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NPR Arts & Life

This Date In History: Wham! (Awkwardly) Opens Doors In China

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Thirty years ago this month, the duo known as Wham! became the first pop group to rock Beijing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WAKE ME UP BEFORE YOU GO-GO")

WHAM: (Singing) Jitterbug. Jitterbug. Jitterbug. You put the boom-boom into my heart. You send my soul sky high...

MARTIN: It was 1985, and China was just emerging from the isolation of the cultural revolution. The band's manager, Simon Napier Bell, saw an opportunity for a musical coup and convinced Chinese officials that a pop concert featuring George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley was just the ticket to prove China was open to much-needed foreign investment.

Some of the people who showed up to the concert knew the musical magic of Wham!, many did not. At one point, according to a British embassy report, George and Andrew tried to get the audience to clap along to the music. But the crowd thought the singers were looking for applause, so it was all just kind of awkward. But maybe the subdued crowd was just paying deference to the art unfolding on the stage and trying to evoke the right vibe. After all, wake me up before you go-go 'cause I'm not planning on going solo - that's not pop music, people. That is poetry.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WAKE ME UP BEFORE YOU GO-GO")

WHAM: (Singing) Wake me up before you go-go 'cause I'm not planning on going solo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.