One of the most commercially successful musical duos of the 1980s, Wham!, featuring George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley, has left an undeniable mark in music history despite being lambasted by nitpicky music critics for most of their supernova run. Pop music and young artists have always borne the brunt of intense scrutiny and stereotypes, and Wham! was no different, being dismissed by the press as a “teenybopper band that won’t last”.
But the Netflix documentary Wham! attempts to reclaim the narrative. Oddly enough, by the end of it, you find yourself basking in the afterglow of Michael and Ridgeley’s friendship. A beacon of light that stood the test of time in the murky world of showbiz. It’s an accomplishment that far exceeds the millions of records the band sold worldwide. But while the documentary acts as a vehicle for nostalgia, celebrating the effervescence of youth and the mercurial nature of fame, you might be somewhat disappointed if you go in hoping for a deep dive.
Directed by Chris Smith, the Wham! documentary is crafted with rare archive footage, private home videos, and scrapbooks by Ridgeley’s mother, giving it a wonderful sense of intimacy. It is narrated by the late George Michael (Yog, as Andrew called him) and Andrew Ridgeley from older audio recordings, sounding tremendously self-aware, in parts echoing the criticism thrown their way.
Like any artist who has been able to evolve past their nascent talent and who crucially enough have an irreverent sense of humour, Michael and Ridgeley laugh at the “funny” choreography during their Top of the Pops feature, which albeit had High School Musical energy, and also observed “all the hair” that covered the faces of the people in the ‘Last Christmas’ music video. Then they don’t hesitate to slam the misguided pundits who quibbled about these things.
The funniest revelation comes from Michael’s father, Jack, reminiscent of hyper-self-aware philosophers like Zizek. It is endearing to see him admit, almost embarrassed and flabbergasted with himself for once hoping that his son would one day become a doctor or an accountant.
From a cheeky beginning, where Ridgeley is seen bagging on their old high school principal, to their final concert together, the film celebrates the bond between George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley while exploring the challenges they faced as young artists navigating the music industry.
The documentary begins by highlighting the humble origins of Wham!, showcasing the original demo that the second-gen immigrant duo created while bunking school. While older fans of Wham! can get their nostalgia from the pair going door-to-door with their self-recorded tapes; it will take the younger crowd to the time before the accessibility of platforms like YouTube and Spotify existed when artists had to rely on traditional channels to gain recognition.
The documentary also highlights the influence Ridgeley had on Michael. Ridgeley’s easygoing nature, calm charisma, leadership skills, and colossal support empowered Michael to find his rhythm as an artist. While Andrew remained comfortable living in the moment and unaffected by the music defining him, Michael hungered for more while struggling with his sexuality, something he eventually spoke of extensively after coming out to the public in the late ’90s.
Wham! touches upon the most significant moments of the band, from their first demo tape to how Jerry Wexler’s version of ‘Careless Whisper’ eventually propelled Michael to take up the mantel of producer and his first Ivor Novello Songwriter of the Year award in 1985 for the same number that led to several sexual awakenings among fans through the ’80s and ’90s. Michael was in his element, and his influence was palpable. His queerness was coded into his very being, his public persona was screaming it for him, following in the legacy of legends like Little Richard and Freddie Mercury.
Notable moments, such as the iconic ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’ born out of a handwritten note with a silly typo from Ridgeley to his dad, the solo career beginnings of Michael, and the band’s involvement in humanitarian efforts like Band-Aid’s ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas,’ are woven into the narrative.
The film concludes with Wham!’s final concert, where they play their greatest hits to an adoring crowd. It signs off with the note that Michael has transformed into the artist he was meant to be and Ridgeley’s immense pride in their, and in Michael’s, accomplishments even in the face of the harshest critics and rudest interviewers.
Mostly Wham! manages to vindicate Ridgeley’s reputation, once slagged for piggybacking on Michael’s talent, restored as an incredibly secure, gracious man and a friend everyone would be lucky to have in their corner.