Song Interpretation: "Freedom '90" by George Michael

By the time he released his "coming out" album, Listen Without Prejudice, Volume I, George Michael was ready and willing to stand up and announce himself as never before he had the balls to do. The record's first single, "Freedom '90" was his no-holds-barred anthem to introducing himself to his fans, the music industry, and the entire world as an openly gay man, and proud of it. The song is indeed a bold emancipation of Michael's soul, however, the lyrics handle the subject deftly as the singer belts out each verse of his six-and-a-half-minute confession without ever saying "Here I am: Gay." George Michael's lyrics, backed by his true rocker's pipes and pent-up-for-too-long emotion, serve as a brilliant code for all those willing to invest in his message and peer into what his falsely spotlighted heterosexuality once hid from his listeners, as well as his producers.

Intro: "I won't let you down/I will not give you up/Gotta have some faith in the sound/It's the one good thing that I've got/I won't let you down... So please don't give me up/Cuz I would really, really love to stick around..." From the top, Michael lets us know that he's not willing to forsake ANY of what he's earned as a performer up to this point in his career; he was a big star thanks to his success with the duo Wham! and he wasn't about to let all of that go because he had something personal to say...

First Verse: "Heaven knows I was just a young boy/Didn't know what I wanted to be/I was every little hungry school girl's pride and joy/And I guess that was enough for me..." As a youth, George Michael was a handsome lad growing up in England... and all the girls knew it; young, naïve, oblivious to his own feelings -- and just like every other kid, completely OK with that... "To win the race?/A prettier face/Went back home/Got a big fat place on your rock 'n roll TV/But today the way I play the game has got to change, no way/Now I gotta get myself happy..." In order to stay ahead in the music biz, you gotta get prettier -- and the best way to do that is to be a rock 'n roll singer on rock 'n roll television for the whole world to see, and that's exactly what MTV was (and often still is) to the world in the early 1980s... however, Michael laments that "today" he sees things a little differently after being a victim of the MTV "game" and the empty riches it brought him... And then he drills us: "I think there's something you should know/I think it's time I stop the show/There's something deep inside of me/There's someone I forgot to be/There's someone I forgot to be/Take back your picture in a frame/Take back your singing in the rain/I just hope you understand/Sometimes the clothes DO NOT make the man..." Time to 'fess up -- he's been hiding behind that MTV image far too long and he's ready to let the world know that he's not who they painted him up to be...

Refrain: "All we have to do now/Is take these lies and make them true somehow/All we have to see/Is that I don't belong to you/And you don't belong to me..." No more Mr. Straight Guy... Let's get one thing perfectly clear -- just because you own my music on CD does NOT mean that you own ME... "Freedom!"

Second Verse: "Heaven knows we sure had some fun, boy/What a kick, just a buddy and me/We had every big shot good-time band on the run, boy/We were living in a fantasy..." a clear reference to his career with Wham! partner Andrew Ridgeley and their fast rise to the top of the charts... "We won the race/Got out of the place/Went back home/Got a brand new face/For the boys at MTV..." After conquering the band scene, Michael and Ridgeley called it quits and he left to pursue a solo career, redefining his own self image with the release of 1987's "Faith" album under the whole new persona of a steamy hetero sexpot in the subsequent videos for that record's singles...

Bridge: "Well it looks like the road to Heaven/But it feels like the road to Hell/When I knew which side my bread was buttered/I took the knife as well..." Michael followed the glitz and glamor that came with "Faith's" immense success, knowing fully well that he was keeping a deep secret that put him through emotional hell... "Posing for another picture/Everybody's got to sell/But when you shake your ass/They notice fast/But some mistakes were built to last..." George Michael's undisputed sex appeal landed him on the face of every magazine and TV show around, despite the fact that he was merely just playing the role that his record label told him to, unbeknownst to the rest of us...

Finale: "May not be what you want from me/But that's the way it's got to be/Lose the face now/I've got to live/I've got to live..." Michael knows that most artists are expected to keep cranking out their music and be happy just to have a career, but depression and deception too long kept him down and it was time to announce his true self, like it or not.

At the time, it was a bold testament to make through one's music as in 1990 being gay was still considered taboo, even within the entertainment industry.   As AIDS and prejudice fogged the media and ostensibly the entire gay community, George Michael stepped up and told the world that, take him or leave him, he was in fact a proud, happy homosexual with a voice to be heard. Sometimes the clothes do not make the man, and often times neither do a pair of balls. But in this case, that's exactly what it took to write, sing and release this song.

