In 1981, Blitz Club regular Boy George occasionally sang with the group Bow Wow Wow under the stage name Lieutenant Lush. After his tenure with the group ended, George decided to start his own band and enlisted bassist Mikey Craig, drummer Jon Moss, and finally guitarist Roy Hay.
Realising they had an Irish transvestite as the lead singer, a black Briton on bass, an Anglo-Saxon on guitar and keyboards, and a Jewish drummer, they eventually decided to call themselves Culture Club. The group recorded demos, which were paid for by EMI Records, but the label was unimpressed and decided not to sign the group. Virgin Records heard the demos and signed the group in the UK, releasing their albums in Europe, while Epic Records released their albums in the United States and much of the rest of the world since Virgin did not have a US presence at the time.
The band released two singles in May and June 1982, “White Boy” and “I’m Afraid of Me“, though both failed to chart. But in September of that year, the group released their third single, “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me“, a reggae-influenced number, which became one of their biggest hits. The song went to No. 1 in the UK in late 1982 and became an international smash, peaking at No. 1 in over a dozen countries (No. 2 in the US).
Their second album, Colour by Numbers, sold more than 10 million copies worldwide, and they had several international hits with songs such as “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me“, “Time (Clock of the Heart)“, “Church of the Poison Mind” and “Karma Chameleon“. Boy George‘s androgynous style of dressing caught the attention of the public and the media. Culture Club’s music combines British new wave and American soul with Jamaican reggae and also other styles such as calypso, salsa or country.
In 1984, Culture Club won the Brit Award for Best British Group, and the Grammy Award for Best New Artist. In the UK they amassed twelve Top 40 hit singles between 1982-1999, including the number ones “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me” and “Karma Chameleon“, the latter being the biggest selling single of 1983, and topped the US Billboard Hot 100 in 1984. Ten of their singles reached the US Top 40, where they are associated with the Second British Invasion of British new wave groups that became popular in the United States due to the cable music channel MTV.
An openly gay recording star, George first came out to his family, and then ultimately to the public. Joining “Piers Morgan Live” for a face to face conversation, the former lead singer of Culture Club touched upon the complexity of this issue:
“One of the funny things about coming out public is that people always encourage you to do it, and then when you do it, they say ‘all you do is talk about being gay.’ So you can’t win,” said the man behind such hits as “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” and “Karma Chameleon“. I think, when I was younger, I was a little bit more kind of gung-ho and that everyone should come out. Now I think, if it makes you happy, come out. If it’s going to make you miserable, don’t come out … As long as somebody isn’t attacking gay people, I don’t care if they’re in the closet.”
Known for both his music and his elaborate glam appearance, George insisted that the decision to discuss one’s sexuality publicly is specific to the individual:
“You come out because it’s going to make you happy, it’s going to make your life better. But I don’t think you have an obligation. I used to think that,” he told Morgan, his fellow countryman. “We have this great guy in England called Ben Cohen, who is straight, who’s championing homophobia, and all that sort of stuff. I admire people like him, I think we need more people like that. No one is going to listen to us queens, screaming for equality. Good on him. I think it’s a very brave thing to do.”