Thanks to Mark Ronson, Boy George joins the exclusive club of 80s stars experiencing a renaissance. The iconic singer talks to THR about the forthcoming Culture Club reunion and discusses fellow showmen from past and present.
If you haven’t noticed, Boy George is back in a big way. The song “Somebody to Love Me,” off of Mark Ronson’s latest album, Record Collection, and featuring the Culture Club frontman and 80s icon on vocals, was a bonafide hit in his native England and has been slowly picking up steam stateside since its November debut. Helping its popularity, a powerful video starring Inglourious Bastards’Diane Kruger as George acting out a typical debaucherous night circa 1982. Also on tap, thanks in no small part to fanboy Ronson: a Culture Club reunion album to mark the band’s 30th anniversary next year. THR spoke to George about his future plans, which include a new solo album, Ordinary Alien (out now), Lady Gaga, Adam Lambert, and much more.
THR: Word is that Mark Ronson will produce a new Culture Club record, care to comment?
Boy George: Well, we've talked about Mark maybe writing with Culture Club. I'm not sure whether it will be production as well, but certainly I'd like to do more stuff with Mark. Doing gigs with Mark and a track on his album has been a really wonderful experience for me. Mark came along at a perfect time. It's kind of exciting to put records out again.
THR: What’s his secret?
George: Mark has this innate ability to pick up on things. He's a bit of a wizard in terms of his timing and also getting the right people to work together. And he has a respect for musical history. He's very fascinated by the whole 80's thing, but I think he references all those decades where style and music integrity were quite pivotal: the 50s, 60s, 70s. We have a lot in common.
THR: Also brilliant: the video for “Somebody to Love Me.” Can you tell us a bit about how that came about?
George: It came from Mark and the director Saam Farahmand. They approached me and said, “How would you feel about someone else being you?” I thought, “Perfect, they'll probably do a better job than I did.” Originally it was going to be Emily Blunt playing me but they ended up using Diane Kruger. She and I have a similar nose.
THR: Were you there for the shoot?
George: No. They came to my house. They borrowed clothes. The director spent a lot of time interviewing me about really specific things, which is where we came up with the idea for the party because there was a surprise birthday party for me when I was 21 which was on a boat on the canals in London. So we based it on a true event. But I didn't go to the set because I didn't want to influence it at all. I just wanted to see what they did. I think it's really cute and clever. The idea was to make the footage look like it had been found, and a few people thought it was me! It’s really about the details, but I'm amazed they got Diane Kruger to be me!
THR: Mark Ronson also worked on Duran Duran’s well-received new album, All You Need Is Now. At one point, Culture Club and Duran were considered enemies, how is it seeing those guys now?
George: I've been friends with Simon [LeBon] and Nick [Rhodes] for a long time. I used to live in the same apartment block as John Taylor in New York, so we always knew each other. Last week, I saw Simon and he actually said to me, "We're so lucky to do what we're doing. To still be doing this is amazing." And I think that's absolutely true. When you're younger, you think you're in competition with everyone. You think everyone's success is a threat to you, and this is a thing you grow out of. You get older and you suddenly realize the only person you're in competition with is yourself.
THR: If you were starting out today, would you try out for a show like The X-Factor or American Idol?
George: I wouldn't survive on X-Factor. I'm not someone who can sing anything… And my favorite singers aren't people whose voice you would say is amazing. I'm a big Bob Dylan fan, a huge David Bowie fan... none of those people have orthodox, cabaret voices. These are people where what they’re singing about is just as important as how they’re singing it. I remember I the first time I played a Nico album at home, my mom was like, “That's not singing!” I love great voices like Gladys Knight and Aretha Franklin, but I also love quirky singers like Siouxie Sioux and Morrissey… These shows have become so big and powerful. One thing that slightly worries me is that the audience is dictating the art form. Because if the public were allowed to decide what's good art, most modern art would never make it onto a wall or into a gallery. I can't imagine what Simon Cowell would have said to Ziggy Stardust. “Honey, lose the cape?”
THR: Do you know Simon Cowell at all?
George: I think we may have met once. I don't know him well, but those shows are about Simon Cowell. It's more about entertainment than necessarily finding talent. And I don't think these shows necessarily encourage much individualism, and I think being individual in this business is what gives you life and longevity.
THR: So no talk of you possibly judging the new X-Factor?
George: No. There was a rumor last year that my name was on the short list, but it never happened. Though I hear Steven Tyler is great on American Idol!
THR: Speaking of Idol, what's your impression of Adam Lambert?
George: He came to a party I had in London and was lovely. I think he has a great voice and an incredible range. It's phenomenal. It's special. And I think the glam thing adds to that. It gives him an edge.
THR: Since Idol, Adam has been pretty open about his sexuality, do you wish you could have been more up front about yours at the height of your career?
George: I think you do things in your own time. My family knew I was gay when I was 15, long before I got famous. But it's a very different thing coming out to your family and coming out to the universe. That's a big step. Maybe without me, there wouldn't be Adam Lambert. Without Bowie, there wouldn't be me. Without Quentin Crisp, there wouldn't have been Bowie. So everything is part of a big daisy chain. A lot of people come up to me all the time and say thank you for helping me be who I am. So my thing wasn't just about sexuality. It was about anyone who felt different; anyone who felt out of place. Being gay was one part of it.
THR: Your thoughts on Lady Gaga?
George: I applaud what she does. I love the fact that she supports gay people. We appreciate that love. I think she brightens up the horizon. I’ve seen her perform and when it’s just her on the piano, it really showcases what she can do. There is a real voice there. I think she has real talent. I wouldn't say all her music relates to me, but I loved her arriving [to the Grammys] in an egg.
THR: Care to weigh in on the claims that “Born This Way” is a knock-off of Madonna?
George: I don't think Gaga has ever denied the Madonna influence. When I saw her live last year, it was very Madonna. I think when you're a young performer from this decade, those are your reference points. In the same way people liked Bowie and the people that inspired me were my reference points. I don't think she's ever denied that. And yes, there is a similarity between the new song and "Express Yourself,” but I don't think it's going to result in any kind of lawsuit. When I heard the new Britney Spears song, I thought it sounded it sounded a bit like Cat Stevens. When you've been around long enough in this business, you always hear the references. Some artists wear their references on their sleeves and others are more subtle about it. I don't think that's a bad thing.
THR: Gaga has so much written about her every day. As someone who's seen the best and worst of the press, does being tabloid fodder ever feel normal?
George: I don't get hounded by the press like I used to. I go on the bus. I go on the train. If I'm not in my full regalia, I can slip by rather easily. But I never read much that was written about me. I used to devour that stuff when I was a kid, though.
THR: How do you think you would’ve handled the internet in your younger years?
George: As a kid, I would've loved to get a tweet from David Bowie or Joan Rivers or Tom Cruise. It's great that you can communicate with people and it's instant. But there are aspects to the internet that are very grimy and dark. Whenever there's an interview with me, I might read it, but I don't read the comments because they're so hateful sometimes. When someone writes something nasty, I just think, "If that's your contribution to my day, I really don't need your impoliteness." I'm lucky that people are very cool with me and I get a lot of love. I appreciate that.