Boy George and How His World Has Changed
Boy George, a legendary pop star who shot to worldwide fame as just a teenager, is still going strong; releasing new music, going on tour, and also still performing his 80’s hits. But according to George, performing those pop classics inevitably feels different and carry a different meaning now. As he’s grown and matured, George has an honest relationship with himself and the world, which is reflected in his new music. As an artist, he’s uncontrived and reveals a newfound respect for his career. Make no mistake, he’s still outspoken and full of playful wit and humor.
You’re about to embark on a huge summer tour across the US at the end of the month. How do you prepare for something like that?
A bit of starvation! [laughs] Touring for me, is an opportunity to really get myself together, because you have to be really fit to tour night after night. So you have to do things to protect your health, your voice, your sanity. So there’s lots of days on tour where I don’t even speak… which is incredibly pleasant for everyone around me! [laughs]
I follow the opera singer approach where you let the voice rest and make sure you get sleep and eat well. We travel with lots of extra musicians, and you see them bowling into the hotel after a big night and you think there’s no way they’re going to finish this tour in good health! They say, if you want to find out who people are, let them move into your house …or take them on tour with you!
It sounds like an incredibly strenuous and revealing experience.
Oh yes! A lot of people lose their sense of humor. The road is not for everybody. Some people just cannot cope with touring life.
Is there something you’re really excited about for the tour?
I’m excited about doing some of the new songs because you can really tell from the audience reaction, whether something is going to work. If people react to a song like they know it, that’s the best thing in the world if you get through the first chorus and people are already engaged — there’s nothing better. That’s when you know if somethings going to work or not.
What kind of music can we expect on the tour?
The tour is going to be our classic songs interspersed with a few new things on the next album that’s imminent. The new album’s just come to life, it’s very Culture Club… whatever that means! We’ve come to a point in our career where we do something we say, ‘it’s really Culture Club’ without really knowing what that means. I would describe culture club, as ‘world music’ with a lot of 'gay cake.'
Your music has definitely changed, as you’ve grown and your career has evolved, and it sounds like your outlook on life has changed as well.
Yes, the things I write about as a lyricist have changed. In some ways, my perspective on relationships as love and life have altered a lot since I was first in this band; the song titles are different sorts of song titles. When I used to write as a teenager, I was always very in the role of the victim. Songs like, “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me,” “Time or Give Me Time,” I played a certain role — a role that I’m not playing anymore because I have such a different relationship with myself, with the world, and with love and life. And that is really reflected in this record. Even in songs that we’ve sung for 20 or 30 years, those songs have changed in their essence. They’re still the same songs but what they mean to me as a performer, is very different. Which is interesting because when you sing a song like “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me,” its almost about something else now.
What is the biggest comparison between your new music and that of the past? Do you find yourself coming back to your 80’s roots at all?
I think on this album, weirdly, we have thrown a lot of things that we grew up with on this record. So you kind of get to a moment where you fearlessly reference the things you love without being self conscious about it. Because I think Culture Club’s music has always been very eclectic (I know eclectic is a very overused word) but from my point of view I’m someone that can enjoy Dolly Parton and the Cramps in the same breath, I am a Gemini, my music tastes would make no sense to someone looking from the outside. I really jump around musically, I suppose in a way, what the band has done is put that into a sensible, palatable energy, we are definitely wearing our influences very proudly on this record perhaps when we were younger, we were less conscious. Because when you’re young, you think you’ve invented everything, don't you? Now it’s more like you’re paying homage to what you’ve created all those years ago and all the things that have shaped you. Theres always a lot of Bowie in what I do, and Beatles, obviously big fans and all those things are in there.
You mentioned Dolly, Bowie and The Beatles as inspiration, is there an artist or performer that you look up to the most?
