‘Wham!’ Explained: Why Did George Michael And Andrew Ridgeley Split Up?


The Netflix documentary Wham! is about a musical duo who felt an instant connection when they met in high school and soon started to dream about forming a band together. George, born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, was a shy new boy at school, and Andrew Ridgeley, the extrovert kid, offered to be his friend. As soon as they discovered their mutual love for music and songwriting, they were determined to start their music career together. Wham! is all about how two teenagers managed to make it to the top of the music charts in a span of four years. Formed in 1981, Wham! was initially not well received, but luck and talent turned the band into an international sensation.

Spoilers Ahead

What Is ‘Wham!’ Documentary About?

George and Andrew recorded their four-minute demo tape at their home and went from one recording studio to another, hoping to be signed. None of the studios showed interest in the duo, and just when they were about to give up hope, Andrew suggested they approach Mark Dean, who lived near his parents’ house. Dean was skeptical about the tape, but once he listened to it, he knew that they were talented. He called them up, and Innervision Records offered them a record deal. Things were finally looking good for George and Andrew, and they were pumped to release their first single, “Wham Rap! (Enjoy what you do)”. Unfortunately, it was not received well by the audience, and their single did not make it to the top 100. They did not expect such a failure, and upon the advice of the record company, they focused on building a fan base by performing at local clubs. It was a tough time for the duo, but luck favored them, and they were invited to perform at the “Top of the Pops” show. Luckily, a band cancelled at the last minute, and they offered ‘Wham!’ the slot to perform. It was an instant yes, considering how important and big the platform was. Unlike most of the bands who appeared on “Top of the Pops”, their dance was not professionally choreographed; instead, they projected their true selves, and the audience loved them for their rawness.’ Wham!’ gradually became popular from then on, and “Wham Rap!” was re-released and was among the top ten singles. Their sudden fame prompted the record company to build a certain image for the band. They wanted Andrew and George to represent teenagers, and they were compelled to write songs that they did not believe in. Even though their songs were a success, as artists, they were not satisfied.

Why Did George Michael Feel Conflicted In ‘Wham!’?

George was surprised by the love and appreciation he received from his audience. He never expected to be celebrated on such a grand scale, but with the love of his fans came the pressure to be truthful about himself. Andrew and Shirlie were the first people he came out to while shooting in Ibiza. He felt relieved when his friends accepted him for who he was, and he decided to come out to his parents. But Andrew advised against it; he was not sure how his father would react to the truth. Even though George desperately wanted to come out to his family, he decided against it and continued portraying a false image, which slowly started to get to him. Along with being in constant conflict with his sexuality, George was also deeply affected by the statements made by critics. After the release of their first album, “Fantastic”, the audience, in general, was absolutely in love with their music. The album was on top of the music charts for well over two years. But George was disappointed by the criticism he faced from the music press, and he doubted his capability as a songwriter. He did not wish to be taken lightly, and they decided to go on a tour with their “Fantastic” album. It was during the tour that George found his hidden confidence, and his presence was appreciated by the swooning crowd. George admitted that his insecurity made him appreciate the madness of the crowd all the more. It was reassuring for the band after facing harsh criticism. While the tour was a success, the duo realized that they were barely earning any money because of their strict contract with the record company. They brought in Simon Napier-Bell and Jazz Summers to handle the situation. As management, they had to figure out the termination of Wham!’s contract with Innervision Records. After overcoming the four-month-long legal procedure, Wham! signed a new deal with CBS.

“Careless Whisper” was the first song George produced entirely on his own. He had written the song before their music career started, and he believed it was time to release it. The problem was that no one could produce his vision, and that prompted him to step in. George also produced the song “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go,” which was a tremendous hit. Along with being a songwriter and a singer, George was now also a music producer. Andrew was a little envious of George’s growth, but at the same time, he celebrated his best friend at every moment. Andrew was comfortable with the way his life had taken shape, and he did not have as much to prove as George believed he had to. Andrew started his music career because he enjoyed writing songs, but gradually George took over the writing aspect completely. It was not easy for him to let go of it, but he had to for the growth of Wham! and George. He was proud of George’s success, and he enjoyed being a part of his creations.

