Culture Club today released their first album in 19 years, and for the original quartet of Boy George, Jon Moss, Mikey Craig and Roy Hay, it’s as if time stood still — musically, anyway. The group picks up where their fusion of new wave, pop and reggae left off on their signature “Kissing to Be Clever” and “Colour by Numbers” of the early 1980s left off. But rather than coming off as retro, the best moments of “Life” sound fresh and frank — and gravelly, with Boy at his most soulful and edgy — and steeped in Northern soul, dancehall and disco. Variety talked with Boy George about everything from his time on NBC’s The Apprentice” to gay rights and the Grammys.
At the time of your 2013 solo album, “This Is What I Do,” you said you hadn’t been interested in making records for some time. How do you feel now?
I’m ready to make another new one right now! Doing “Life” reinvigorated me to the process. I’ve got the bug again now, with some very definite ideas as to where and what I could do next. It could be with Culture Club, or there’s also a young band I’m working with, We Are Brando, of which I am a silent member. There’s always stuff to do. What I have missed in the last few years is that process: doing a track, finding a great idea to write about. It’s almost more challenging now, because you had better find something to say that is relevant to you and the world. You’re not the same person that you once were. I can’t write about heartaches I’m not feeling, so I must write about things is a more objective view. Sometimes, I might do that in hindsight, after a song is started.
Is Culture Club doing that on “Life”?
The only time we ever make sense is when we are together writing, recording or playing live. The rest of the time, it’s like we look at each other, and go, “Who are you?”
You do seem weird together.
I know. But, maybe that’s what made sense about us. We’ve never had that much in common, to be perfectly honest, to the point where, last week, we were doing some content of our lives thing, and Roy said that something I was doing was probably gay. I rang him up and said, “You haven’t even seen it to know it’s gay.”
“Life” has Culture Club’s classic sound — how does that fit in today?
You know what? The way people make music now is according to a formula. I’m not really competing with anyone else but myself. Playing into the millennium wasn’t my criteria for this new album. Our record, because it is more traditional with songs and melodies, is actually more unique sounding because of it. If you play “Life” to a 14 year old, if they have any taste they’ll love it. They music industry is always about what’s next. They have no patience. In England, in particular, I’m expecting to hear from an embryo soon. Well, we’d like to argue that we are what is next.
On “Life,” your catty edge is back on songs like “Bad Blood” and “Resting Bitch Face.” Are you and sarcasm friends again?
There’s been humor in my work, what we’d think of as a tongue planted firmly in its cheek, so it all depends on the song. “Resting Bitch Face,” comes from thinking about orthodox relationships where you own and suffocate people, rather than let them be free. My resolution is to have a resting bitch face – I know you’ll never change, and if I expect you to be something else, that’s on me. So it might not be as mean as you think. Because I’m a Gemini, however, it could be looked at in two ways, as I am always of two minds. Also, you have to remember that with Culture Club there’s always the element of the spiky – we have had our issues with each other. There are issues with communication, so a lot of my songs there are about not being brave enough to communicate. We live in a culture where everybody is upset about everything, and no one will really tell you what they believe in, because they’re afraid.
Speaking of an angry culture, you worked on Donald Trump’s “Apprentice” with Arnold Schwarzenegger and got involved in their dispute at the time. What do you think about all that he is and has done?
I think we run the risk of blaming him for everything that has gone wrong. We are turning hm into a pantomime villain. You can’t blame one person for everything that is happening in the world. People are looking for a symbol to echo their views – we all have to take responsibility. As a Buddhist there is only we – not us and them. The question is: did we create him or did he create us? What is it about the world that welcomed him? Look, as a gay man I was made to feel different before I even knew I was gay. I felt like an outsider, so I have always been sensitive to the mood of the world. I was criticized years ago for saying that there was work to be done within the gay community in terms of gay rights. Now, at this point, it is important that I acknowledge that there have been massive changes in that community. But, just because you see more gay people in TV and the movies doesn’t mean the greater world is as tolerant as you think.
That’s true in a lot of places.
Yes. Well, I tweeted the Donald a copy of the Isley Brothers’ “Caravan of Love” and asked him to have a little boogie around the White House with it. With Donald, I try to use as much humor as I can, especially since I was born on the same day as he [June 14]. Me, Donald and Che Guevara.
That’s quite a trio. So here’s an awkward transition into a Grammy question. In 1984 Culture Club won Best New Artist, which you accepted via satellite from London, with Joan Rivers in the room. What do you remember about that moment?
My reaction — when I said, “Thank you America, you know a good drag queen when you see one” — was, for me, a pretty innocuous comment. I didn’t really consider what it meant for anyone else, as I was in England. Where I come from, drag queens were everywhere — family entertainment. I grew up with [famous British cross-dressing comedian] Danny LaRue every weekend on my TV. But people were freaking out when I said that. My press agent at the time, Susan Blond, literally cried. And now you have RuPaul and “Drag Race,” which my nephew in Leeds watches.
Look, sometimes the world just isn’t ready — for a word, for a shift of the moral compass. I’m glad I said it now. I just wish I had said it with a bit more intention at the time.