I was a kid in the ’80s watching music videos on the Canadian equivalent of MTV, and the two guys I had the biggest nonsexual crushes on were Robert Palmer and George Michael. The “Simply Irresistible”/“Addicted to Love” look was one thing, and the other was George Michael, circa “Faith.”
What about his look was so striking?
So many things: the Levi’s, the leather jacket, the earring with the cross on it, the Ray-Bans, the beard. It’s a lot of look -- what I call the ’80s ’50s. There was a big nod to late-’50s rockabilly culture going on at the time: jukeboxes, old American cars, diners. George Michael, with the Perfecto-style jacket, the greaser look and the jukebox, exemplified this era that I was witnessing as an impressionable kid.
Did you realize back then that he was referencing this deeper retro thing with his look?
I didn’t know who Elvis or James Dean was, but I knew what they looked like, and I swear to God, I saw George Michael and I was able to draw the parallel. And he had an acoustic guitar. That’s also so Elvis. And I’m not mad at his nineties style, either.
What about it were you into?
I loved the Caesar [haircut], the wraparound shades, the trimmed goatee. He almost had a Puerto Rican reggaeton thing going on. The guy had attention to detail and was style conscious. We don’t give enough credit to the narrative he was taking us through.
Was the inherent sexuality in his look something you caught on to, even as a kid?
I was too young to understand what sexuality meant, but I was fascinated. When you wear sunglasses you exude coolness, but you don’t let people in to what you’re seeing and feeling. We don’t know what his eyes were doing. What we learned later, when he came out, was about this big, protective layer.
You clearly adopted his look as your own in Chromeo. When did you decide to do that?
Around the time of our third album [Business Casual, 2010], I was like, “I’m going to pay tribute to the two ’80s frontmen that made an impression on me. I’ll wear suits like Robert Palmer and a biker jacket and ripped-up jeans like George Michael.”
You even have the pompadour!
Absolutely! It’s part of the whole package. I tried the dangly earring, but it looks weird on me. I promise if it hadn’t, I would have gone dangly.
A version of this article originally appeared in the Jan. 14 issue of Billboard.