Interview: Boy George on Lady Gaga, Madonna, Adele and Much More!

Boy George first garnered international fame in the early

80’s as the “androgenius” front man of New Romantic outfit Culture

Club. With his soulful voice and dragamuffin appearance, he won over

a generation of fans with singles “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?,” “Time (Clock

Of The Heart),” and “I'll Tumble 4 Ya,” which famously made the group the

first since the Beatles to achieve three top 10 hits from a debut album. “Karma

Chameleon” off their next LP, spent three weeks at number one and became their

signature track. The group would sell over 100 million singles and 50 million


Although Boy George eventually went solo and achieved a Top

20 hit with 1992’s “The Crying Game,” a Grammy nomination for 1999’s “When Will

You Learn,” and a Tony nod for his Taboo musical, he’d become more famous for

being infamous. News of his previous tempestuous relationship with

Culture Club drummer Jon Moss, drug problems, criticisms of other celebrities

and 2007 arrest and later incarceration for assault and false imprisonment of a

male prostitute, overshadowed his musical output in most people’s minds.

But now, after a five month stint in the slammer, a guest

spot on Mark Ronson’s single “Somebody to Love Me,” and a 35-date European

tour, a drug-free George is ready to seize the spotlight again — as an artist — with his first full-length in a decade, the uplifting, 16-track, electronic

album Ordinary Alien, out this month. There is also a Culture Club

reunion planned for 2012, which promises longtime fans a new album and tour.

recently caught up with a calmer, gentler George to discuss among other things

his new album, the Culture Club reunion, and perhaps his greatest legacy,

making it OK for young boys to wear makeup.

So what is the significance behind the Ordinary Alien album title?

Boy George: Well,

it doesn’t have a major significance, but I do think of myself as an ordinary

alien. People seem to have weird ideas of who I am, because so much crap

has been written about me, some true and some not. But Ordinary

Alien sums me up. I’m the alien you can take home to your

parents. I’m weird but not as weird as people think I am. It’s just

a cute title that explains things about me.

many Fleetwood Mac songs to choose from, why that one?

BG: What happened

is I was invited to do ‘Night of 1000 Stevies’ in New York and spent three weeks going through

every Stevie song and every Fleetwood Mac song, but couldn’t find one that I

thought I did well. There’s a lot of music that was so well done,

and I thought, ‘Oh god, do I dare do these songs?’ The night of the event, I

was a bit nervous, so I thought, ‘Why not try to do a song reggae style,’ and

the original cover was done as a reggae track. That’s how we

started and it worked like this — it suited the song and it’s such a brilliant

song. If I could choose, I would have written it as a reggae track.

AE: You also cover soul artist Terry Callier’s "I Don’t

Wanna See Myself." Does that sentiment apply to you?

BG: I love it

because it’s a spiritual song, but it doesn’t knock you over the

head. It’s spiritual, but it’s light of mind. It’s a song about

looking in the mirror. There are plenty of times that I do that

metaphorically, but not physically.

AE: When you do look in the mirror, after the makeup is

washed off, what do you see?

BG: I never do

that. I don’t wear

makeup all the time anyway. Now I see the real difference when I’m

not, because when I put it on, that’s a responsibility — becoming that

person. Different things happen to me when I look

different. It makes people behave differently and I get more

attention. I’m becoming aware of the responsibility.

Makeup is an

amazing invention and I like what it can do, but it does not dictate my life as

it did when I was 19. Most of the time, I’m not dressed

up. I use it for special occasions, like going to a party or

performing. But I don’t feel obliged to be that

person. There is no pressure to do that anymore. Of course I don’t

like it when people stick cameras in my face when I’m not done up, which

happens from time to time. So if I go somewhere public, I paint

myself up. When I’m not, I try to lead as normal a life as I

can. It takes practice, but I do.

AE: Your ability to channel so much light and optimism into

your music might surprise fans since your personal life is often portrayed as

plagued by darkness.

BG: I think

people make mistakes, but because of a few bad headlines, they think my life is

a disaster. But I grab a smile from every corner and if there was no

positivity there, then I could not get through that stuff. With no humility or

sense of perspective, how could I survive that stuff? Even people who think

they’re not spiritual, in difficult situations, they’re praying and relying on

a higher power. People should not think that my life has always been

a drama. There is a lot of positivity. Most of the time, it’s like

that, and those qualities are important … maybe they’re my saving grace.

AE: Are you able to enter the U.S. to tour the new album?

BG: Not at the

moment, but we’re working on it. My lawyers are trying to deal with that as we

speak. I’ve paid for my mistakes, and I came and swept up New York. I could have decided

not to do it, but I did it, because I want to work and play in America. If

you try to do the right thing, you have to be able to get on with your life.

Rehab is about bringing people back to their rightful place. You

have to let someone get on with what they do. But I’m optimistic. I

hope it will be resolved.

AE: Do you miss America?

BG: Yeah, I have

a lot of friends all over America,

but now a lot come over here and that’s great. But New York is one of my

favorite places. I do miss it.

BBC Radio 1’s play list as part of Mark Ronson’s new single "Somebody to Love

Me." How did that collaboration come about?

BG: Mark came

along at a very pivotal time for me. I was just starting to work

again, so the timing couldn’t have been better. He is good

with picking the right projects and finding the right kind of chemistry with

artists. I was also really shocked by how much he knew about

me. He really did his homework. You know he interviewed

me for Interview Magazine. Afterwards, I called a friend, and said

that maybe I should call him, and she said, ‘He just called yesterday and asked

for your number.’

