At a time with renewed interest in music documentaries available via streaming, Andrew Ridgeley and George Michael’s successful entry into the music industry is detailed in the new Netflix film WHAM! streaming this week...
“Wham! was a brotherhood. It was playful.”
In the 1980s, the band Wham! was everywhere. A casual music fan couldn’t escape the madness of this pop duo, consisting of members Andrew Ridgeley and the late George Michael. The pair knew each other growing up and eventually formed the musical act in 1981 on the shoulders of two awkward and willfully frantic kids from North London. Five years later, Wham! broke up because George Michael wanted to make music for a non-teenage crowd. The duo had sold more than 30 million records when they went their separate ways.
Netflix is providing music lovers with an inside look at the private and professional lives of Andrew Ridgeley and George Michael in the new documentary aptly named WHAM! The film examines the band’s rough beginnings to its meteoric rise from 1982 to 1986 with interviews via archival footage from Ridgeley and Michael. Directed by Chris Smith of Tiger King fame, the documentary is a quick 93-minute ride through fame and what it takes to survive in the music business. However, its nostalgia angle tends to be thwarted by a short runtime and less attention paid to the band’s ultimate legacy.
WHAM! dives into the critical response of a band’s growing pains while inspecting many of the hit songs that made Wham! an enjoyable artist to follow. Andrew Ridgeley and George Michael were criticized in the media for being too sexy, wearing short shorts while touring, and behaving erratically singing on stage. But while grown-ups once viewed their rise to fame as appalling, the band’s teenage fandom grew in popularity. The pair’s personal lives and financial issues were kept secret for a while.
During a sequence in which archival interviews discuss the song “Club Tropicana,” George Michael speaks about wanting to come out to his family. At the tender age of 19, Michael disclosed to Ridgeley that he was bisexual, and they hardly ever spoke about it again. Without much fanfare, it was determined that Michael would keep his personal life private to save the new band’s image. The teenage pop duo saw rapid success, with the album “Fantastic” hitting the UK charts at number 1. Their eventual foray across the pond in the United States gave them global recognition. It wouldn’t be until 1998 that Michael would finally discuss his sexuality openly with the world, long after his mental health struggles towards the end of his Wham! days were over.
WHAM! is structurally confusing as a documentary because it focuses on a few years of the band’s prominence on UK radio without updated perspectives from those still alive. Everything is taken from previous speeches and interviews, spliced over footage of Wham! concerts and photographs. But, the film doesn’t shy away from George Michael’s battle with depression, especially his realization that he was gay and not bisexual. Using Andrew Ridgeley as a support system during the mid-1980s, Michael found friendship the key to working through his ongoing issues. His sexuality was a quiet backdrop underneath the saxophone stylings the band would be known for, yet antics from both band members behind the scenes created fodder for tabloid magazines.
The band produced numerous hits, including “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” “Club Tropicana,” “Careless Whisper,” and “Last Christmas” before they broke up. Ridgeley had a great deal of influence on the formation of the duo, but Michael’s presence in music videos and on stage made it impossible to be ignored. Their friendship suffered as a result, with Michael’s depression and desire to strike out on his own leading to the band’s downfall. WHAM! tries to give viewers an understanding of these timelines, but it falls short of being a genuinely in-depth documentary.
For anyone that might not know about Wham! and what made this band special, WHAM! is a worthwhile documentary to watch for its presentation of a musical act struggling with fame. It’s not the most detailed of behind-the-music documentaries, but it’s a satisfying peek into a moment of time when sexuality was stifled, and music ruled the airwaves.
The new Netflix documentary Wham, from director Chris Smith (Tiger King, Sr.) and producers John Battsek (The Deepest Breath) and Simon Halfon (Supersonic), starts streaming on July 5. The feature documentary will have a run time of one hour and 32 minutes.