80s pop duo Wham! (left: Andrew Ridgeley, right: George Michael)

Netflix’s ‘Wham!’ Documentary Is About So Much More Than Just the Music

George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley performed together for only four years, and yet, Wham! went on to become one of the biggest bands of the ’80s. They scored numerous worldwide chart-topping hits, and Whamania truly took the world by storm. Netflix’s new documentary Wham! intimately examines the band and their artistry.

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I’ve always enjoyed Wham!’s music—”Last Christmas” is my favorite Christmas song—but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I really started to take notice of them, though that was probably due to Michael’s untimely death in 2016. Recently, Netflix announced this doc, and I was really intrigued because I didn’t know a lot about Ridgeley or the pair of them as a band.

Spoiler warning: This review contains spoilers about the documentary, so if you don’t want to know details, click away now!

I think that this documentary is, on the whole, well put together and easy to follow. (Contrary to what you may believe, so much happened within Wham!’s four-year history that it’s no easy task.) Something that’s small but essential is the use of Ridgeley’s mom’s scrapbooks, which she kept from their very early career until The Final concert at Wemberly Stadium in London. It’s not only a clever way to pinpoint time but also allows audiences to see previously unseen pictures and tidbits from Wham!’s fame.

The 1.5-hour film is also well-balanced, showing both the good times and the not so great ones.

It surprised me to learn that Ridgeley was actually the headstrong one when they met as kids and that really, Wham! in its infancy became what it did thanks largely to him. Michael “idolized” him when they were younger, but as the band became more than anything either of them had expected, a rift did arise between them over songwriting. This didn’t shock me considering how, by 1986, Michael was the face of Wham!, though I will point out specifically “Careless Whisper,” which was released as a solo single for Michael in the U.K. and Wham! in other markets. The record had many mixes, some of which were done without Ridgeley. The version we know was overseen by both of them, and hearing demos in the film, I think we’re better for it.

The documentary reflects the way they drifted well, but also shows that Ridgeley supported his friend with his whole being; the way their friendship is portrayed is sacried and special. They were just young men enjoying success, despite being basically called shit by music critics, something that is noted by a disgruntled Michael, But they had thousands of fans, mostly young girls, who, let’s be real, are much better judgment of what will be popular (The Beatles, Bieber, One Direction … you get me).

Michael’s sexuality is extensively weaved throughout. Both of them talk about it, but hearing Ridgeley do so was more intriguing because I hadn’t really expected it. Again, like with his friend’s solo career, he was supportive and could see that Michael’s façade was not good for his mental health. He outright says that Michael had a public persona in the doc. Michael also spoke about not living truthfully, as well as how fame impacted him. Hearing it from them directly is eye-opening and feels raw, almost like I was listening in on a conversation I maybe shouldn’t have been.

One of the most poignant parts of the doc for me is Michael’s dad, bless his heart! The way he says that he’s proud of his son, just after clips of Michael saying that he was scared of coming out as a teen and having gone against his dad’s wishes career-wise, actually makes me want to sob.

There are some bits that I found slightly unnecessary or drag, mostly the clips from music videos which, in a few cases, are needed, but not always, and not for as long as they’re onscreen. I would also prefer to know where some of the voiceover is coming from; if they’re filmed interviews, I wish they’d show at least some of them. We see more of Michael, seeing Ridgeley mainly alongside his bandmate, which to me represents Michael outgrowing Wham! over time. However, most of the voiceover, with the combination of showing archived footage and images, does work quite well.

It’s definitely worth the watch. I did enjoy it, and I think especially if you don’t know a whole lot about Wham!, either of its members, or their career, then this documentary is an easy watch that is still enlightening and emotionally raw.

(featured image: Netflix)


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Author
Brooke Pollock
Brooke Pollock is a UK-based entertainment journalist who talks incessantly about her thoughts on pop culture. She can often be found with her headphones on listening to an array of music, scrolling through social media, at the cinema with a large popcorn, or laying in bed as she binges the latest TV releases. She has almost a year of experience and her core beat is digital culture.