As the Wham! feature documentary on Netflix begins, you’ll hear lots of George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley voiceovers about what fun they had: “When I was with Andrew, we were absolutely determined to have a fantastic time,” Michael says, and then Ridgeley adds: “Wham! was a brotherhood, it was playful”. All the while, you’ll be waiting for the big “But…” change in tone hinting that all was not quite as it seemed, and that this documentary is about to reveal some darker hidden truths.
Let us save you some time: there’s no “but”. This is a joyful celebration of Wham!, pure and simple. The documentary title – an uncomplicated, cartoony WHAM! – says it all. What’s coming is a good, old-fashioned jukebox romp through this eighties pop duo’s short but brightly burning four-year stint at the top of the charts.
The narration is effective in its simplicity too: almost the only voices you hear in the documentary are George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley themselves. Ridgeley – who originated the idea for the documentary and helped to bring it about – provided some new audio interviews, and most of Michael’s audio was made possible thanks to the producers unearthing extensive, surprisingly candid and previously unheard interviews he’d done with BBC Radio One DJ Mark Goodier. It’s quite surreal at times to hear the two men sound so in sync in their recollections of Wham!’s history, seemingly reuniting them in the here and now, despite George Michael sadly having passed away in 2016.
The documentary is generous with its archive footage, showing us the original Wham! demo tapes, their first Top of the Pops appearance (which, it turns out, was the last-minute stroke of luck that finally lit the touchpaper of their pop careers), the stories behind writing some of their biggest hits like Club Tropicana, Careless Whisper and Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.
If you’re already a fan, this’ll be a delightful trip down memory lane, and if you’re too young to remember them first time around, it’s an eye-opening look at how one of the biggest pop sensations of the eighties were at times held together with spit, grit and sticky tape, doing their own choreography, costume design, even designing the tour programme. Compared to today’s slickly manufactured pop music packages, this was amateur hour – but the documentary gives the impression that this lack of artifice is exactly what has made Wham!’s hits endure for over forty years.
There are times when it seems the documentary is going to stray into more profundity than two best mates having the time of their lives being pop stars – beginning to touch on George Michael’s complex relationship with fame, his struggle with his sexuality, hints of Andrew Ridgeley being unfairly pushed to the sidelines of Wham!’s fame by the press. But we get the impression Ridgeley didn’t feel comfortable voicing these darker stories when Michael is no longer around to give his blessing, so after the briefest hint at something more complex, it’s glossed over, and we’re quickly spirited back to happier times like the cast of the Last Christmas video getting drunk during filming, and George Michael recording Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas?
Even Wham!’s eventual demise in 1986 is, as George Michael puts it, “the most amicable split in pop history”, so the documentary ends in the same cheerful way it began. It’s clear the two were great pals who had the utmost respect for each other, right up to George Michael’s death (which is never even mentioned), and that’s that. Wham! isn’t profound or even timely, and it isn’t trying to be.
When the credits roll at the end of this 90-minute documentary, you may well find yourself wondering quite what was the point of watching, but with zero resentment at a good time had. If you’re looking for a less optimistic, rose-tinted look back at these years, try George Michael: Outed on Channel 4 – Wham! is good vibes only.
Wham! is out now on Netflix.