George Michael’s Faith – “I Want Your Sex”

Approaching the 30th anniversary of George Michael’s solo debut Faith, it is worthwhile to look back and discuss the finer points of songwriting, production, and artistic transition contained within the albums and its singles, considering the impact they had on popular music as a whole. Unfortunately, as I was about to publish this first piece today, I noticed that Billboard is doing this same exact thing… However, the merit for critique and praise still holds true as we approach not only the 30th anniversary of Faith, but also the one year anniversary since Michael’s death at the end of 2016.

Following Wham!’s breakup in the mid-80s, George Michael released Faith to worldwide acclaim — an album that would go on to sell over 25 million albums, putting among the upper echelon of the greatest pop albums of all time. What made Faith so unique was that it was a means for Michael to shed his pretty boy looks and teen pop aesthetic from his Wham! days for a more mature, masculine, sexual bad boy utilizing multiple genres of music.

 

By taking on a new aesthetic and employing a range of popular music, Michael was able to reach a larger audience — fans of hip hop, gospel, R&B, country, soul, jazz, vocal performance, etc. and both male and female fans of any age.

Creating this separation between the old George Michael into the new was essential in assuring that Faith was a new, dividing step in his musical career. Although he had been the primary face of Wham! (Andrew Ridgeley becoming more of a backing character by the end of their duo-career, with GM writing, composing, and producing their final album Make It Big (besides the Isley Brothers cover, “If You Were There,” and the song’s closing song, and current-day saxophone meme, “Careless Whisper”)), Michael was still known as the young Brit with feathered blonde hair and tan skin, leading a major pop band with a largely teenage female audience. It should come as no surprise that the first single to be released from Faith would be the overtly sexual hit “I Want Your Sex.”

The song, and its accompanying video, created an immediate rift between the old and new Michael. No longer we were seeing the young, skinny George dancing in speedos while sipping cocktails in a pool, or dancing on the stage with blown-out hair and extravagant clothing. Instead, we were given a man – naked, playing with the kink of bondage, telling you, the listener, just what he wanted to do to you, and how he was going to do it. The hidden sexuality that was in Wham!’s music — that wasn’t all that hidden anyhow (consider the title of their sophomore release Make It Big, it’s in reference to their sudden fame following 1983s Fantastic and the obvious phallic allusion)  — had disappeared. Those listening on the radio or seeing on their television sets on MTV were given a message loud and clear — George Michael has come to age and he is a sexual man who knows what he wants: you.*

*Now, one could talk about the history of the complications that this album caused for GM, particularly that his object for female sexuality and what men wanted to be sexually was opposite of who he truly was, a closeted gay male; furthermore, it created issues further personal issues where he began feeling too objectified, as if his image was considered over his music — a topic that would arise in his sophomore solo album Listen Without Prejudice, Volume One, considering his rift with his label Sony and his frustration over the direction his career had taken as a songwriter and public image. This is something to be discussed in-length at another time, but it is something to keep in perspective, considering GM’s history as an artist and a human.

There are specific sets of lyrics we can point out that grab the attention of the listener, points in which Michael is pleading with the “friend” in the song, attempting to convince them in various ways that the sex will be wholly worth it. Considering points such as:

It’s natural, it’s chemical (let’s do it)
It’s logical habitual (can we do it?)
It’s sensual but most of all
Sex is something that we should do
Sex is something for me and you

More or less, biological reasons that they should do it for habitual, pleasurable reasons. Further:

Sex is natural, sex is good
Not everybody does it
But everybody should
Sex is natural, sex is fun
Sex is best when it’s one on one
One on one

To keep oneself from the habit is repressive, one in which they are confiding by the conservative state of America: sex is something that shouldn’t be taken seriously and is meant to be a pleasurable act, not simply for reproductive reasons. In addition, what I would assume is a means of evading criticism, as well as supporting safe sex in a time of the AIDs crisis, Michael is advocating for monogamy (one on one) — something he implores again in the video, writing “Explore monogamy” on his lover’s leg and back in red lipstick.

Now, the particular part that has always stood out to me in the song are the final couplets/verses of the song, following the instrumental break (at 3:47 in the youtube video).

Hoo ah (sex) I’m not your father
Hoo ah (sex) I’m not your brother
Hoo ah (sex) talk to your sister
Hoo ah (sex) I am a lover

Michael presents the first set of pleading under the duress of assuring that he cannot fill stable male roles that might be inadequate in the friend’s life, but he can be certain that he can fill the role of a sexual lover (as indicated by talking to other females in their life). The vocal layering here commands the listener’s attention, acting in stereo and getting different ranges of Michael’s voice — the masculine, animalistic grunting, the overlaid  lustrous “sex,” and the even more lustful, whispering yet biting affirmations of “I’m not your father/I’m not your brother/Talk to your sister,” all which open up into the final belting line of “I am a lover,” which in turn folds into a primal howl through his vocal range, calling upon his lover (3:58 in video). Add to the fact that we have the shots of him whispering into his lover’s ear throughout this portion of the video, almost biting at it, and it heightens the sexual tension/teasing that is going into it all.

Finally,  following the animalistic call into the night, Michael questions the lover, asking just how far their sexual frustration, kink, and interest goes:

What’s your definition of dirty baby?
What do you consider pornography?
Don’t you know I love it till it hurts me baby?
Don’t you think it’s time you had sex with me?

What I have always loved about these lines are the use of consonants at the beginning of every line, landing on that hard, static ‘t’ and commanding your attention in getting you listen to and consider his questioning:

What’s your definition of dirty baby?
What do you consider pornography?
Don’t you know I love it till it hurts me baby?
Don’t you think it’s time you had sex with me?

By the end, he isn’t even asking any more, assuming that the listener — through the tone, rhythm, vocals, and lyrics of the song — have been convinced:

Mmmm have sex with me
C-c-c-c-c-c-come on

It’s a section that doesn’t pull any punches, and once again shows how open Michael is being with the listener, something that was considered racy and sexually grotesque by many outlets and radio stations at the time (many of them shortening the song and cutting out the final part of the song), but a message/song that garnered a great deal of attention when leading up to the release of Faith.

George Michael wouldn’t be reserved with this album. He was transitioning from a young, wholesome musician into someone that was taking his pop aesthetic to new boundaries, becoming the masculine figure that captured your attention through your speaker, pleading for your love and to listen to him lay his soul bare. The album explore these avenues in its five subsequent singles — “Faith,” “Father Figure,” “One More Try,” “Monkey,” and “Hand to Mouth.”

The contributions that George Michael put into Faith — writing all of the lyrics himself (except for “Look at Your Hands,” which was co-written with David Austin), composing the music for the album, playing all of the instruments on “I Want Your Sex Pt. 1,” most on “Monkey,” and a decent amount on other recordings, and both solely producing and arranging the entire album — is a testament to the musical genius he harbored in regards to writing untouchable pop songs. The songs and Michael’s legacy still rightly hold on even thirty years later.

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