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Guilty Pleasures FINAL: Phish (16) vs. George Michael/Wham (6)

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EW’s Music Mix is searching for the Greatest Guilty Pleasure Musical Act of All Time. We started with 32 seeded contestants; this is the final face-off. Polls will stay open through the weekend. Note: In the unlikely case of a tie, please select the artist you feel more ashamed to adore.

PHISH

Phish defeated Barry Manilow in the quarterfinals. Here is the introductory essay we wrote back in Round One:

Before you send in that death threat, gimme a second. In order for a band to qualify as a guilty pleasure, they must inspire both guilt and pleasure, right? It’s clear this band has the second base covered — besides the Grateful Dead (whose playbook they obviously purchased at a yard sale at some point in the ‘80s), I can think of no other group that elevates its audience to such a state of heightened bliss, especially in a live context. In the field at Bonnaroo this summer, I finally understood why noodle-dancing was invented: the rambling travels of Trey Anastasio’s guitar work, the expressive tinkling of Page McConnell’s keys, the unexpected rhythmic and tonal shifts, and the candy-colored light show all begged for different parts of my body to move in different directions at the same time… and I wasn’t on anything stronger than Advil. It felt like watching dozens of bands collide on stage, then settle into a groove from which one group would occasionally burst and assert their individuality. As Carrie Brownstein put it during her brilliant full-immersion Phish project on NPR’s Monitor Mix blog: “At first listen, Phish comes across as a jazzy, jam-based band with leanings toward folk, funk, freak and frivolity (oh, and prog, but that throws off the alliteration). For non-Phish aficionados, here are some base references: Zappa, Beefheart, ELO, Flying Burrito Brothers and Soft Machine. But it’s just as easy to be surprised by a Phish song and have it sound like none of the aforementioned; to hear hints of classical music, the grandiosity of a Who rock opera, or the melodic prowess of Lennon/McCartney (or maybe Garcia/Lesh). If jamming scares you, then Phish’s music will be harder to take.”

As for the guilt, I can also think of no other group that elevates its audience to such a state of heightened defensiveness. Phish fans are notoriously, aggressively protective of their band and their right to obsessively love their band, and will broach no dissent. So what would a mental health professional say? — WP

GEORGE MICHAEL/WHAM!

George Michael defeated the Backstreet Boys in the quarterfinals. Here is the introductory essay we wrote back in Round One:

The fact that Michael Cera plays a character called George Michael Bluth on Arrested Development, my favorite TV show, still makes me laugh every time I think about the writers who came up with that conceit when naming the son of a Michael and the grandson of a George. The real George Michael is, of course, the British pop star (Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou to his mum) who has sold more than 100 million records worldwide but who is lately more famous for getting popped by a vice squad cop in a public bathroom for soliciting a lewd act. But Georgios P. is not just an excellent punchline — he played the butt of his own joke (har) in Ricky Gervais’ excellent series, Extras. I’d post the clip but there’s some naughty business that might render me unemployed after I hit send. YouTube it, people.

So George Michael gets cool points for having a laugh at his own expense. I love him, though, for singing a little ditty called, “I Want Your Sex” in 1987 that never failed to entice me onto a dance floor then and which currently makes me think I might get my hindquarters to the gym whenever I play it because the propulsive beat creates the perfect cadence for moving at a cholesterol-busting pace. In this case, George Michael, guilty feet have got rhythm. (Hmm, maybe not actually.) I would argue that I love the soul pop of George Michael because the tracks are produced in such an interesting way. The organ intro from “Faith” that leads into a strident guitar strum which evolves into a cheeky twang never bores me. This statement is true enough, but also, I confess, a lie of omission. The truth is I thought George Michael was a sexy beast and that his songs were also erotically charged in a way that was liberating at the time. The man made a video that was censored (“I Want Your Sex”) and shot another clip starring his rear view (“Faith”). I still love moving around to a George Michael hit, and as I play this YouTube link in the kitchen of my sister’s house, she looks up from her iTouch Scrabble game, starts bobbing her head and sings, “I love George Michael”.

As do I. But not enough to play it in front of other people which is why I keep it like a secret in my head via headphones only. Don’t tell anyone.

Addendum: While you are reading my ’80s diary, please tear out the tear-stained pages that reveal an ill-chosen “yes” reply given to a haircutter whose scissorhands left me with a bi-level Flock of Seagulls-style head topiary. I sported this ‘do with a pink day-glo WHAM! t-shirt and white parachute pants while getting footloose to “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” but thankfully there is no physical evidence of said accident. — Michele Romero

Click here to visit Guilty Pleasure Bracket Central!

Photo Credit: Michael: Everett Collection