Chinese blog the Beijingers noted, in the aftermath of George Michael’s death, that the late British pop singer actually played an important role in Chinese popular culture: As part of Wham!, in 1985 Michael was the first Western pop star to perform in Deng Xiaopeng’s People’s Republic of China.
A tribute tag on Weibo #georgemichaelhasdied has over 8.5 million views and 2,700 comments as of 11am this morning, many referring to the legendary concert on April 7, 1985, when George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley’s band Wham! played to a crowd of 15,000 at Gongti.
From the perspective of Beijing’s music scene circa 2016 – where we’re being treated with a visit from Metallica next month and local punk bands are having 10-year anniversary tours – it’s hard to fathom the revolutionary impact of a visit from any foreign band, let alone one that at the time was one of the most popular acts worldwide.
It took 18 months to get the show off the ground, and that it was a bit of a consolation prize for the duo now making it bigger in the US earlier, according to the group’s former manager, Simon Napier-Bell. “Jazz (Summers, the group’s co-manager) came up with the idea of perhaps we could make you the first ever group to play in China. George [Michael] just liked the idea – he said, ‘yes – fix that.'”
As is still somewhat customary at rock performances here in Beijing, the crowd did not go wild. After a breakdancer he had hired was asked to go dance with the audience, the authorities got antsy and announced over the PA system that the audience must remain seated, Napier-Bell told the BBC in 2005. “Everyone had to sit down through the whole show – which was 100 percent my fault. It really killed the atmosphere,” he recalled.