Sunday, October 14, 2018
Music News, Concert Reviews

Boy George, coming to Tampa with Culture Club, talks fame, Pulse and the term ‘LGBTQ’

It’ll still be June when Boy George arrives in Florida this week to kick off a summer U.S. tour with Culture Club. But the LGBTQ icon says it won’t feel quite like a Pride parade.

"I also bake cakes for straight people," he laughed. "That’s going to be my mantra for this tour: ‘I hope to bake cakes for straight people. They’re spongy and they’re sweet.’?"

It’s been more than 35 years since Culture Club — and especially their flamboyantly fashionable frontman — crashed the pop world with a string of globally inspired New Romantic hits, including Karma Chameleon, I’ll Tumble 4 Ya and Do You Really Want to Hurt Me. Boy George, with his androgynous, sexually fluid appeal, became a new, very different kind of pop idol.

Over the decades, Culture Club became a bit of a punch line. (Remember the Boy George doppelganger in The Wedding Singer?) But they’ve gotten the last laugh, not just outlasting many of their peers, but thriving on stage with vibrant, enthusiastic performances. They’re finalizing their first new LP in nearly 20 years, and are back to playing American arenas like the USF Sun Dome (soon to be renamed the Yuengling Center), which they’ll headline on June 30.

Boy George, 57, is still a one-of-a-kind star, which is part of why he’s a judge on the Australian version of The Voice. He was in Sydney when we caught up by phone recently to talk fame, LGBTQ culture and more.

You seem like a guy who’s met everybody in the pop world. Is that true?

No, I haven’t, actually. It’s a funny thing in this business — you think because you’re in the business that you would naturally bump into people. But remember, famous people are just human beings. Some people aren’t approachable, some people won’t approach you, some people see you and run a mile. Human beings are complex and socially uncomfortable. There’s no rule.

I’ve always maintained that famous people are very weird. And I consider myself to be one of the more normal ones. Which may sound weird coming from me, but in my experience, the life of a famous person is super-vicarious. You don’t have a fixed job, do you? You get this sense that famous people are always protecting their corner — or they call it a "brand" now, don’t they? They’re promoting their own brand. You’d think that we’d have more in common than we don’t, but that isn’t always the case.

For you, how does Culture Club differ as a creative vessel live, as opposed to when you book shows for yourself?

Some of the musicians that we have on stage with Culture Club are my guys from my band. The only difference is when I do my band, Roy, John and Mikey aren’t there. When I do my gigs, they’re a bit more experimental; I always try to do things I haven’t done, because you need to keep the shows exciting for yourself. And even with this Culture Club tour coming up, I said, "Oh, let’s change some of the covers that we do; let’s look at this; can we try this?" You never want to go on stage and look like you’re dialing it in. It’s all about attitude and intention with performance.

Your last U.S. tour in 2016 launched in Orlando a few weeks after the Pulse nightclub shooting. Do you remember the mood at that show?

I remember that going on, and commenting about it on stage. When it’s an attack on a gay club, obviously, that makes it more personal, because I’m part of the big, glorious gay family all over the world, so I do feel that very strongly. But I feel all of those things, really. Being a Buddhist, I feel any kind of pain in the world, whatever it may be.

The term "LGBTQ" didn’t exist during Culture Club’s early years. How much has the cultural understanding of sexuality changed since then?

I suppose I use that term because everybody else does, but I don’t really need that term. I’ve always been open and connected to everyone and everything different — and everything normal. I’m not one of these gay men that ostracizes straight people. To me, my sexuality takes up about four hours a month. It’s not the most important thing about my life. I’ve always felt like Culture Club was a one-stop shop for anyone who felt different for any reason. On a day-to-day basis, I just think people are people, and there are two types of people, nice people and not-so-nice people. It doesn’t matter really where they’re from, or what their sexuality is.

We’ve lost some of your peers from the 1980s: Michael Jackson, George Michael, Prince, Whitney Houston. Is that something you’re conscious of as sort of an elder statesman of the ’80s, of holding that mantle?

I can’t possibly speak for other people. Michael Jackson, you mention his name. I’ve always felt that someone like Michael Jackson was quite untouchable, almost nebulous as a person. And in fact, I’ve seen photos of myself with him on the internet, but they’re all doctored; I never met Michael Jackson. He seems like someone that you would never really meet if you were in a supermarket. Whereas Boy George, you probably could bump into by the counter.

Who I am is very different to a lot of those people because I don’t want to get lost. I want to be in the world. I love being in the world. You’re right better when you’re in the world. You’ve got things to reference and things to talk about. Fame can make you very lonely, and it can isolate you. So anything you can do to be in the world, from doing your own shopping to doing a bit of (the yoga practice) Breath of Fire, I think it’s really essential.

Contact Jay Cridlin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.

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