turned away by multiple agents, although it wasn’t as polished nor did it have the same lyrics as the final version. In fact, a version recorded by George with the same people who worked with Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles was also set aside for his own vision. Andrew admits that George was able to develop his songwriting skills much faster than Andrew. This was the first bit of friction between the two.

When he adopted the stage name, George Michael, Andrew states that started to shape a new persona. He knew him as Yog, the shy boy who sat next to him at school and whom Andrew dragged along for the ride. George came out to Shirlie and Andrew pretty early on, when they were filming the Club Tropicana video. It really didn’t make a difference to Andrew and Shirlie, but he saw why his friend was so conflicted at a time when they were just starting to see the hints of the success that was to come.

The interviews when they are just breaking out are great as they are shocked by some of the crazy things happening, especially the girls throwing their underwear on stage. Andrew states he could see George was way more talented than he was, and Wham! wasn’t something they could keep doing. It was a group formed to try and be happy and have fun, not tackle some of the deep problems and emotions that were coming as they were growing older. That was one of the reasons they chose to go out on top, and Andrew was always a cheerleader for George’s solo career.

This documentary is great. I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting that time and seeing all the old videos and pictures from their early years. Even George’s father is on the video, talking about how much he was against the friendship, nevermind him trying to be a musician. He thought it was a waste of time and did everything he could to stop it, yet he turns around here and states how proud his son made him. The same son who cites his father as one of the reasons he was afraid of coming out. All of the interviews are great and thanks to Andrew’s mother there are a lot of clippings to show of their success.

The documentary end with the breakup of Wham! It doesn’t follow to George’s solo career nor comment on his death in 2016. Much like Andrew’s book, it’s a loving memorial to his friend and the fun they had in Wham! I highly recommend it.

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