Guilty Pleasures, Round One: George Michael/Wham! (6) vs. Phil Collins/Genesis (11)
EW’s Music Mix is searching for the Greatest Guilty Pleasure Musical Act of All Time. With 32 seeded contestants (see all the matchups), this tournament is sure to change hearts, minds, and lives for weeks to come. Read/listen to the following, and then cast your vote in the poll after the jump; reader comments will be used in subsequent rounds, so we encourage you to also post a comment explaining why you chose the way you did. Note: In case of a tie, please select the artist you feel more ashamed to adore. Thank you.
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
Like any good impartial game commissioner, I’ve got a horse in this race: Phil Collins, legendary drummer and frontman for Genesis, and colossally successful solo artist in his own right. When it comes time to crank up the volume and buckle down the shame, Collins is where I turn, and my love for the guy is possibly the worst-kept secret of my life. He sings like a Muppet. He looks like an apple has been affixed to a human torso by the most tentative of means, or maybe he looks like something out of Dungeons & Dragons. I haven’t decided. Either way, I adore him.
For my 30th birthday, a good friend who knew me too well gave me a pair of tickets to Collins’ “First Final Farewell Tour.” (Phil! So funny!) I laughed, I cried, it was better than Cats. You think that video of the gorilla drumming to “In the Air Tonight” is awesome? Watch Collins do it live: wandering around the stage singing those ominous lyrics, all eyes on him as he rounds the apron, climbs a set of stairs, and — OH MY GOD DID A GIANT DRUM KIT JUST EMERGE FROM UNDER THE STAGE? Yes. Yes it did. Phil sat down, hit those first two guh-gungs, and I felt like I’d just seen Elaine Paige, Barbra Streisand and Betty Buckley do “Memory” in three-part harmony. Later, I tried (unsuccessfully) to force my friend Ben to slow-dance in the aisle during “One More Night,” which is my 8th grade brain’s idea of a very mature and heartbreaking love song. Phil Collins knows me. Other songs that at one point or another represented my inner monologue: “Don’t Lose My Number,” “Easy Lover,” “Invisible Touch.”
The latter, of course, Phil performed while still with Genesis. Here is certainly a centerpiece, if not the linchpin, of the Collins guilt: To many, he is the devil who destroyed their happy little prog rock band. I don’t know about that — I mean, he took over on vocals the year I was born, so it’s not like I was there, but it seems that under Phil’s watch, the group’s fame (and coffers) grew considerably. I understand that for many music fans, commercial success = crimes against humanity. But I’m sorry, people, I’m a Cold War kid, and if loving “Land of Confusion” — and its accompanying fever dream of a video — is wrong, then stick a fork in me, cause I’m mixing clichés.
What I think so appealed to me about Collins back in the day — and, shamefully, still appeals to me now — is the thick, thudding rhythm style he favors, beats hard enough to move my soul, but not so hard that they become ugly, or scary, or, you know, in any way challenging. Songs like “Easy Lover,” “Something Happened on the Way to Heaven,” “Take Me Home,” “I Wish It Would Rain Down,” and “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight” all share that Collins aesthetic, drums amped for maximum cheese, power without danger, volume without aggression. I have no real use for cutesy, flouncy Collins — “Two Hearts,” “You Can’t Hurry Love,” “Dance Into the Light,” that one Tarzan song — but crank that “Sussudio” intro (ooh, horns!) and watch me dance like Snowball. I’m a big dork, is what I’m trying to say here.
Finally, and most importantly: no song in American Idol history has taken down more contestants than “Against All Odds.”* The judges go on and on about how Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey are the untouchable artists, but let the record reflect that the true master, the singer of unattainable songs, the man to whom none can compare is one Mr. Phil Collins. Make him your choice, people. He is a British man currently in semi-retirement because he is off somewhere researching the Alamo. If anyone can find the basement in that joint, it’s him.
*possibly not true
Photo Credit: Both: Everett Collection