Interview: Boy George
Your forthcoming UK tour is the first in a very long while, isn’t it?
Yes, the Culture Club reunion tour [in 1998] was the last time. I’ve done shows here and there, but things really started again last year, with a few London shows. They were really just to get the feeling again, as I feel this is a good time to go out and play.
Is the show mostly going to be old material, or will it be a mixture of old and new?
It’s not a nostalgia show. It’s not like the Here and Now tour: it’s more like there and now. (Laughs) But I always include my hits in my shows – always. I’ve never, ever toured without doing at least some of those songs, because they’re important. When I go and see someone like David Bowie, I always want to hear things I know. I know what it’s like to be in the audience. So it’s not going to be a self-indulgent, tortuous show. It’s going to be a good show.
Are you going to be faithful to the originals, or do you like mucking around with them?
We’re doing a slightly different version of Church of the Poison Mind, which is a bit more heavy metal. It’s not that different to the original; the bass is just a bit more rattly. We do play around with some of the songs, but we always stick to the melody. It won’t be that weird!
I like the title of the tour: Songs That Make You Dance And Cry. A lot of my favourite music makes me dance and cry – hopefully at the same time.
I just think that I work in those two fields. Either I’m being quite melancholy, with things like Generations of Love, or quite joyous, with things like Bow Down Mister.
Going back to the Culture Club days: a lot of the lyrics from that period dealt with your relationship with Jon Moss, but how aware was Jon at the time that the songs were about him? Karma Chameleon is quite a bitchy song, for instance.
Oh, he knew! (Laughs) I used to talk to him about it all the time. He was very aware. Some of those songs were also quite avant-garde and ambiguous, although they got more direct later on. A lot of people have asked me “What’s a karma chameleon?”, but obviously I’ve explained it over the years, so people know more about it now. But there were lots of songs that were very loving as well!
Well, I didn’t get the significance of “you come and go” for about fifteen years; we can be a bit slow. (Laughter) So how did you feel when Culture Club attempted to plan a second reunion tour with a different singer?
I was kind of annoyed, actually. I thought it was really cheeky. If I’d have done the same thing, they’d have sued me. It just proved to me once again that my motivation was entirely different to theirs. Because my thing is not about career; it’s about creating things that I care about.
At the moment, we seem to be stuck in the middle of an Eighties revival that won’t go away, and Eighties music has influenced an awful lot of 21st century pop.
One of the interesting things about the Eighties is that at the time, no one liked it. Everyone hated the Eighties! We were universally slagged, in every way. We were just vacuous people with big hairdos, destroying the ozone layer. There was nothing worthwhile about any of us: we were called Thatcher’s children. Whereas in actual fact, Culture Club were really a follow-on from punk. I’d been an original punk; that’s where I came from. So it’s interesting that now, people are dealing with this kind of pop revisionism, and saying: oh yeah, it wasn’t so bad. Because things are so formulaic now. A lot of the TV talent shows, that have now saturated the pop scene, used to be seen more as Saturday night “variety” shows.
Well, we’ve always had winners of talent shows making the charts…
Yeah, like Opportunity Knocks – but those people weren’t pop stars. Sometimes they were, but there was a separation. But now you’ve got “variety”, and you’ve got Amy Winehouse, and that’s it! That’s the only hope at the moment! (Laughs)
Amy Winehouse is our only hope?
She’s the person who has totally inspired me to get back on the road. When I hear the music, it makes me feel something. It makes me sad; it makes me emotional. A lot of the music that we’ve been hearing in the last few years has been so bitchy – “I’m gonna steal your boyfriend; don’t you wish your girlfriend was hot like me” – and it’s not personal. It’s clever, it’s witty, it’s designed for radio – but there’s no feeling in it.
It’s not about human relationships as they really are. It’s a commercialised version.
Exactly. And one of the complicated things about Amy is that on the one hand, she’s got all her problems, and people want to condemn her for that, but on the other hand she’s a fucking genius! (Laughs) What can you do? It puts everyone in a really difficult situation. You can’t write her off, because she’s incredible. At the end of the day, she’s expressing what a lot of us can’t express – and that’s the sign of a great singer. If you hear a song on the radio like Love Is A Losing Game or You Know I’m No Good, and it touches your heart, you know that she’s doing something right.
