Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Take These Lies

Fantasy - George Michael (mp3)

Cindy Crawford. Nude. In a bathtub. Sensuously fondling her upper half and literally rubbing in that all we can do is watch.

Hanging out inside Linda Evangelista’s sweater with her.

Christy Turlington, crawling across the floor ala Madonna in “Express Yourself”... but, like, in a more shadowy way.

And a bunch of George Michael’s cheesiest shit blowing up.

To claim that George Michael’s “Freedom 90” is the greatest video in the history of music videos would be slight hyperbole. But to claim it’s one of the best videos ever, directed by the greatest music video director ever, and for a song that has far more depth and nuance than anyone had reason to expect... that’s not exaggeration. It’s nigh-indisputable.

But let’s start with something simple. When this video debuted on MTV, I was a senior in high school. It’s quite possible I watched this video a few thousand times. I recorded it on my Betamax player (no, seriously), on my Great Videos tape. It landed at the end of the Golden Age of models, when everyone who had ever opened a Sports Illustrated knew names like “Cindy” and “Christy” and “Tatjana” and “Tyra.” No last names necessary.

My original obsession with this video was pure lust. I could have listened to nails on a chalkboard for hours so long as my reward for enduring it was watching Ms. Crawford in that tub. I didn’t really like George Michael or anything he stood for at the time, so I intentionally concentrated on not liking or even paying attention to the song.

Nor did I realize at the time that the mastermind of the video was David Fincher, easily one of my favorite two or three directors. Fincher fanatics know, but most normal people have no idea just how influential and omnipresent the man has been in the world of memorable, eye-candy-friendly music videos and movies.

Fincher made Paula Abdul. Think “Madonna video,” and I dare you not to think first and foremost of Fincher (both “Express Yourself” and “Vogue”). Fincher is the one who made “Cradle of Love” rock. He depicted The Rolling Stones as the size they occupy in our culture in “Love is Strong.” He captured Nine Inch Nails in six-inch desktop pin art in “Once.”

Everything lush, tightly-controlled, world-creating. Fincher. There simply isn't another director who would have me this excited about seeing the Americanized version of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" when I so thoroughly enjoyed the Danish version. But Fincher? Yeah, I bet it's gonna be incredible.

But back to his George Michael video without George Michael, who was at the height of his success mostly on the back of his ass and looks. Sure, they more than made up for the lack of George eye candy with the incorporation of eight of the hottest supermodels on the planet, but it was still a gutsy call.

And yes, on the surface, the song is about George Michael’s desire for liberation from his oppressive Sony recording contract, which became a serious lawsuit in 1993. He’s prisoner to the image he helped create, and he’s promising the listener: let me start over; the quality won’t suffer, and I’ll be a lot happier. I won’t let you down.

With the benefit of hindsight, however, we all can see a second story coming into play in this song, as George Michael begins to accept that the only way he can really be happy as a celebrity and as an artist is to stop lying to his fans (and possibly himself) about his sexuality.

When the go-go was supposed to wake him up, he was gay.

When he was the father figure, when he whispered carelessly, he was gay.

When sex was natural and sex was 1-on-1, he was gay, and he was enjoying "random anonymous sex" on frequent occasions.

I don’t know a single gay man who awoke to his homosexuality in his 30s, but George was 34 when he came out. He was gay long before, and he knew it, and he hid it moderately well enough, and if he hadn’t, none of us would likely know who the hell that talented guy was, because the British-Gay-Men-Named-George market was already well-covered in the ‘80s by Boy George.

I now hear the song as a plea. The video is a statement about models, about celebrities, about Platinum musicians, about how much we think we know and how little we want the truth.

George Michael could have churned out four more albums just like Faith and made millions upon millions of dollars. But he didn’t. He asked -- begged, almost desperately -- his listeners to help him create something closer to the truth.

I don’t have to like his music all that much or be a fan of his to continue to admire that moment of his career.

"Fantasy" was the B-side to the CD single of "Freedom '90." As B-sides go, it ain't damn bad.

1 comment:

cinderkeys said...

Huh. Maybe it's fabrication, but I could've sworn I got the whole gay-coming-out subtext thing back in 1990.

Then again, a year before "Freedom 90" came out, I definitely remember a (gay) friend of a friend mentioning that Wham broke up because the guys in the band broke up. So it's not like my gaydar was so much better honed than everybody else's.