George initially lived under Andrew’s shadows, but once he realized his potential and received acknowledgement from the audience, he became unstoppable. Writing songs was George’s way of expressing his innermost feelings, which he could not openly share with the world otherwise. “Freedom” was a track that was coded with reference to his sexuality. The guilt of being a closeted gay man who wanted to believe that he was bisexual often overwhelmed him, and the fact that he came from an extremely oppressive household made him feel all the more insecure about himself.

Why Did Wham! Split?

Both George and Andrew knew that they would one day have to split because their goals were different, but before doing so, they wanted Wham! to be recognized in the United States. In 1984, they arrived in the United States, and Americans celebrated the duo. Women at large were part of the fan base, and George was all the more certain about hiding his truth to appeal to the crowd. They started touring all across the world, and the turnout was bigger than ever before. Even though their tour was a massive success, what truly mattered to George were the chart ratings. It boosted his confidence as a songwriter.

Soon George wrote another evergreen hit single, “Last Christmas.” The music video was original, inviting, and Christmasy. He was confident that it would top the chart, but “Do they know it’s Christmas?”, a charity song recorded to provide relief funds to Ethiopia, became the most celebrated song that Christmas. He admitted that it did hurt his ego since he aimed to deliver four No. 1 singles that year. Nonetheless, the money they earned from “Last Christmas” was also donated to the same cause. George felt a sense of satisfaction when he was awarded the Ivor Novello Award in 1985 for songwriting. To be recognized for his writing was his dream come true, and George could not hold back his tears on stage.  “Wham!” was the first pop band invited by China since they had a rather clean image, and their lyrics were not overtly suggestive. Their China tour was heavily covered by the media, and George could not help but dream about becoming one of the most celebrated artists in the world. George’s relationship with fame was bittersweet; he needed it to boost his ego, but at the same time, he often felt overwhelmed by it. After the success of the China tour, Elton John invited the star of the hour to perform at a charity music event called “Live Aid”. George even shared the stage with popular starts of the era like Freddie Mercury and David Bowie. After the event, they started touring all across the United States, and the success was well above their expectations. They were superstars in America, something that they had not imagined when they planned the tour.

It was during the tour that George and Andrew discussed the future of Wham! They believed that they had lived beyond the expectations they had when they formed the band. And as long as they were a part of Wham!, they had to live up to their youthful, bright image, something that George, in particular, was not comfortable with. He felt trapped, and Andrew understood what he was going through. They decided to split to pursue their solo careers, and on June 28, 1986, they performed one last time together for their fans at what was called the ‘Farewell concert’.

Wham! came to a beautiful end after taking the pop world by storm in the span of four years. In the end, George Michael got the success he deserved in his solo career. “Faith” became an instant chart-topper, and he received the Grammy Award for the album. In 1996, he went on to receive his third Ivor Novello Award for songwriting. In 1998, George was arrested for his lewd behavior in public and the news spread like wildfire. His sexuality finally caught public attention. George believed he had subconsciously done it because he was tired of the false pretense. George Michael took his last breath on December 25, 2016. According to medical reports, the cause of his death was liver and heart disease, and his partner, Fadi Fawaz, found his body at his home.

Andrew Ridgeley, on the other hand, tried to become Formula Three motor racer after Wham!’s split. However, his new career never took the intended flight and ended up in total failure. He tried to launch his solo career as a musician, but that did not work in his favor either. He performed with George Michael at a few events later on. In 2019, he guest appeared in “Last Christmas,” which featured many Wham! songs. Wham! is essentially about George and Andrew’s journey together from being naive teenage boys with dreams to becoming superstars performing for thousands of fans. In four years, they managed to create an unforgettable image, and their songs are celebrated even in recent times.

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Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni has worked as a film researcher on a government-sponsored project and is currently employed as a film studies teacher at a private institute. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies. Film History and feminist reading of cinema are her areas of interest.

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