Twenty years after it was released, George Michael's 'Freeek!' remains a bold, sexy, prophetic masterpiece, writes Dr Lisa Harper Campbell.
Some critics queried whether there was really enough new material to warrant an updated version just five years from the original cinematic exposé, co-directed by its subject. However, bringing Michael back into the spotlight this year allows us to acknowledge another anniversary.
This year marks two decades since the release of George Michael’s 'Freeek!', a song with a banworthy clip, pulsing dance beat and lyrics to make you blush.
Michael died on Christmas Day 2016 and his legacy has come to be characterised by his talent, charitable spirit, musical icon status, addictions, personal losses and complicated relationship with his sexuality.
No stranger to adding spice to his songs, Michael’s 1987 track 'I Want Your Sex' had already courted controversy for its overt sexual imagery as his then-girlfriend Kathy Jeung wore next to nothing while clutching satin sheets.
A few years later, 'Freedom!' burst into the world and is one of Michael’s best-known tracks along with 'Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go', 'Last Christmas' (both with Wham!), 'Careless Whisper' and 'Faith'. It is still rightly lauded as a clarion call for free expression which many took to represent not only Michael’s artistic identity but his sexual one as well.
Where 'Freedom!' burns as a bright anthem, 'Freeek!' invites (lures, pulls) us into dark rooms lit only by a screen or perhaps the moonlight off bare skin or shiny leather.
Often overlooked in posthumous summaries of Michael’s oeuvre, 'Freeek!' was particularly loved by Australia, reaching its highest worldwide chart position here at number five.
It was its inclusion in the popular compilation So Fresh: The Hits of Summer 2003 Plus the Biggest Hits of 2002 that led this author to hear its seductive beat at the some would say too young age of eleven. It has remained a not-so-guilty pleasure and has featured on many a playlist of my making.
'Freeek!' came out four years after Michael’s forcible "outing" following his 1998 arrest for soliciting an undercover male police officer. The song and its accompanying extravagant video clip dissect a burgeoning digital age and what impact it may have on our ability to form genuine, even as Michael’s lyrics suggest, albeit brief ('I'll be your one fuck fantasy') sexual connections.
The cyber-punk-inspired film clip – directed by Joseph Kahn – features elaborate costumes designed by comic book artist Stephen Platt allowing Michael to strut his stuff in a techno-bondage fantasy land where you’re not sure where one man/woman/machine starts and another ends.
Making its viewers feel they are eating buttery pop porn, the frenzy and passion on display by Michael and others featured in the $2 million footage speaks to the primal need to connect, to consume and to be consumed.
This fundamental drive is hardwired into the song with lyrics (and images of hypersexualised infomercials — sex sells after all) such as:
'You got your speed connection, free chat, fuck that, get a little harder...
In the house with a bitch and a mouse and your daddy’s plastic how fantastic...'
Although largely catering to the male gaze with its gratuitous flashes of female flesh, the clip sees Michael satirise 1980s icons of masculinity referencing film noir detectives of Blade Runner, cyberpunk superheroes/villains and Schwarzenegger-esque bodybuilders.
The fact that Michael himself was a sex idol of the 1980s – his tight jeans causing many to swoon as he gyrated in Elvis fashion behind a guitar in the video clip for 'Faith' – makes this the sweet, self-parodying cherry on an already wickedly delicious cake of a clip.
Michael’s status as an icon is beyond question. Since his death, a new generation may unfortunately only know his works via 'Last Christmas' (2019), a Mamma Mia-esque film which clumsily links a soppy (and unrelated) plot to an excellent soundtrack. Hammier than the one served on its eponymous day, the film is a vanilla tribute to a man of many more flavours.
'Freeek!', with its celebration of sexual abandon and extravagant imagery demonstrates that George Michael’s musical oeuvre, alongside the up-tempo anthems and heartbreaking ballads, had an edge, a dirtiness, a sexiness.
As we move further into the 21st Century – a time characterised by isolation due to pandemics, political divides and an over-dependence on digital connection – sexual identity and expression remain vital and complex aspects of our lives we must confront.
As Michael’s recurring and haunting lyrics suggest:
'Come on kids, don’t be scared
It’s a tits and ass world you gotta be prepared...'
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