Pop mythology holds that Boy George is blessed with effortless charisma, the sort of wit that can enlighten and pick apart a conversation in seconds.
As it turns out, mythology is only exceeded by fact. Sitting down with Clash on the eve of his new album’s release, the Culture Club legend and all round icon is every bit the entertainer, holding court and espousing knowledge on any topic you care to chuck at him.
For now, though, ‘pop’ is the central issue. Looking back on his childhood and adolescence, Boy George positively beams as his flips through a mental scrapbook that covers David Bowie, Marc Bolan and other glam icons. “They represented a kind of bohemian existence that I – at that point – could only imagine living” he gushes. “I loved the music. The first time I ever saw Marc Bolan really, properly was singing ‘Metal Guru’ and just loved him. I don’t think you can separate an artist from what they wear or what they sing – it’s kind of the complete package. It’s something which is very organic and individual”.
Musing on what caught his attention, Boy George admits that there’s no one definable factor in pop success. “It’s hard to say why there’s one person who captured your imagination and then there’s a lot of others who just do nothing for you. For me, it’s a very emotional thing” he insists. “If I’m attracted to someone it’s instinctual, it’s not something I can really necessarily explain. But I mean, really with Marc Bolan if you watch him being interviewed he was just so fantastic. So fantastic.”
Engrossed with music and fashion, punk’s head-rush of energy completely consumed Boy George. Drawn into the scene’s inner circle, he quickly became enraptured by Siouxsie Sioux. “A big, big hero of mine. She still is. What she represented as a female punk performer, the way she looked.. I modeled myself on her for a little while, I used to copy her look and I followed the Banshees around the country a bit. I’m still a big fan,” he reveals. “Although she’s not the most friendly person I’ve ever met. Sometimes she can be quite moody! But that’s kind of part of her essence. The first time I ever met Siouxsie was in the toilet at a club called Madame Louise’s – I spoke to her and she just basically sneered at me. I was quite happy with that. The last time I saw her she sneered at me as well, so nothing’s changed!”
It’s clear when speaking to Boy George that his conception, his ideal of what a pop star should be is entwined with his own adolescence. Rising to fame in the New Romantic era, the singer largely ignored his own contemporaries but does reveal a fondness for a handful of pivotal artists. “Obviously, things like Annie Lennox at the beginning, her whole kind of vibe” he says. “Morrissey and The Smiths – I’ve always had a soft spot for Morrissey. I’ve always had a soft spot for him as an artist. Brett Anderson, the beginning of Suede – I thought that whole moment was very iconic and exciting. I remember the first time I saw Suede doing their first ever Top of The Pops, I was there. It was electrifying and it was a real moment. It’s always really exciting to be around bands when they’re about to become big and explode. When they’re really at their most exciting, I think.”
Yet we’re already straying away from the definition of pop. As the record industry became more machine-like and the mavericks were pushed from the centre, it seems that Boy George’s interest in what could traditionally be labeled ‘pop’ has waned. Perhaps, as the singer readily points out, a generational gap has emerged between those who filter through the past and those who actually lived it. Using Lady Gaga as an example, Boy George states: “I think Lady Gaga is a different generation. I like the fact that she’s doing what she’s doing, I think she’s hugely camp and I like the attention to detail. But obviously I can point out most of the references that she has” he sighs. “But at the same time I think it’s really important that she does it in her own way, because there’s really nothing new any more. There’s nothing that hasn’t really been done so all you can do is interpret in your own way. So she’s doing that and that’s fun to watch. I follow her antics like everybody else and I find it very entertaining.”
But that isn’t to say that Boy George is entirely dismissive of modern pop. Highlighting the career of Blur, for example, he also points to the breakthrough of Antony & The Johnsons as a sign that the mainstream can still adopt forward thinking artists. Ultimately, Clash points out, it seems that he is drawn towards androgynous, alluring, provocative figures with a bohemian background. “I think your favourite pop stars always should be a little bit like that,” he states. “I think that’s the whole point of it. Anyone can be pedestrian; you want a pop star to be bonkers, a little bit dark, sexually ambiguous. Even if they’re not – that’s what you want as an idea, I think.”
Words: Robin Murray
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Boy George’s new album ‘This Is What I Do’ is out now.
The latest issue of Clash Magazine is available to purchase online - click HERE for details.