The Weekly Interview: Boy George

Boy George, second from the left, hits the Pearl with Culture Club on Sunday.
Photo: Dean Stockings
Annie Zaleski

Culture Club’s current U.S. tour—featuring all four members of the original lineup—has been receiving rave reviews. Not only is the band playing every hit fans would want to hear, the setlist also features a healthy dose of solo Boy George cuts (including “The Crying Game” and his cover of Bread’s “Everything I Own”), a stellar new song (“A Different Man”) and a glammy T. Rex cover.

Boy George—whose blue-eyed soul voice is also in fantastic form this summer—spoke to the Weekly about Culture Club circa 2016, his David Bowie fandom and the state of pop music.

This tour seems like it’s going really well. There’s a lot of positive vibes coming forward. Yeah, we’ve had some really nice write-ups, and we’ve had great audiences. At this stage of the game, the audiences are pretty much an affectionate, supportive crowd. It’s handed on a plate, really, for us. We’re getting such warm audiences. Everybody’s coming to have a good time. It’s been amazing.

What are the biggest differences touring now as opposed to touring back in the ’80s? I think we’re better at what we do, you know? Having had quite long breaks from working with Culture Club, I’m able to come back and really appreciate the magic of what we are as a combination. If you’re a band that’s had to kind of live in nostalgia, doing these kind of tours can be purgatory. But for us, because we’ve had such a distance from it, it feels fresh and exciting and fun. None of us really have any issues with it. We’re like, “Oh, this is good, I’m enjoying it.” Having those big gaps was a probably smart idea.

You can approach the material and you do some little tweaks, and approach songs a little differently. We’re not trying to be what we were 30 years ago. We’re not doing the same shtick that we did. We’re very much aware of who we are now, and we’re celebrating that. We’re not trying to be something we’re not. Now is always the most exciting time to be alive. We’re just enjoying it.

Culture Club recorded an album recently, right? Is that coming out sometime? Tell me a little bit about that. The record will come out when the time is right. We’re not just going to put it out and let it disappear into the ether. We’re going to put it out when the time is right; I don’t know when that will be.

Tell me about the new song you guys are performing live, the Sly Stone tribute “A Different Man.” That particular song is going down really well live. Great song. It was inspired by an interview I read with Sly Stone in an English newspaper. In the interview he said, “I have many regrets—I just can’t think of one right now,” which I thought was hilarious.

Music-wise then, do you personally have anything else in the pipeline that you’ve been working on? At the moment, we’re just really concentrating on live stuff. We’ll put some music out when the time is right. I don’t know when that will be, really. Maybe after The Apprentice. I’m on Celebrity Apprentice in January, so maybe we’ll put it out after that.

Do you draw different vibes from crowds when you’re touring solo as opposed to touring with Culture Club? I know you recently toured with Cyndi Lauper. I think the crowds are all pretty similar. I think our audience—my audience, Culture Club’s audience—has always been pretty eclectic. I always joke that we get more guys now, because back in the day, the boyfriends were kind of dragged along. Now they come along willingly. We get more couples now than we used to. I mean, in the early days, it was a lot of screaming girls. It was a very young audience. A lot of those people have grown up now. They’ve got families. Sometimes they bring their kids. We’re also attracting some young kids as well that are drawn to the visual side of the band. It’s a very, very everyman kind of audience.

But when I did my solo tour, I did notice that some of the crowds were quite different to what I normally got, because there was a lot of reggae on my album. It really depends on what the record is as well; that can make a difference.

You guys have recently been playing your “Starman” cover to honor David Bowie. Did you guys cross paths at any point over the years? Yeah, I met David a few times. We had dinner together once in 2005, and also I went to a lot of his shows. I saw him play with Nine Inch Nails, and we hung out backstage. He remembered me from being a fan when I was a teenager.

Oh, wow. I was always a fan, though, even though I kind of got to know him a little bit. I was always a major fan. (laughs) My heart was always pounding, “Oh my God, it’s Bowie,” you know. I never really got over being a fan. I was always like, “Oh my God,” you know?

What was the best part for you about being a judge on The Voice earlier this year in the U.K.? Getting to hear people sing—amazing. Being around people at the beginning of their journey, that’s always exciting. Trying to give people advice. Sometimes they listen; sometimes they don’t. It’s all interesting stuff.

If you could give your younger self any advice, what would you say? I don’t know, really. Would I have listened, is the question. I probably wouldn’t have listened, I probably would have said, “What do you know?” Because when you’re young, you know it all, don’t you? I think I probably would have ignored it.

Have there been any particular Vegas shows or appearances that stand out as memorable? I did a lot of DJ gigs in Vegas in the ’90s. I played a lot of the house parties there. I remember some of them being a lot of fun. But the scene has changed so much in Vegas. The last show I went to, other than my own show, was Lionel Richie opening his residency. I was there a couple of months back, and that was great. I’ve been there many times, and I always forget what happens in Vegas. (laughs) I’m always like, “I know I’ve been here before.” I really love Vegas, I particularly like it at night.

Are there any particular artists or musicians that you’re digging or that you’ve been recommending to people? I have to be honest, a lot of the stuff I listen to is kind of old. I’m always kind of going back to things that I’ve forgotten about. I just made a great playlist on Spotify called “Perfect Pop,” which kind of gives you an idea of what I’m currently listening to. But I have to say, it’s mostly really old stuff from the ’70s, things like Richard Hell, Mink DeVille, Talking Heads, Banshees, The Cure, all old stuff. I’m always going back to things I’ve forgotten about, tracks that I used to play when I was a teenager. I don’t listen to the radio, so I don’t really know what’s going on in current pop culture. I know about the obvious things, like Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber and Ed Sheeran and Adele, because I hear them. They’re everywhere. [But] off the top of my head, there’s nothing that’s kind of blowing my mind right now. I think there’s a lot of performers out there, but not that many artists. You know what I mean?

Absolutely. There are people that are great singers, great entertainers, great performers. It feels a bit like the ’50s again, when you’ve got these teams of songwriters writing songs for everyone. For some reason, a lot of pop music is written by Swedish people at the moment. There’s a generic flavor in the air. No one’s really pushing the envelope. For artists of my caliber, we’re not played on the radio, so we don’t really get a chance to get involved in that debate at all. We don’t get a chance, because this weird kind of ageism exists in pop music. If you’re past a certain age, you’re not relevant. That’s the kind of clichéd term. Bands like Culture Club and artists like me, you tend to concentrate on the live arena, because that’s where you can be your most authentic. That’s where you have the most power.

When you guys first came out in the ’80s, electronic music was so new and the keyboard technology was so new, it definitely felt like there was a lot of possibility. You never knew what was going to be successful and stick. Yeah, there was still room to grow, I suppose. Whereas now, as I said before, it’s like there is a formula, and everybody sticks to it. Everybody’s trying to be a version of something else. Adele is selling millions of records and everybody tries to sing like Adele.

And I suppose for me, growing up with the likes of David Bowie, every record that he made was like a departure. You never knew where he was going to go next. I don’t think that kind of experimentation is encouraged. It’s ironic, because we’re supposed to be in a creative industry, but it’s kind of mostly uncreative.

And it seems like when a lot of artists do kind of try to push the envelope and experiment, if people don’t like it right away, they turn on them. You have such a narrow window to try to be a success. That’s so much pressure. I suppose in a way, for us, there’s an upside to that. We get to be who we want to be, and we’re not answering to anyone. Nobody’s telling us what to do. That’s a nice thing.

Culture Club with Groves. August 21, 8 p.m., $64-$165. The Pearl, 702-942-7777.

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