Could an era ever be more iconic than that of the ’80s? An era that loved everything big and beautiful; shoulder pads, hair, and even mobile phones: nothing was too big for this generation, even that of the sensation that was Wham!. Throughout the ’80s, the British pop duo stole the hearts of millions of teenage girls across the world, but what was it that made them such a success and enrolled them into the making of music history? Perhaps we should go back to the beginning, Autumn 1982, and my mother, aged ten, sat on the living room floor of her parents’ house watching Wham! perform ‘Young Guns (Go for It)’ on Top of the Pops. The beginning of their success, the band’s first live television performance was an unexpected blessing, as the song shot into the Top 40 and gained them recognition. Flamboyant as ever, with Michael dressed in jeans and an open leather jacket exposing his chest, the pair performed explosive choreography and told a story through their performance which ultimately marked a change in the pop genre.
Move on a year to 1983 and the boys began releasing more chart hits such as ‘Bad Boys’ and the classic ‘Club Tropicana’, a song you’ll no doubt hear at any family BBQ or get-together. The catchy chorus and glamorous music video made it both timeless and unforgettable, as well as confirming the duo as chiseled, suntanned heartthrobs to anyone who hadn’t yet noticed. By the end of ’83 the duo was starting to challenge other already established pop artists such as Duran Duran and Culture Club, but in many ways the naivety of the duo, and their youth, was what set them apart from the mature and profit-focused groups surrounding them. 1983 also saw the debut of what is arguably Wham!’s most iconic song, ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’, a far-cry from the politically motivated songs of the era and instead focusing on the lighter side, to “choose life”. The year also saw Michael venture into his solo career with ‘Careless Whisper’, which, according to the singer, was written on a bus when he was seventeen. Either way, the song is still a timeless classic perfect for any cheesy ’80s breakup movie or rom-com and has continued to stand the test of time.
In 1984, the boys’ fame was beginning to peak as Michael appeared solo on the Band Aid Christmas single that is played every year. It is reported that Ridgley had been invited to the event but had overslept that morning and missed the recording (something I’m sure any student can relate to). Perhaps this marked the beginning of the end for the band, despite the success of their Christmas No.1 ‘Last Christmas’, as by 1986 the duo had split. The Wham! sensation had finally come to an end and left the hearts of millions broken at the news, yet both artists record the break up as friendly and for the best. Of course, the rest, as they say, is history, and as Ridgley settled into domestic life, Michael continued to grow in popularity and fame up until his tragic death two years ago, aged fifty-three.
Though a rollercoaster of a journey, the duo has remained a British icon, part of both music history and the individual memory, hence still holding a place in all of our hearts. When I think back to my own childhood at ten-years-old, despite being more than a quarter of a century later, I can still remember dancing to ‘Club Tropicana’ with my family and watching classic Wham! music videos to figure out what it was that my mum loved so much, and now I think I finally do. It was the quality of the music played through record player speakers, the rogue boyishness of the duo that made them so loveable, and their ability to light a room with a few chords of music and a voice.