"WHAM!": The 6 biggest revelations from Netflix's documentary on the '80s pop duo

The intimate feature also spotlights the lasting friendship between the late George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley

By Joy Saha

Staff Writer

Published July 6, 2023 7:59PM (EDT)

George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley in "WHAM!" (Photo courtesy of Netflix)
George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley in "WHAM!" (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

When childhood best friends George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley first dipped their toes into the music scene, they didn't have much luck. Even when they formed their famed musical pop duo, Wham!, things didn't come easy for the pair.

There were months of financial hardships (the duo was barely compensated for their early gigs and performances), lack of resources (they didn't have a proper manager until much later in their career) and plenty of Billboard flops, even when they were convinced that they had released a hit song. Despite being debilitating, those difficulties turned into success almost overnight, when both Michael and Ridgeley attained superstar status. Soon enough, the pair had everything they dreamed of: the fans, the fame, the acclaim and the status. And they were able to achieve it all as teenagers.

Wham! was eventually a short-lived project — the duo was conceived in 1982 and came to a bittersweet end in June of 1986. But it was also incredibly remarkable. To this day, Wham! is still regarded as one of the greatest musical duos to have existed in pop history. It's not hard to see why that's so. After all, the duo introduced a new genre of music, found an ardent fan base amongst the youth of the '80s and released hit after hit — "Careless Whisper," "Wake Me Up Before You Go Go," "Freedom," "I'm Your Man" and, of course, "Last Christmas."

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The duo's inspirational journey, from their heartfelt early beginnings to their big break in Hollywood, is narrated by the late Michael and Ridgeley in Netflix's documentary "WHAM!" There's also never-before-seen footage, intimate clips of the pair and previously unheard interviews.

Here are the six biggest revelations from the documentary:

George Michael felt his meeting with Andrew Ridgely was "predestined"
WHAM!George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley in "WHAM!" (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

"Basically, we met when I was 11 and Andrew was 12 in North London," said Michael when asked to recount the early beginnings of his friendship with Ridgeley.


Michael described himself as a "very awkward, slightly porky, very strange-looking bloke" who walked into his first day of school with a mop of curly hair and wearing "sodding great big window-frame glasses." It was Ridgeley who volunteered to look after Michael and soon enough, the pair developed a lasting friendship.


"I genuinely believe there's something predestined about it," Michael recalled. "I mean, the path might have been totally different had I sat down next to someone else that day."


"Musically, we were joined at the hip," said Ridgeley. The pair spent hours doing skits and putting together comedy radio shows. They also wrote songs and started a band called The Executive when they were around 16 years old. The band eventually "imploded" because they were awful performers. But Michael and Ridgeley stuck together. 

The band's official name was conceived after a night out
WHAM!George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley in "WHAM!" (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

During a night out in London's West End neighborhood, Michael and Ridgeley went dancing in Beat Route. Michael recalled that Ridgeley began rapping, "Wham, bam, I am the man," which inspired the name for their musical duo: Wham! 


"Andrew and I had developed a knack for writing these catchy little songs," said Michael. "We had a broom with a microphone tied to it and one of those little four-track portastudios that had just come out at the end of the '70s."


"The songwriting was dictated by our circumstances, the environment around us," said Ridgeley. Wham! songs were inspired by protests and the rocketing rise of unemployment among 16- to 18-year-olds. Ridgeley added that the duo experimented with various musical genres — they fused rap with disco and then added pop — Wham!'s finished songs had social lyrics with a disco backing.


"We just kept writing songs from there," said Michael.


The pair later released their first single, "Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do)," which they thought would be a hit. Unfortunately, the song failed to make it to the Top 100 list. 

Michael came out as gay while shooting a music video in Ibiza
WHAM!George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley in "WHAM!" (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

It was while shooting the "Club Tropicana" (Wham!'s 1983 song) music video in Ibiza that Michael came out to Ridgeley and Wham! backup singer Shirlie Holliman. 


"About six months before we went to do the video for 'Club Tropicana,' I'd actually had something going on that, you know, made my attraction to men fairly clear," Michael recalled. "I had stayed over at this guy's house. He tried to have sex with me, and I'd been too scared. But I realized that I wanted to stay in the bed for the night. I wanted to be close to this guy, which had never happened before."


Michael revealed that "Club Tropicana" was about his sexual escapade.


"For me, his sexuality had absolutely no bearing on us," Ridgeley said. "I wanted him to be happy."

Elton John believed in Wham!, even when others didn't
WHAM!Elton John, George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley in "WHAM!" (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

"Probably one of the best songwriters out of Britain for a long time," John said in an old clip in the documentary. "And that's serious. People tend to put Wham! down as a teenybopper band that won't last. The people that put them down are the bands that won't last. I'm experienced enough to know."


When talking about Michael, John called him "a great songwriter."


"On stage, I compared him to Barry Gibb, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, people like that," said John. "He has got what Bowie and I would've loved to have had when we were 21, 22. And I'm not talking about performing on stage, records . . . The man's a great songwriter, and this award ceremony today, it's about songwriting."


Michael said he was "kind of in shock" when he was awarded for his songwriting. "The idea of being in the same room with famous people that actually recognize you as a musician, people like Elton John, you know . . . it took me a long time to get used to the idea."

Grappling with the challenge of "being George Michael"
WHAM!George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley in "WHAM!" (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

"I was happy for my friend. He stood on the cusp of greatness," Ridgeley said of Michael's success as a singer and musical artist. "But I didn't know what being George Michael truly meant."


In the documentary, Michael opened up about the struggles of grappling with fame, his sexuality (which was still a secret at the time) and the increased publicity: 


"In reality the turning point with Wham! was nothing to do with Wham!. The turning point with Wham! was me as I suddenly thought, 'Oh my God, I'm a massive star, and I'm gay,' and the depression was about that," Michael said. "It was about the way I'd boxed myself in. You know, careful what you wish for."

Wham! officially split up in 1986
WHAM!George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley in "WHAM!" (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

The pop duo officially broke up in 1986, when Michael also began his career as a solo artist and performer. On June 28, 1986, the duo celebrated its end with a farewell concert, notably called The Final, at Wembley Stadium in London. A total of 72,000 people attended the event, which included support artists and special guests, such as Elton John and Simon Le Bon.


Wham!'s break up didn't tarnish Michael and Ridgeley's friendship, as the pair knew that their time as a close-knit musical duo would eventually come to an end. But it was still incredibly bittersweet:


"If I was going to go to the place that I believed I was about to go to, there was no way that we could hang out in the way we had always done," Michael said of his relationship with Ridgeley post-Wham!. "So it was a sad day in some ways. It was the end of something."

"Wham!" is currently available for streaming on Netflix. Watch a trailer for it below, via YouTube:


By Joy Saha

Joy Saha is a staff writer at Salon. She writes about food news and trends and their intersection with culture. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park.


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Andrew Ridgeley Documentary George Michael List Music Netflix Tv Wham