George Michael’s “Freedom !‘90” spoke (and still speaks) to me in the most profound of ways. The song was a staple for me during my teenage years. Even if I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I related to the song’s sentiment as well as I did, I knew there was something there that spoke to my soul.
Coming out (his and mine) is only part of the story. Ultimately, “Freedom! ‘90” is a song about being your true self, whether you’re an internationally famous pop star playboy or a poor high school student in Brooklyn. And it’s one thing to write a song with lyrics that are so personal yet universal. It’s another thing (a greater thing, I would say) to then sing that song with such visceral emotion. Throughout “Freedom!”’s six minute plus run time, George is nostalgic (“heaven knows we sure had some fun, boy”), witty (“I knew which side my bread was buttered/And I took the knife as well”), unapologetic (“I don’t belong to you/and you don’t belong to me”) and determined (“I’m gonna get me some happy”.) While I don’t think George imagined things ultimately going the way they did, I hope he was proud that he ultimately got to live his life, largely on his terms.
At the very end of “Freedom! ‘90” (named as such because he’d had written another, entirely different, song called “Freedom” six years earlier), George lets out a triumphant “YEAH!” Ever since the first time I heard it, that single syllable (well, two syllables…George kinda sings “YEAH-UH!”) represents freedom even more than the chorus or the purposeful exclamation point in the song’s title or even the title itself does.
This is to say nothing of “Freedom! ‘90”’s iconic video, which I didn’t see in full until at least a decade after I played my Listen Without Prejudice Vol.1 cassette out.
George Michael’s death affected me quite a bit (especially coming at the tail end of what was an incredibly crappy year). You can read the remembrance I posted on my website here.