By Alison McGill
Barbie may own Summer 2023, but there’s a surprise retro contender competing for your pop culture affections that’s just as iconic as she is: Wham!
Thanks to the just-dropped Netflix documentary that charts the rise to fame of the ultimate pop duo George Michael and Andrew Ridgely, Wham! is suddenly everywhere again. The British band is tracking with a whole new gen of fans who are as smitten with the lads’ infectious disco-rap-funk beats as they are with their retro fashion stylings: white tees, rolled-up jeans, Technicolour bright Fila short sets, slouch socks and loads of fringe.
The doc marks the 40th anniversary of the release of the Wham’s first album Fantastic. As an OG Wham! fan, I will tell you the eight tracks on Fantastic are as a close to perfect as an ‘80s pop album get. Clocking in at a beautifully curated running length of just over 36 minutes, Fantastic is an album I have listened to on repeat for years and years—the sparkle, youthful exuberance and energy never fades, and it always whisks me away “to the place/where memberships a smiling face” (thank you “Club Tropicana”). Fun fact we learn about this song in the film: though the video for this sun-soaked summer anthem was shot in 1983 at the celebrity favourite Pikes Hotel in Ibiza and captures the sexy, hedonistic vibe of the decade, it was written in 1981 in the living room of Andrew’s family home in Surrey when the boys were just 18 years old.
It’s moments like this, documenting the backstory not just of Wham’s music, but the sweet, indelible friendship and partnership between George and Andrew, that make this film such a joy. As Andrew recounts, all he ever wanted to do was to be in a band with his best friend George, and the fact they did, and they achieved such success together during the band’s five-year mega-ride, from 1981 through 1986, was incredible. “Wham was a brotherhood, it was playful. Wham was never going to grow up.”
You will walk away from Wham! not only wanting to download the band’s complete catalogue but thinking about one of the key takeaways from the film: the power of forever-friendship. Andrew and George were determined to make it big, together. They did just that, and when George’s star began to eclipse Andrew’s, there was no bitter breakup; Andrew knew it was time to gracefully step back and let his best mate George soar, solo. If this isn’t the most selfless (and boss) friendship move ever I don’t know what is.
Here are a few other valuable life lessons Wham! reminded me of.
Never Give Up On Your Dreams
Andrew and George peddled their demo tape to countless record execs before they ultimately landed a deal with a tiny label called Innervision Records. They struggled to climb the charts with their first few singles, but when BBC’s Top of the Pops (TOTP) called and asked them to fill a performance gap in an upcoming show they jumped…and became the UK’s hottest band in an instant.
Great Style Is About A Vibe, Not a Budget
When they performed “Young Guns” on TOTP, it wasn’t just the song that was a hit, it was their style was too. George wore espadrilles, an open suede jacket and rolled-up denim. “We had no clothes; basically, two outfits between us,” Andrew shares in the film. “We looked different and that was our moment.” It was Andrew who acted as the band’s stylist, and it was his idea to have them wear short-short sets in primary colours which became a signature in the early years of their success.
Ultimate Goals Can Always Be Achieved, But It May Take Time
When Wham! was at the peak of their fame in 1984, George was determined to make it a banner year of four chart topping hits. “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” “Careless Whisper” and “Freedom” had reached number one, and he wrote “Last Christmas” with the specific intent of landing the UK’s coveted Christmas week top spot. The song held at number two for five weeks; but the beloved festive classic finally did hit number one over the holidays in 2020 and again in 2022.
Wham! is currently streaming on Netflix. Put it on your watch list, it’s everything you want, and everything need in a nostalgic, feel-good watch.