ARTIST OF THE MONTH: WHAM!
December 1, 2019
With the new RomCom ‘Last Christmas’ out now in theaters, our Artist of the Month for the Yuletide season; the pop colossus that is Wham!
The art of creating a Christmas single not just for contemporaneous consumption but also for the ages is a high-wire balancing act at the best of times. All too often, these are records that fall into a syrupy goo of mawkish sentiment and obvious cliché. There’s a good reason why so many get discarded like Boxing Day wrapping paper, but there’s an even better one for those that establish themselves in the Yuletide firmament: quality songwriting and the ability to look at a season we think we know so well from a completely fresh angle.
It’s a challenge that Wham! rose to and met with a depth of maturity and eye for detail that belied their still tender years, for in ‘Last Christmas’, here is a song where opposites clash to create a festive anthem that still resonates 35 years after its release. And yet, what else could be? After all, 1984 proved to be a watershed year for both the group as a pop phenomenon and George Michael as a songwriter.
Where ‘Careless Whisper’ elevated George Michael to world-class songwriter, ‘Last Christmas’ cemented his skills in the eyes of the public. Set against a musical background that suggests roaring fires, the welcoming aroma of mulled wine and the company of loved ones and friends, the festive genre is brilliantly subverted in the hands of George Michael, for here is a tale of romantic deceit and heartbreak.
In theory, such juxtaposition should work as well together as oil and water, but beating at the heart of this classic single is the kind of vulnerability that anyone who’s experienced love and loss can immediately identify with. And therein lies the genius of George Michael – the ability to tap into universal qualities and truths that we can all associate with. Not for no reason was ‘Last Christmas’ the most played Yuletide song in the decades that followed.
The single’s flip – this was a double A-side, remember – is the evergreen ‘Everything She Wants’. And once again, George Michael’s songwriting skills find him throwing lyrical shade on the brightness of the hip-targetting groove of the music. Combined, the two songs created a powerful pop statement that was built to last, and it became Wham!’s third consecutive million-selling chart-topper in the United States.
Back home, ‘Last Christmas’/’Everything She Wants’ was held off the top slot by Band Aid’s heroic fundraiser ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’, a track that contains one of the most powerful and memorable performances George Michael ever laid down for posterity. And in a move that would prove to be characteristic throughout the rest of his career, Wham! famously donated all of the royalties from ‘Last Christmas’/’All That She Wants’ to help the efforts tackling the Ethiopian famine disaster.
Groups such as Wham! really were one of those once-in-a-generation explosions that define their time as much they crystalise it forever. Theirs was indeed a high-wire act, but one that never needed the use of a safety net. They were far too good for that.
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