Comments 6 comments

deedee 6 years ago

I am 45yrs,old & have been loving Wham!& G. Michael as a solo artist 20+ yr's! I have always thought this song was about coming out but more important also telling Andrew Ridgeley that he had intimate feelings for him. Towards the end of the song you can tell that Andrew did not feel the same, and that's when George decided to leave Wham! I can interpret every verse of the song to to my theroy.


Vintagelover 14 months ago

I just saw this and thought I add my 2 cents even though it's been a while since this was published.

I was 14 when Freedom 90 came out - I was also very much aware of those around me in the LGBT community as I was not only at a Church Boarding School (both sexes, I'm female btw) but had also been raised in the Church by a priest.

The reason I say that is because I was actually raised to believe God accepts all who have a good heart - He doesn't give a toss who you identify as or who you love, as long as you do so without hurting others.

Bit unusual I know for me to be raised that way in the 80's when AIDS hysteria was at it's peak (even though we had a graphic and progressive ad here in Aus showing the Grim Reaper bowling down anyone, including mothers and babies - so very accurate but shocking, people could not accept AIDS was NOT a "gay disease".

Even more unusual is that the people who raised me were my very British upper crust grandma and my grandfather was the priest, and had been since the 50's. Both were not only hilarious (dry British humour runs in us all) but also loving, accepting and due to the way they raised me and my aunts & mum, almost pioneers.

We are all dedicated to animal welfare and the rights and equality of those in the LGBT community. It meant my teen cousin recently just seamlessly changed from a gay female to a male who is starting the transition process - no shock, it was half expected & naturally we accept and love him just as much, perhaps even more for his bravery.

George Michael is still very Faith based, I'm not a Christian but nor am I an atheist - I'm sort of in the middle as I tend to stick to science. GM however is still what I would call a Christian - he just happens to be like my family and be one of the good ones :)

So at 14 I did actually pick up the meaning, although it wasn't publicly known.

But I need to clarify that only the chorus (and some subtle lines) are actually him saying he's is gay, but isn't ready to publicly come out.

The rest is actually part of his identity still, but in a different way - this has been confirmed btw, I know the exact details as old friend is high up in an industry where he has met many big names, George Michael he has met a number of times & was told if he ever need a favour, just ask.

So he asked for me - was I right on Freedom 90? Turns out that yes, I am - there are a couple of bits that cannot be clarified (for privacy reasons) but this is the gist.

Chorus and several lines are indeed him laying the seeds to come out.

The rest actually represents his music past from Wham up to the release of this song, and the pressure to conform to certain standards and the persona created for you by those who control you - your record label.

He claimed at the time to Sony that it was about Wham. They missed the obvious dig at them, which he did confirm was in fact a major point.

He was having a go at the very label that he was with when this song was released.

It is why only TWO songs from that album had videos - he was in neither, and he refused to promote them. Volume 2 is what he went court with Sony over and it was never released - so instead he released 3 songs independently from that album with all royalties to go towards an AIDS research institute. "Too Funky" was a hit and one of those three songs.

That is because he met and fell in love with his partner Anselmo Feleppa in 1991, and six months after they met it was confirmed Feleppa had AIDS. So the 1992 three songs and their royalities being donated was due to that. Sadly Feleppa passed away in 1993 - their relationship was not public, and it was several more years until he did finally come out.

Freedom 90 used the most famous Supermodels of the time to mouth the lyrics as they represented the media's idea of physical perfection and of how you are a product of your own media. So it was done to make a statement and for irony.

He was saying he was not the persona Sony had created for him - the hot guy with the slightly bad boy looks and loved by women. He wrote Faith, he didn't direct it. They instead used the persona they'd created for him to sing it - it wasn't him.

Hence burning/blowing up the most iconic items from Sony's creation - the leather jacket, guitar and jukebox.

He is saying he is NOT that person and is asking for understanding and for people to accept the real him, and yes, the seeds of his sexuality were laid there and not obvious, but he was preparing to eventually come out and asking that people love him for his music, not his carefully crafted by Sony persona.


Boomer Music Man profile image

Boomer Music Man 5 months ago

I am a boomer and i am 62 yrs. of age. I like the way George Michael writes his songs. It comes out from his heart.


karel zeman 3 months ago

This song is about his breakup with wham, although everyone tries to mold it to being about him coming out. Stop reaching!!! The lyrics are not convoluted.


Lizzy 2 months ago

I love this song no matter what George Michael's sexual preference, he is true music genius!! :)


Kevin 9 days ago

Karel zeman, I think it's you who's reaching champ. Freedom is an absolute badass song from a badass performer.

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