Writer(s): George O'Dowd, Jon Moss, Roy Hay, Mikey Craig, Phil Pickett (see lyrics here)
First Charted: September 17, 1983
Peak: 13 US, 13 CB, 13 RR, 3 AC, 67 RB, 1 CO, 16 UK, 13 CN, 15 AU, 9 DF (Click for codes to singles charts.)
Sales (in millions): 1.0 US, 1.62 UK, 5.0 world (includes US + UK)
Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 1.0 radio, 644.41 video, 366.73 streaming
Click on award for more details.
About the Song:
Culture Club broke through in 1982 with “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?,” “a sweetly sensitive lite-reggae bounce that became a global smash.” SG While they “came from London’s punk and new wave scenes,” SG they “didn’t sound like other new wave groups.” SG They sounded more like Lionel Richie than Human League. SG “They made tender crushed-velvet white soul” SG “occasionally sprinkled with soft reggae or post-disco dance-pop accents. Boy George sang as much like Smokey Robinson as he could…shooting for that same soft precision and that same sense of strength through vulnerability.” SG
Teens throughout the UK “were emulating George’s outrageous and oft-changing style which usually involved long white gowns and mult-colored plaits.” KL However, “Culture Club weren’t simply a novelty; they were a pop juggernaut.” SG “Their ability to dominate in a time of rampant homophobia is pretty amazing, and it speaks to Boy George’s singular charisma.” SG He was “a purring androgyne flirt who used the brand-new vehicle of MTV to present a persona that was defiant in its femininity.” SG
He was born George Alan O’Dowd “into a working-class Irish Catholic family in Kent…George’s father was abusive, and he also had to deal with growing up gay in a profoundly unfriendly environment. But he found escape in the New Romantic world of the early ’80s, dancing at clubs like London’s Blitz.” SG It was there when “former Sex Pistols svengali Malcolm McLaren saw George and invited him to sing with Bow Wow Wow, the band McLaren was managing at the time.” SG George didn’t stay long, opting instead to start his own band. He enlisted the band’s bassist, Mikey Craig, and they also recruited guitarist and former hairdresser Roy Hay along with drummer Jon Moss, who’d worked with the Stranglers, the Damned, and Adam & the Ants.
“Karma Chameleon” was the lead single from the group’s sophomore album, Colour by Numbers. It was the group’s fifth consecutive top-10 in the United States. It became the biggest selling single of 1983 in the UK FB and the first single by a group to sell a million copies in Canada. KL George said the song is about “the fear of standing up for one thing. It’s about trying to suck up to everybody…If you aren’t true, if you don’t act like you feel, then you get karma.” FB “Like a lot of Culture Club songs, [it] is a disguised lament about the tempestuous relationship between Boy George and his bandmate Jon Moss” SG at a time when George was still in the closet and keeping the relationship a secret.
First posted 11/13/2022.