Twenty-five years ago today, George Michael kicked off his solo superstardom proper with "I Want Your Sex," the first single from his Faith album, which would follow in the fall. Notorious and shocking in its day (it was banned from the BBC), "I Want Your Sex" has aged hilariously. When I was 9 and didn't know anything about anything, "I want your sex," seemed like a plausible thing that one naughty adult might say to another. Now that I have conveyed that sentiment a variety of ways that span all the colors of the rainbow flag, I can say for sure that I never, ever, ever have uttered the words, "I want your sex" and meant them (and I am a straight shooter), nor have I heard anyone at any time do the same. Not to me, not to anyone. This song is a fantasy of expression.
Of course it is — preferring ambiguity over gender-specific pronouns ("There's boys you can trust and girls that you don't"), it is ultimately hetero-identifying ("Talk to your sister / I am a lover"), and thus a big ruse. (As Michael romps with his supposed girlfriend at the time, Kathy Jeung, the video makes an even more overt attempt at confirming of his phantom heterosexuality, all of his fashion/hair decisions be damned.) The star was 23 when "Sex" was released, but he started coming out to friends at 19. It would take his exposing himself to a police officer in a Beverly Hills bathroom in 1998 for him to finally confirm what the world more or less already knew: dude is gay. Hilariously, on the international scandal that was his de facto coming-out party, he'd joke on the British show Parkinson, "Talk about showbiz or what." In its own way, jerking off with another man in a public bathroom was performance art and "I Want Your Sex" was foreplay.
This song is remarkably sexless, and that makes so much sense because it comes from such an unreliable source. It's a fascinating document of closetedness, an ultimately honest portrait of artifice. It's also a sign of its time — caught between the warm, buzzing analog of the post-disco era and the house onslaught that would knock pop on its ass again, '84-'88 (give or take some months) was awash in digital arrangements that seemed big and complex but didn't quite resound. The sonics including the bass are mostly confined to midrange or treble — there's a bass line there, but it doesn't vibrate your bones and you can't quite feel anything in your blood. Michael reportedly told Rolling Stone, "I was much happier with Faith being the No. 1 Black album than I was when it became the No.1 pop album. There was much more of a sense of achievement." Indeed, that's no mean feat for something so funkless.
That's not to insult Faith or "I Want Your Sex." The former is rolled in ear-candy and the latter is a hoot with one mind-blowing bridge that snakes in the song and then wraps itself around your brain ("I swear I won't tease you, won't tell you no lies / I don't need no bible, just look in my eyes"). In 1987, explicit sex discourse was still relatively taboo in pop music, and this helped blow open the door. "Sex" reads like propaganda, explicitly pleading its case with, "It's natural, it's chemical, it's logical, habitual," as Michael pops in subliminally, "Let's do it!"
So we did it — as best as we could.