At 52, he’s hardly a boy. Boy George has released a new album, featuring the single King of Everything. He talks to Ian Horner about why he’ll never write another Karma Chameleon — more’s the pity.
IF YOU'VE been going to dance clubs in Europe you know Boy George is as big as ever, as a DJ. But outside Europe you'd think he'd retired from music. Not true.
At 22 his band Culture Club got the Grammy as Best New Artist and had the biggest-selling single of 1983, followed by another nine singles in the US Top 40 alone. His songs were sweet, singable and easy to dance to and the press loved his androgynous makeup and dress. Lady Gaga owes him. That was 30 years ago.
Have I lost my crown?
Will I be king again?
What's the word on the street?
Have I lost my crown?
Will I be king of everything?
The hook from his new single is ironic. King of Everything, from the album This Is What I Do, is geared to the world outside Europe's dance clubs, to let us know he's still here.
He was on a PR tour when I spoke to him by phone. He was personable, honest. We talked about why he'd withdrawn from the limelight, why he changed record companies, why he'll never write another Karma Chameleon. "I wasn't feeling the love" pretty well sums it up, but there was more to it. And he was sick and tired of being told what to do . . .
The media release for the album says it's "baggy". To me it's cool, relaxed, unforced - is that what baggy means? Kind of. I've been working in dance music for 25 years and dance productions are tight and slick because you use lots of technology. I felt it was time to do something loose. For me it was too obvious to make a dance record although there is groove on this record, there's always groove in what I do. And I wanted it to translate to a live situation.
I hesitate to call the album sad but there's lots of introspection and irony. I wouldn't call it sad either. It's melancholy, which is an area I've always kind of worked in. I think this album is really optimistic, not sad at all [laughs]. I think of my early work as being much more "woe is me". There's a lot of shrugging on this record, kind of comme ci, comme ça. It's about not having answers, not needing answers. At the same time I'm happy for people to interpret it any way they choose — that's what I do with my favourite records. It's important to leave room for that. So I'm not horrified you think it's sad — it's just not the word I'd use.
Yup, melancholy! But even King of Everything is bleak, about someone who's king of everything but if you lose those dearest to you what have you got? I don't know how much you know about recovery but recovery is quite triumphant and I get the opposite feeling from King of Everything because it's somebody taking responsibility for their life. That's positive. The first time I heard the finished mix I got quite emotional; I hope it affects others that way.
I love the lyrics to Bigger Than War. The line "[Love] holds us together, tears us apart" is so simple yet holds a huge truth. Yeah, but what I'm saying in that song is I don't understand love, and I don't necessarily need to. I'll size it up if you want me to. "It's bigger than me, it's bigger than you." Love is a bit like fate. You can't prove either exist. You have to trust they do. That's where the optimism kicks in. I'm romantic and naive and I do believe in all of those things; I want to believe in the wizard behind the curtain, you know?
OK, you're naive but how do you maintain innocence in a cutthroat industry? I don't think of it as cutthroat. There have been times I've loathed and detested this business but I don't feel that now. I've seen in the last couple of years if you're ready to get up off your arse and work there's lots to do. [laughs]. And it's not the same industry I was in before. I've done this record independently so the rules are different. How we communicate with our audience is different. We have social networking, it's easier to reach new people.
Why did you go independent? I left Virgin in '95 with a very bad taste in my mouth. Listen, the music industry is a business. You make a lot of money for a record company and suddenly you're not making as much money and the love dies on their side [laughs]. And there's a lot of dishonesty. People you trust lie to you and people aren't honest 'cos they think you're too fragile to take it. Now I know exactly where I am and exactly what I'm trying to do. I changed management three years ago. I didn't want to work with people who wanted me to write another Karma Chameleon, because it's never gonna happen! I wouldn't know where to start! I wrote that when I was 23. Look, it's a great song and I wish I could write another one but I've never done music to order.
When you're young and you sign a record deal a weird thing happens. You end up battling them because they try to get you to do things you don't want to do. Interviews you don't want to do. TV shows you don't want to do. Going to the opening of an envelope. I think at 52 I'm able to say I don't wanna do that. An' I'm not gonna do that. Don't ask me! There are certain publications I will not talk to. Ever. Until hell freezes over! It's not gonna happen!
The last word must go to Lena Horne:
Mad about the boy, it's pretty funny
But I'm mad about the boy,
He has a gay appeal
That makes me feel
There's maybe something sad about the boy.
Not sad. Just melancholy.