Is George Michael the ultimate fag hag icon?
I’ve always found my female friends to be more die-hard George Michael fans than my gay friends (both here in Vancouver and around the world). I’ve always been somewhat curious about that.
Even for myself, I’ve never been a fan of his music or looks. The significance of him coming out of the closet didn’t even really matter that much to me.
Kim Cattrall once said in an interview that there is nothing like gay fans. They love you so much and if you fall down or make a mistake, they will love you even more.
I would say that is also true of female fans.
One needs to only take a look at some of the fierce comments from Backstreet Boys (II Men) fans sent to our music department to see proof of that.
But in spite of George Michael (who recently performed at a concert here) coming out of the closet, all the problems he has been through, and periods when he wasn’t putting out albums or any new material, he still seems to appeal very much to a female fanbase.
I think that’s because he’s one of the ultimate unthreatening sexual icons for women.
If you take a look at where he came from in pop culture, you can see how this evolved.
In ’80s mainstream pop, there were the unmistakably male and macho rock stars like Bruce Springsteen, Sting, and even Vancouver’s own Bryan Adams. At the other end, a number of sexually ambiguous, androgynous, and effeminate male figures emerged, such as Boy George, Prince, Michael Jackson, and George Michael (plus a number of makeup or cross-dressing friendly male New Wave acts like The Cure, Dead or Alive, and Depeche Mode).
(As an interesting side note, all the members of the latter group went through a lot of personal and legal problems, whereas members of the first group didn't. In part, it could be due to a number of factors, such as greater sensitivity to pressures and low self-esteem growing up due to not being accepted as a "traditional" male.)
They drew upon and expanded the gender-boundary bending made by their ’70s predecessors (who also continued on in the ’80s) such as David Bowie and Elton John. And they also gave women a new type of male to worship.
Boy George was the most overtly feminine out of the lot, with his makeup and outlandish outfits.
Michael Jackson presented the stereotypical aggressive black male sexuality in an unthreatening effeminate skinny male body (which Justin Timberlake later channeled).
But then he turned into an alien, and no one's quite sure what to make of him.
Prince and George Michael were the most overtly sexual in their acts. But Prince was the kind of guy that women weren’t sure if he wanted to sleep with them just so he could leave the next morning in their heels.
George Michael, on the other hand, wasn’t. Though he did have a feminine energy in his early image—the long hair, the earrings, the short shorts, the dancing about—he was preppie, not a cross-dresser.
(Also, it probably didn't hurt that he resembled one of those '80s Jockey underwear models back when they still had hair on their chests and lean bodies before they became overpumped muscle monkey firefighters in the '90s.)
And in mass marketing terms, George Michael had broader appeal than Prince because he was white.
His songs and music video imagery actively courted women, from the romantic melodrama of “Careless Whisper” to the aggressive passion of “Father Figure” and “I Want Your Sex” (which even featured him with an Asian girlfriend, long before Asian women became the hot new accessory for white men).
Though George Michael may have come out of the closet, the majority of the body of his work, as reinforced by the images in his music videos, remains female-skewed rather than gay male–oriented.
The only song of his that ever appealed to me enough for me to buy it was the club-oriented “Flawlesss (Go to the City)”, which, like his post-arrest theme song “Outside”, seems more geared towards a gay demographic.
In comparison, the Pet Shop Boys’s early body of work, for example, is a lot more easy to interpret and embrace from a gay perspective in retrospect after they came out as their material was ambiguous in sexual terms and not specifically geared towards women or men.
In fact, Madonna’s work was far more active and ballsy in challenging homophobia, promoting homosexuality in the mainstream, and courting a gay audience than George Michael.
But George is the ultimate unthreatening sexual icon for women because, unlike boy bands, even if women do meet him, their lust for him can never really be consummated in reality.
George Michael also remains one of the only leading openly gay male solo artists in the mainstream. Other than him, I can only think of the aging Elton John and Rufus Wainwright (who is not quite mainstream).
It’s about time more men had the balls to join him. (Oh Ricckkkyyyyyyy”¦)