George Michael achieved initial success as part of the ’80s English pop music duo Wham! alongside Andrew Ridgeley.
The group released two albums and enjoyed a string of hits including, “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go,” “Bad Boys,” “Careless Whisper,” “Everything She Wants,” and “Last Christmas.”
Following the band’s breakup in 1986, Michael ventured on his own with his blockbuster 1987 debut album Faith. After endearing Wham! fans by releasing catchy pop hits like “I Want Your Sex” and the titular track “Faith,” Michael slowed things way down for the record’s third single, “Father Figure.”
The seductive R&B ballad reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart and solidified Michael as a nuanced songwriter as he sang about being a mentor and “someone sacred” to a younger lover.
At the time of its release, Michael was not out and so the assumption was that “Father Figure” was about a very intense heterosexual romance.
The video reinforced this as it stars Michael as a cab driver involved in a volatile relationship with a top fashion model, played by real-life English model Tania Coleridge. (Fun fact: Three years later, Michael would release his supermodel video opus “Freedom 90!”)
Let GM be your daddy:
While Michael never said specifically what the song was about, it’s not a stretch to glean queer-coded messaging within the lyrics.
Long before Pedro Pascal took up the mantle as the internet’s “cool, slutty daddy,” gays have been obsessing over attractive father figures for decades. So it’s obvious why homosexuals of a certain age felt especially seen when a song seemingly referencing daddy/boy role-play became a radio staple.
Interestingly, Michael was only 24 at the time, a far cry from being considered a daddy even by today’s lax standards, although his manicured scruff, pompadour, and leather biker chic definitely gave the appearance of someone well beyond their twink years. To put it further in perspective, Troye Sivan is 28.
Where the song ventures into controversial territory is when it hints at the affair having an underage element with the lyric, “put your tiny hand in mine.” While a size differential can be hot in certain instances, this particular visual can be a bit unsettling.
Michael also makes two references to the romance being of an illegal nature with the lines, “I’ve had enough of crime” and “sometimes love can be mistaken for a crime.” Of course, you could also see this as a general comment about the way gay men (and gay sex/love) were vilified in society at the time, especially amidst the growing AIDS epidemic.
But, you can also be like the millions of listeners from back in the day who didn’t read too much into the song’s forbidden elements and just let Michael’s flawless vocals take them to church.
Sadly, we’ll never know exactly what the meaning and inspiration for “Father Figure” was as Michael tragically passed away in 2016 at the age of 53.
Fans will soon get a more intimate look into Michael’s early days in the spotlight alongside Ridgeley with the upcoming release of the Netflix documentary Wham!, which debuts on July 5. The film features interviews and never-before-seen footage from Michael’s personal archive and promises to shed new light on his rise to superstardom.
Watch the trailer below: