If things go according to plan, it seems that 2014 may be the year when George Michael releases some long-awaited new music. There may be a live album from his recent Symphobica tour (if the hints on George’s web-site are to be taken at face value), and also an album of new music. It’s been a decade since George last released an album of new material. So, how will the new music do? Will any of his new record(s) go to number one in the singles or album charts? The answer to that depends on many things, including the impact that the promotion has and how “2014 George” comes across.
For me, though, the answer depends most criticially on the quality of the music, and whether that connects with the public. Clearly, the days of every single George releases going to number one have been over for a long time. That’s even true for artists like Adele, Justin Timberlake, Beyoncé, Lady Gaga and Rihanna who sell huge numbers of singles and albums globally, but still aren’t guaranteed No.1 hit singles. However, few people would write off Adele’s, Justin’s, Beyoncé’s, Lady Gaga’s or Rihanna’s chances of having another big No.1 hit single. What about George, though – does he even want big hit records anymore? After all, who could blame him for not wanting to compete in the charts with the recent bland, old-fashioned, middle of the road offerings from the likes of Robbie Williams and Gary Barlow? Their recent music is the very definition of mediocrity. I feel embarrassed for them whenever I hear their music or see them on TV. What would be the point of competing with that? I really don’t think he’s even in the same category of artist as those two. Adele, Justin, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé and Rihanna, though – they really are a different matter. I think they’re worth competing with.
So, does George want to compete? Well, over his career, George has said a few things on the topic of record sales. Let’s look at a couple of those.
Early on in his career, George said something that is as true now as it was then: pop music is about selling records (the clue is in the word “pop(ular)”). So, as George said, if the record sales go down, it’s because the quality of the records has gone down. Using excuses like, “no-one wants to pay for music anymore” is just that – an excuse. Great, relevant pop music still sells millions.
More recently (and before he fell ill with pneumonia, and his struggles to get past that mentally), George said that he was “not interested in recreating past glories”. I took him to mean by that, that he’s not interested in trying to be “the biggest pop star in the world” anymore, that he’s not interested in writing “obvious pop songs”. But on the other hand, before his recent health problems, he was interested in taking his tours and his music around the world. So, at that point, he was clearly feeling like he wanted to be a globally successful artist. The big unknown, though, is that we really don’t know how George is feeling right now. You’ll be able to draw your own conclusions on that soon enough, I’m sure. He’s been keeping his powder rather dry on that one, I’d say.
So, what do we know? First, we know that George cares deeply about the quality of the body of work that will be his musical legacy. Another thing we know is that, realistically, whatever new album(s) he releases next may well be his last. Or at least his last for many, many years. At the current rate, another new album might not be due until George is drawing his old age pension! So, what I’m hoping and expecting is that whatever comes next is going to be music that George is genuinely proud of. There were some amazing performances on his Symphonica tour, and the new song, “Where I Hope You Are” is right up there with his best songs ever. True Faith and White Light were both good records too, even though I know some fans weren’t keen on the production.
Most of all, though, what I’m hoping for from his new record(s) is that he doesn’t descend into making dated, mediocre, bland pop music for people who buy CDs at Tesco. I hope he shows everyone what a class act he is… that he can still make great, relevant new records, and that he’s still one of the best singers in the world. In other words, I hope he show’s everyone why he should be compared to the likes of Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Justin Timberlake, Beyoncé and Adele… and why he shouldn’t to the likes of Gary Barlow and Robbie Williams.