’80s icon Boy George mans up with his first CD of new music in 2 decades|
Boasting a trim physique, a beard and a positive attitude, on This is What I Do — his first studio album in 18 years, which drops on Tuesday — the now-52-year-old gay pop icon born George O’Dowd betrays a deeper, more mature voice (albeit still honeylike), with nods to lifelong musical influences, including David Bowie. It’s a much different sound and image than followers of his work — from Culture Club to more recent dance music projects — are used to for sure.
Making his way around the world as a club DJ in recent years (check out his free monthly Culture Club Radio podcast on iTunes), George is again hitting the road as a singer, with a 9-piece band, for a North American tour to promote This Is What I Do, the recording of which he paid for and owns (he’s also writing and recording with a reunited Culture Club for an upcoming album).
During a leisurely, frank interview in a private New York City club for artists and media professionals, George — wearing chef pants, makeup, a skull cap hat and fitness jacket — shared plenty of dish about his new album, voice and attitude, Madonna’s grill, and whether he uses gay hookup apps.
— Lawrence Ferber
Visit Boy George’s official website, BoyGeorgeUK.com.
Dallas Voice: Your voice has changed in several regards, but most noticeably in its depth. Boy George: It sounds like me now, it sounds right. For male singers, very few men keep their falsetto. Jimmy Somerville is an oddity — he can still do it. I like my voice now. I feel I understand it more, I’m not scared of it. When I was younger, I got successful kind of quickly, so there was immediate pressure on me as a performer. It took its toll on my voice and I used to lose it a lot. Now it’s Teflon, a tough voice. I had opera training a few years ago; [now] I can breathe properly, and I understand the process of how you sing. As you get older, you listen more and assimilate information. It was the same information I was told at 25, but I didn’t hear it then. I’ve always been more concerned with the feeling than perfection. Bowie isn’t a traditional voice, or Nico or Lou Reed or Dylan. I’m much more interested in how people tell a story with their voices. That’s what I’m interested in as a performer, really — connecting with people emotionally.
The first single and video, “King of Everything,” sounds almost like U2 meets Bowie. I’m quite pleased to hear that. Guitar bands, like The Verve … there’s a lot of that with “King of Everything.” I was working with Youth, who worked with Verve, and we really channeled them. “Let’s do something really ’60s [like Phil Spector’s] Wall of Sound.” Once we got the mood, the song came. The opening line, put down the booze let the demons win the fight, that just came, and the song was constructed around that. The Bowie influence is always there. That’s the first time I’ve heard U2, but I’m not upset to hear that!
The song “Feel The Vibration” features a Palestinian singer, Nizar Al Issa. Are you Jewish? I want to be! Well, you know what, I wrote that song after watching all the stuff about Syria, it’s about Middle East Arab Spring stuff. Being quite moved by the fact people were going out onto the streets knowing they were going to get shot. We’re arguing about gay marriage, and people there have no basic rights, and their own armies are shooting them, and they’re still prepared, women and children, to go out and protest. I had an idea about using an Arabic voice, not specific to Palestine, just Arabic, so we got in touch with the musician’s union, and there were two singers, and the one who turned up I used. When he started singing, it was amazing. I asked him to translate my lyrics, and he really got it. What’s really funny is, he went outside to have a cigarette, and he said to my guitarist, “This guy, in there, is Boy George? The one we know?” My guitarist was like, “Yeah.” He went, “Incredible!” Lovely man and he sang beautifully. There’s a great dance mix coming.
Actually, it’s interesting that the album doesn’t really have any dance tracks. I have a project called RetroPhobia with Kinky Roland, which is totally dance. I have a track out in the U.K. [and on iTunes in the U.S.] called “Basement.” It’s 100 percent dance — I actually talk on the track. “No words, just vibrations.” It’s quite butch. And I was working with George Clinton two days ago in London to do a new version of This Is What I Do’s “Bigger Than War.” He did a little bit of singing on there as well.
During the 1980s, plenty of fans would dress up in Boy George drag. Do they still come out in ’80s getups, or have they adopted your new bearded look? When I did a gig at London’s KOKO in November, there were a lot of people with beards and hats! When I did some DJ gigs in the USA, it was funny. There’s a real beard-y thing in the world now. You meet other people with beards, like, “I’m glad you have a beard.”
You could be Bear George. I could do, but it’s not something I aspire to, being a bear.
Speaking of image evolution, what do you make of modern day Madge with her gold grill? These days, I try to be careful about what I say about her, because I’ve been misquoted a lot recently. There’s a lot to admire in her. She’s kept it together, she’s never been a drunk or drug addict. She hasn’t fallen apart like a lot of us have. She has amazing tenacity, and when I saw all the stuff with her talking about Lady Gaga, I wanted to say to her, “Babe, you don’t need to defend yourself. You’ve had an amazing career. One most people would kill for. Your legacy is sealed.” If anything, what I’ve learned is to focus on what I do and not what others are doing. Focus on your own intentions. But every singer has a nemesis. Every one!
Who’s yours? It was George Michael [in the past]. Now I completely and utterly appreciate what he does and think he’s a brilliant artist.
Be Justin Bieber’s nemesis! No, he doesn’t need me to be his nemesis. He’s his own nemesis! I feel kind of sorry for him. He’s a kid. Who’s taking care of him? That’s the question I want to ask. Who’s taking care of this child? He’s clearly in a bad place, so I don’t want to slag him off. I think he’s beautiful, a beautiful boy. Let’s not pretend here. He’s a beautiful boy. He looks like a beautiful dyke. I kind of like that — the whole dykey, androgynous thing he’s got going on. But I feel like everyone’s giving him a hard time and, yes, he’s slightly out of control. Somebody [should] step in.
Dead or Alive’s Pete Burns has been on Celebrity Big Brother in the U.K. Have you been approached to do reality shows? Loads of times. I’ve been offered ridiculous amounts of money and taken meetings and mulled it over, and I’ve avoided it. I think in a way what you do on reality TV is reveal how ordinary you are, and no artist should ever let people know they’re ordinary. I often read things about myself that are completely untrue, and I think they make me sound interesting, so I’m not going to complain! I quite like the idea of myself hanging upside down, chanting and eating Mung beans.
What’s your dating life like these days? I don’t have one at the moment. I’m really focusing on my work, it’s true. If I was to meet an amazing person here in New York or the U.K., I’d kind of be open to that. But I’ve never been somebody who had to be in a relationship or measure myself by whom I’m dating. I have friends who do, and I see what they put themselves through. I’m 52, quite selfish, have my way of doing things and living, anyone who steps into this arena has to be pretty damn sure of themselves. I don’t know who that is. But please don’t think I’m lonely or missing anything. I’m not at all.
Have you tried using apps like Grindr? I’m never gonna meet someone on Grindr! I wouldn’t want to go out with somebody who puts their penis on an app. I like a little bit of mystery. Also, imagine! Like, hi! It’s just not going to work. And so many people on those apps say they hate fems, and I hate that. That makes me hate someone. Even if they’re the most gorgeous person on earth, when I see that comment, I hate them. I hate them. Go fuck yourself, you self-loathing fag. It makes me so angry. No fems? I have a friend, David Hoyle, who’s a comedian, and he talks about self-loathing fags. He does a routine with, “but you’re not straight are you? No carbs after 6 p.m.?”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 21, 2014.