Sunday, 19 April 2015

When Wham! Went to China

Wham! was the first foreign band to perform in China 30 years ago
Thirty years ago this month Wham! was the first foreign group to play in China. The country had come out of the Cultural Revolution and in 1985 beginning to open up to the world.

Wham!'s manager Simon Napier-Bell hatched a plan to have George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley to perform in China and garner international attention to increase their chances of playing in the United States.

Napier-Bell started working on Chinese officials 18 months beforehand, and he managed to get an audience with them by taking them to lunch. Apparently no one had access to decent food at the time except for foreigners, and so each time he visited China, he would lure them through their stomachs. He recalls by the end he hosted some 40 officials at a banquet.

George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley got lots of attention
"I didn't every really pitch. I didn't want to ask a yes or no question," says Napier-Bell. "I started off saying, 'You know if it would be really nice if a western pop group could come play in China', and then the next time I would say, 'I'm the manager of a western pop group, and it would be great if they could play in China', until eventually I said, 'If we could one day play in China it would be great if it could happen in April'."

In the end concert dates were set in Beijing and Guangzhou.

But because no one knew of the band at all, the manager got Chinese singer Cheng Fangyuan to rerecord the songs in Chinese, and the bilingual cassettes were given away with the tickets -- that at the time were priced at 50 cents, about a month's wages.

Wham! manager Simon Napier-Bell
Many were sold to cadres who had behaved well, and government officials. "About 20 percent of the audience were foreigners who lived in Beijing and knew how to react and they led the way," remembers Napier-Bell.

The concerts were a confusing sight for the Chinese, who didn't know how to react. They had never heard music so loud, nor seen people dressed in such outfits before. When George Michael was clapping, they thought he wanted applause, while the police were terrified a riot would break out and made everyone sit down.

However, Napier-Bell's plan of garnering media coverage worked -- probably too well. There are pictures of Wham! on the Great Wall, but the duo hated the media attention.

"They were mobbed by photographers," says their manager. "When they did the gig there were 96 television crews in the front half and over 200 reporters and photographers from foreign countries. They took them for their forcible sight-seeing on the Great Wall. They were mobbed the whole time. They didn't enjoy themselves."

A cassette with Chinese and English versions of the songs
In the end coverage of the duo was on ABC, NBC and CBS News every hour on the hour for eight days in a row. And after they returned home from China, they started getting bookings in the US. Napier-Bell proudly adds they did this in record time, as no other artist had managed to do this in such a short time.

And the Chinese translation of Wake Me Up Before You Go Go?

Here's the original version:

Wake me up before you go go
'Cause I'm not planning on going solo
Wake me up before you go go
Take me dancing tonight
I want to hit that high (yeah yeah)

The Chinese translation:

Wake me up before you go go
Compete with the sky to go high high
Wake me up before you go go
Men fight to be the first to reach the peak
Wake me up before you go go
Women are on the same journey and will not fall behind

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