George Michael Gives a Stunning Performance of “Somebody to Love” with Queen, As David Bowie Nods Along in the Wings

It’s been a year tomor­row since David Bowie left the plan­et, just two days after his 69th birth­day and the release of his phe­nom­e­nal and dif­fi­cult final album. His death began a year of shock­ing loss­es, end­ing with two in quick suc­ces­sion that griev­ed not only their life­long fans, but also peo­ple who knew their work pri­mar­i­ly from sam­ples, remix­es, and reboots: the immor­tal­ly fun­ny Car­rie Fish­er and, of course, on Christ­mas Day, the uncan­ny pop music force-of-nature, George Michael. As cos­mic jus­tice would have it, these were two of the most out­spo­ken char­ac­ters in pop­u­lar culture—two peo­ple who refused to be shamed into silence or apol­o­gize for their lives.

George Michael weath­ered what is hard to believe was a gen­uine scan­dal at the time: his 1998 Bev­er­ly Hills arrest, sub­se­quent vicious out­ing by the press, and the sor­did por­ing over of his pri­vate life. He respond­ed to every provo­ca­tion with defi­ance and, writes Chris­to Foufas, “went on the offen­sive.”

In his con­tro­ver­sial video for the sin­gle “Out­side,” for exam­ple, his turn as a wicked­ly satir­i­cal dis­co cop so effec­tive­ly piqued the police that his arrest­ing offi­cer sued him for slan­der, and lost. The pub­lic­i­ty sur­round­ing Michael at the height of his post-Wham! fame seemed to lib­er­ate him to become more and more him­self in the pub­lic eye, but it nev­er obscured what made him a star in the first place—his soar­ing, con­fi­dent voice and impec­ca­ble musi­cal instincts.

It is these qualities—Michael’s brava­do and true skill as a vocal­ist and performer—that also made him an absolute per­fect choice to cov­er an ear­li­er gay icon gone before his time, Fred­die Mer­cury. In his ren­di­tion of “Some­body to Love” with Queen at Mercury’s 1992 trib­ute con­cert Michael deliv­ered a stun­ning per­for­mance; while he lacked Mercury’s range, he near­ly matched the for­mer Queen singer in pow­er and charis­ma. And while we see can this feat on dis­play in the offi­cial con­cert video, above, it’s just as evi­dent in rehearsal footage, which you can see at the top of the post.

Imme­di­ate­ly after Michael’s death, this rehearsal video began mak­ing the rounds on social media, and peo­ple high­light­ed not only his mas­tery of a very chal­leng­ing vocal melody, but the appre­ci­a­tion of fel­low Mer­cury trib­ute per­former David Bowie, whom we see nod­ding along in the wings at around 3:00. It’s a very poignant moment, in hind­sight, that under­lines some of the sig­nif­i­cant sim­i­lar­i­ties between the two stars. Not only were they both sex­u­al­ly adven­tur­ous chameleons and riv­et­ing per­form­ers, but—as we learned in sto­ry after sto­ry shared in their many posthu­mous tributes—both men used their sta­tus to help oth­ers, often anony­mous­ly.

The Mer­cury trib­ute con­cert, an AIDS ben­e­fit, took place five years before Michael’s arrest and pub­lic full dis­clo­sure of his sex­u­al­i­ty. But even before he felt com­fort­able dis­cussing his per­son­al life, he involved him­self in the lives of oth­ers who strug­gled with sim­i­lar issues, includ­ing depres­sion. From the ear­li­est Wham! days of “Choose Life” t‑shirts and “cheeky cri­tiques of het­ero­nor­ma­tive life” to Michael’s barn­burn­ing per­for­mance with Elton John at Live Aid in 1985 and beyond, he was “a father fig­ure for polit­i­cal pop,” writes Bar­ry Wal­ters at NPR, and a role mod­el for a gen­er­a­tion of young gay men and women. And “it didn’t hurt that he could write and sing soul music with effort­less pow­er and grace,” even record­ing a duet “with Aretha Franklin with­out mak­ing a fool of him­self,” and fill­ing the shoes, for one night at least, of the leg­endary Fred­die Mer­cury.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Lis­ten to Fred­die Mer­cury and David Bowie on the Iso­lat­ed Vocal Track for the Queen Hit ‘Under Pres­sure,’ 1981

The Mak­ing of Queen and David Bowie’s 1981 Hit “Under Pres­sure”: Demos, Stu­dio Ses­sions & More

Sci­en­tif­ic Study Reveals What Made Fred­die Mercury’s Voice One of a Kind; Hear It in All of Its A Cap­pel­la Splen­dor

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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