George Michael’s posthumous album, “Released,” is a final reminder of the star’s immense talent and the tragedy of his all-too-early passing. The album is a collection of previously unreleased material, b-sides, and remixes. Though it is a compilation of songs that could have been forgotten, it remains a testament to Michael’s artistic brilliance.
After his untimely death on Christmas Day in 2016, fans and critics were left wondering what more the legendary singer and songwriter had left to share with the world. Thankfully, “Released” gives fans an opportunity to appreciate the full depth of Michael’s artistry, particularly as a writer of smooth melodies and a chronicler of his own complicated personal life.
But “Released” is more than just Michael’s final bow; it’s a reminder of just how unkind the world can be and how lightly we are to take the gifts of others. Released posthumously, the album provided a fitting tribute to Michael, who died of heart failure at his home in Oxfordshire, England, in 2016.
More than just a collection of songs, however, “Released” is also a reminder of the battles Michael fought as a queer artist in a society that wasn’t always supportive. Michael was one of the few openly gay artists of his time, and his struggle with being forced to stay in the closet in a society that discriminated against the LGBTQ+ community is everywhere apparent in his music.
Fans of Michael will know that he battled a host of personal struggles in his life, including addiction to drugs and alcohol, as well as mental health issues. But throughout all of his trials, his music was a source of comfort and an outlet for his pain. And with “Released,” Michael provides us with one more moment to share in his pain and redemption.
It is sad then to see that some have not learned to appreciate Michael’s gifts, not just his music, but also who he was as a person. Since his death, numerous rumors have circulated about the artist’s personal life, including claims of a sordid drug habit and sexual deviance. Few of these rumors have been substantiated or come from any reputable sources, yet they continue to circulate.
It is a distinctly modern phenomenon – this penchant for tearing down our idols, particularly our LGBTQ+ heroes. Though Michael’s personal life was undoubtedly complicated, it is clear that much of the negative narrative surrounding him is fueled by nothing more than homophobia and a desire to cast queer people as deviants or “others.”
Even more disturbing than the continued rumors surrounding Michael’s life are the numerous instances in which fellow artists and closeted individuals have used his death as an opportunity to further their own careers or “come out” publicly. In the immediate aftermath of his death, numerous public figures rushed to lend their voice to Michael’s legacy, with some claiming his music for their own or championing his artistry in a way that would have been impossible when he was alive.
Even more insidious are the queer artists and public figures who have used Michael’s death as an opportunity to “come out,” as if his untimely passing was a positive thing for the queer community. This type of behavior, which centers the experiences of others over Michael’s own worth as a person and artist, is insensitive and tone-deaf at best and actively harmful at worst.
The release of “Released” provides an opportunity for those who truly loved Michael and appreciated his artistry to celebrate the man and his work. But it should also serve as a reminder of the ongoing struggle of queer people and the need for society to do better in supporting and celebrating all the varied and beautiful expressions of queer life.
It is a tragedy that Michael was unable to be fully appreciated in his time, that he was so often vilified and misunderstood by a society that refused to accept him as he was. But it is a testament to his strength and the power of his artistry that Michael was able to continue creating, despite so much personal pain and external opposition.
With “Released,” Michael has given us one more chance to celebrate the man and the artist. It is up to us to remember his legacy and continue to fight for a world in which all queer people can live, create, and thrive without fear of judgment or discrimination.