AE: Is it true that you were previously banned from the


BG: I’m not sure

if I was officially banned, but they did not play what I did. It’s

the thing you hear a lot from older artists, that ‘You’re not relevant’ or ‘not

our demographic.’ Maybe it’s true, but who cares? I’ve lived without

Radio 1 play for so long, and it doesn’t dictate what I do. I

DJ and do my own kind of music. I have my own little corner, which

is bigger or smaller depending on what I do.

But as long as I’m

working, I’m not going to worry about minor details. If I get to

make another album, it’s all good. I don’t expect

anything. Someone asked me on Twitter if the new album is on the

chart, and I thought, ‘What’s a chart?’ Then I checked and thought, ‘How funny,

it is on the chart.’

Because I work all over the world, I don’t worry about the UK. They

have a funny attitude towards older artists. In America, they have more respect for vintage acts

and the rest of Europe is very

different. In the UK, it’s said that ‘We kill our own

and eat our young,’ but it would be better to say that ‘We eat our old.’ But

I’ve never stopped working and have always done my own thing. Things

like charting are kind of a bonus.

AE: Will you be recording the new Culture Club album with


BG: Maybe we’ll

do some writing with Mark. But I’m looking to do something more elder statesman

and not a pop record. Our instincts are more

sophisticated. We can’t compete with the Britneys, but there’s a

record that we never made. We want to do something timeless that has

nothing to do with what’s trendy now. My favorite artist in the UK is Adele,

because her music is classic songwriting that could have been written 20 years


AE: What’s next for Culture Club?

BG: We’re doing a

big showcase in October in the UK. We

are talking about doing an album and want to concentrate on that, but we’ll

see, because when everyone gets together, it becomes its own

entity. But I do have a few ideas about what I want to do.

AE: You were so avant-garde as part of Culture Club yet

somehow you managed to appeal to mainstream audiences — everyone from toddlers

to grandmothers. Why do you think that was?

BG: I don’t know.

Sometimes I do shows and there are 80-year-old women in the audience, and I do

not know what I did to deserve this. But I’ve never been about

alienation. I’m not some Goth in my room, painting my nails and

hating the world. Growing up, I struggled to fit in several times and

not feel alienated. But sometimes I think, ‘Who’s my audience?’ I

really don’t know and am always surprised by the mixture of people. In

my life, no matter what, people have been really sweet. Some

people still snicker at me if I’m dressed up, but people across the board are

very warm to me. Maybe it’s because what you see is what you get,

and people appreciate that. But I am very grateful.

AE: Do you think that your solo material hasn’t been as

commercially successful in the U.S.

as your Culture Club material because by the late 80’s it was common knowledge

that you were gay and a drug user?

BG: I really

don’t know. I can’t answer that question. When you’re on the ladder, if you

fall off, it’s hard to get back on it. My hardcore audience has always been

there for me. Very few people maintain that. I don’t know if I’ve

ever had the passion about my career. It’s not as important to me to go jogging

and fight tooth and nail to have a career. I’ve always worked, but

you can’t always be what you were. But I’ve been there and it’s


I like where I am now, but I do not have Madonna’s tenacity when it

comes to my career — to have fought tooth and nail to be uber

professional. That’s the difference; I’ve never been uber

professional. I do value my career, but a different type of

career. I appreciate it in a way I never have before. It’s not about

being successful, but success means different things to different

people. For some, success is where everyone knows your name, but for

me it’s the personal success that’s more important — to be focused and healthy

and appreciate things in a different way now.

AE: It’s great to hear you compliment Madonna, because

there was a period of time when you were pretty critical of her (along with

Elton John) in the press, saying that she’s despicable and a traitor to her gay

fans for subscribing to a homophobic religion.

BG: I do shudder

when I read some of the things I’ve said, like ‘What were you

thinking?’ So now I don’t talk unless I have something interesting

to say. But I think it was more a reflection of how I felt

about myself and so it would come out as a projection. I had no

right to do it. It was quite beneath me. I really don’t

look back on it with pride. When I say funny things, I stand by them, but

I’d never say anything like that again.

AE: Speaking of Madonna, did you ever notice that Madonna’s

1992 "This Used to Be My Playground" video is stylistically almost identical to

your late 80’s "To Be Reborn" video? And speaking of imitation, where do you

weigh in on the criticism that Lady Gaga’s "Born This Way" rips off Madonna’s "Express Yourself"?

BG: My video was

directed by [fashion photographer and music video director] John-Baptiste

Mondino, but Madonna’s was the one people remember. When it came out, I called

it "This Used To Be My Video." Lady Gaga is very Madonna; she loves

her and has never denied it. If you’re Lady Gaga, then Madonna is an

important reference — and she’s talked about me as well. She’s

never shied away from it and would love to be on the same

level. There’s a legitimate reference point, but I’ve heard people’s

melodies in other people’s songs for years.

AE: In your A&E Biography, a commentator stated that

your most lasting legacy is that you made it OK for young boys to wear

makeup. How do you feel about that honor?

BG: I think it’s

not just about makeup. It’s also not just gays, it’s anyone who felt

off or outside or excluded, which was always what [Culture Club] was

about. It’s not specifically a gay thing; it’s the little girls who

didn’t fit in, anyone who ever felt alienated, anyone who ever felt they could

not join in or who was made to feel like outsiders. Lady Gaga has

said she felt like a freak — she felt like me, trying to fit in — but no

matter what I did, I did not feel part of that, so in creating my own little

world and making music, anyone who felt like an outsider related to me.

AE: I imagine that a lot of fans must tell you that on a

daily basis.

BG: People are

always saying, ‘Thank you for helping me be who I am,’ — transsexuals, drag

queens — which is more important than anything else. It’s more important now

than ever, because things have really gone full circle. It’s a

right-wing mentality all over again. The 80’s has gone back on

itself and we have a lot of battles left to fight.

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