Looking back now, it’s tempting to view the exaggerated tough-guy aesthetic of Wham!’s debut album as a send-up of posturing masculinity. Consider the ticklish incongruity found on Fantastic’s first single, “Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do)”, in which the macho opening lines—“Wham, bam!/I am a man”—are sung in George Michael’s cherubic falsetto. Considering the way Michael would later poke fun at heteronormativity on his 1998 solo track “Outside”, it’s entirely plausible that, even as a teenager, he was having a little bit of camp fun. Nevertheless, when Fantastic was released in 1983, Michael and bandmate Andrew Ridgeley wholeheartedly peddled this image of testosterone-fueled machismo, much to the delight of pop fans, who gobbled up the group’s synthetic and squeaky funk-pop. Critics were less enthusiastic, and compared to the emotional and creative heights that Wham! and Michael would later scale, Fantasticis relatively thin and frothy (even Ridgeley has said that certain songs are so forgettable, he struggles to recall their names). But at the time, Michael and Ridgeley likely didn’t give a toss. They were the brightest new stars in pop, and the music on Fantastic proves they were having a ball. “Come on, everybody/Get on with your party!” Michael barks on the chorus of “Come On!”, a track that includes blipping synths, frenetic bongos, plastic horns—and little space for chin-stroking solemnity. Elsewhere on the album, there’s splashing, post-disco fun to be had with “Club Tropicana”, which is as colourful and frivolous as a bouquet of cocktail umbrellas. Meanwhile, the slap bass and chucking guitars of “A Ray of Sunshine” are ferociously positive, and the song itself is early evidence of Michael’s ability to craft watertight pop hooks. Whether Wham! really were the leather-clad rebellious miscreants they made themselves out to be in the video for “Bad Boys”, the album’s punchy opener, is debatable. But either way, Fantastic provided a musical and stylistic blueprint for the future of Wham!, with Michael establishing himself as an ace songwriter and producer—roles that would also set the scene for his solo career—while Ridgeley became enshrined as as pop’s latest Lothario. It was a winning combination, one that sent Fantastic up the charts. In the wake of the album’s success, Michael retreated to write a follow-up album—leaving Ridgeley, for better or worse, to feed the tabloids with his party-boy antics. What neither of them could have foreseen was that the Wham! mania sweeping the world was only going to grow more frenzied. Fantastic had served as a perfect primer for the band’s pop savvy. But on its second album, Wham! was going to make it big.

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