I am a massive Nina Simone fan, I think Nina Simone was one of those people that managed to put her passion and anger in everything she did. I think we live in an age now, where there’s a lot of performers… but not that many artists. I come from an era, if I come from anywhere, where people were required to be more than just performers. And I think it started with people like David Bowie, although Elvis had a touch of that as well. The fact is that yes, you have to have musical integrity but you also have to have some sort of visual element as well. If you think about anyone in the last forty or fifty years, from Elvis to Little Richard to Chuck Berry, to Prince, Madonna, Boy George, whatever… throw us all into the mix… all those people had a definable image Michael Jackson; it’s really important to have your music be a part of who you are. At the moment, you listen to songs where you think, yes it’s a beautiful song, yes it's a beautiful voice, but I don't know anything about them. At the end of the song, I don't know who they are, they haven’t really let me into their world… like when you hear Amy Winehouse sing, “Love is A Losing Game,” you’re in there with her, you feel that pain. And I suppose those are the kind of performers that appeal to me. Equally, people that are tricksters like Kiss, they’ve got the makeup, and explosions, I love that too! I love to be entertained and I think that’s what the audience wants. So that’s really what I look for is things that are entertaining visually, and emotionally stimulating. That’s what I try to do when I wake up in the morning.
After you’re done with the tour this summer, is the next stop a Vegas residency?
Vegas is definitely on the horizon. There’s been such a delay and it’s something people never would have done years ago but it’s such a hit place now, and you’ve got an audience there that have come to have fun. I can’t see that it would go horribly wrong so I’m really looking forward to doing some stuff in Vegas and playing around with the visuals and putting on a real show.
Reflecting back on your career, what are you most proud of?
I’d probably say NOW. Not in terms of any sort of achievement but being able to step outside of what I do and look at it from a clear headed perspective and to know that what I do is a job, rather than an be-all-end-all of my existence. When you’re nineteen, and you become a rockstar, it’s all-encompassing, and you lose sense of who you are and forget that it’s a job. And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve understood that what I do is that I sing and entertain people, and knowing that’s my job is a really good thing because it makes me treat the whole thing with a lot more respect and to value it in a way that perhaps I didn’t as a very young man. Because it was thrown at me overnight and suddenly it’s like, 'Oh my God!' Growing into a person that respects what I do, that’s an achievement.
What’s your favorite artist or song that you’re listening to right now?
There’s a band called “Lower Dens,” they have a song called “Real Thing,” which I play a lot. There’s a band called, “Planningtorock” and they have a few tunes which I play a lot, and a song called “Let’s Talk About Gender;” they’ve also got a great song called “The Breaks” which literally sounds like it could have been made in 1984. I’m a big Spotify fan, I love the fact that I get up on Monday and they send me loads of new tunes that they think I might life and some of them, I do like! That’s the one good thing about the internet… they sometimes get it quite right! One of my favorite bands is Arcade Fire. A lot of the time I like the bands that really have a respect for what’s come before. It’s a bit like furniture… like you see a piece of furniture that’s like very now but has an old world quality about it and I think that’s what appeals to me the most.
I love your style and unique sense of fashion, where do you get your fashion inspo?
I am a Gemini, so I’m very much a cultural sponge, I take ideas from everywhere. A lot of it comes from my own imagination but I read books, poetry, magazines, reference all sorts of things and I try very much to make those ideas a reflection of who I am rather than a complete copy of something else. Because we now live in a world where nothing hasn’t been done, nothing in the world that hasn’t already been worn, its really about how you as an individual carry something off. And I take the view that you can't keep an idea in a box, once you think about something, and you speak about something it almost happens, you open a magazine and you go, ‘wow I was thinking about that! That’s so weird that someone’s done that!’
That’s the thing that excites me the most in terms of making music and fashion is the new ideas. And there's obviously a reference point for me, the 70’s are a big reference point, glam rock, punk rock, those things are still very important to me. I’m always open to anything that’s crazy and outlandish... Liberace, bring it on! All that stuff makes me smile!