Wham!’s “Make It Big” Turns 25

Edited by Rob Horning and Produced by Sarah Zupko

As its name suggests, Wham! was a band built to make an impact. When they hit, they hit hard, with memorable anthems and indelible ballads that changed the way a generation felt not only about freedom, whispers, and go-going, but about what it was possible to achieve within the confines of conventional pop.

A quarter of a century ago, after a radical revision in their leather-clad tough-boy image, George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley went to the South of France to record their second album. The result, Make It Big, more than fulfilled the considerable promise of their first record, Fantastic. Leaving behind the groundbreaking genre experiments in rap (“Wham! Rap”, “Young Guns (Go For It!)”) and calypso (“Club Tropicana”), Make It Big consolidated the band’s musical strengths in one seismic eruption that divided pop music into a before and an after. Before, Wham! was among a host of genial, well-coiffed British pop acts floundering for a distinctive identity; after, they were international icons, and George Michael was being heralded without hyperbole as the next Stevie Wonder.

No mere sexual innuendo, the title Make It Big was both a statement of purpose and a methodology. Big synths, big drum machine samples, big lyrical themes, big oversize T-shirts with political slogans. To honor this seminal record on its 25th anniversary, PopMatters offers a song-by-song analysis of the opus in its entirety, with special essays on its place in the history of Wham! and the history of pop.

Rob Horning

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is an April’s Fools package. Opinions may or may not be in earnest, though all details are authentic to the best of our knowledge (save for the interview with Ernie Isley quoted in the “If You Were There” entry, which is fictional).

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