I don’t think of myself as a gay pop star. There are gay pop stars who are totally obsessed with being gay, but I’ve never been one of those. I love straight people; it takes two of them to make one of us! I’ve never had that kind of separatist attitude about “gay” and “straight”. I love being gay and I support gay culture, but I don’t think of myself as being a solely gay artist.
Well, I think some people would have got a message from some of your songs. There was the Jesus Loves You period for instance, with songs like No Clause 28 and Generations Of Love…
Of course there was that sensibility, but I wouldn’t want to just make music that was only targeted towards gay people.
Well, sure. But it’s interesting that the whole phenomenon of the “gay pop star” has more or less disappeared. I suppose we’ve got Jake Shears and Beth Ditto – but we don’t need it any more, do we?
We live in this kind of culture now which pretends to accept everything. So there’s this kind of pseudo-acceptance of everything that’s different. But the reality is: it’s not true.
You think? Actually, that’s quite jaundiced…! (Laughter)
Today’s gay pop stars are out of the closet, but they don’t express anything about their sexuality. They don’t ever use the word “he” in their songs. They think they don’t need to, because they think everybody loves them, and they think they’re all accepted. You see, they’ve been lulled into this false sense of security! (Laughs) When I write a song about a boy, I’m not thinking about the radio or any of that; I’m thinking about what I feel. You’ll see that in my show.
You emerged as a major club DJ in the Nineties, and there’s another generation who might link you with the whole heyday of handbag house, superclubs, fluffy bras and silver trousers.
(Indignantly) I’m not a handbag house DJ; I’m a house DJ. I’m very purist; I like soulful, funky music. I drop classic songs in clubs, and if people fold their arms then I just think they’re losers. Even with dance music, kids don’t seem to have any sense of history. They don’t seem to understand where it all came from.
Yeah, if something is three years old, then it’s a “club classic”.
Or even two weeks old. If I drop something really old, like CeCe Rogers’ Someday, the crowd’s like, what the fuck’ is this? It does happen!
I would imagine you bristle at being lumped in with the genre of “Celebrity DJ”…
I’m not a celebrity; I’m a star. Celebrities are people who turn up at parties with expensive handbags, and they don’t do anything. You’d never catch a celebrity sweeping the streets of New York. You couldn’t call Naomi Campbell a celebrity, could you?
You could call her many things, before you call her a celebrity. (Laughter) As regards your more recent musical career, it can be difficult to follow what you’re up to. You don’t make it easy for us!
Obviously, the hardcore fans know everything that I’m doing – but the general public don’t. That’s why I’m doing this tour. The whole point is to say: this is what I do. I see this as a way of re-establishing myself as an artist, and reminding people that’s what I am. And also re-establishing my reputation as a human being, which I think has been pretty torn apart over the last few years. I’m not a bitch; I’m very romantic! (Laughs)
You have also chosen to opt out of a lot of the music business games. EMI recently announced that they intend to shed up to 2000 of their staff. Is the record business fucked?
Yeah, but it has fucked itself. It hasn’t invested in talent, or in anything that can last. And so, in a way, that’s why it can’t last. You’re constantly hearing that someone is “the new Amy Winehouse” or “the new Joni Mitchell”, and so on. Bollocks to that. Whenever there’s a successful artist, they just try and create twenty more of them. It’s just boring. Why do record companies sign them?
EMI are saying that they now want to use focus groups to decide who to sign next.
Well, you know what? It may sound like a really terrible thing to say, but the audience should never dictate the art form.
Absolutely. They would never have signed The Beatles, for instance…
You’d never have had Ziggy Stardust. You’d never have had anything great. It sounds snobby, but it’s true. The bigger the crowd gets, the more people you have to please. It’s like when you’re DJ-ing a massive gig; there’s no way you can make everyone happy. There’s always going to be someone who doesn’t like what you do. So if you’re going to have focus groups… well, God help us. It’s just so tragic. What we need is some A&R people with some balls, and some record company executives who love music!
It’s the same with radio. I’m sorry to be nostalgic, but if you go back to the Seventies and the Eighties, we had all those characters like Tony Blackburn, who actually were into music. Now you’ve just got all these trendy little gits with good haircuts and Northern accents, who think they’re really cool. And they know nothing! They’re all being fed by the trendy magazines, and it gets on my nerves.
You’re in danger of being asked to go on that show Grumpy Old Men, if there’s much more of this.
Hahahahaha! I’d go on willingly! What’s the fee?!