Culture Club – Karma Chameleon
Karma karma karma karma karma chameleon
You come and go, you come and go
Loving would be easy if your colors were like my dreams
Red, gold and green
Red, gold and green
In September 1983, Culture Club were at a very important time in their career. About a year after the release of their first album “Kissing to be clever”, which popularized them thanks to songs such as “Do you really want to hurt me” and “I’ll tumble for ya” they were about to launch their new album, “Colors by numbers”. Actually the first impressions were very good, because the release of “Church of the poison mind” a few months earlier showed how the market appreciated to see Boy George and his companions again.
And so, on September 6th they released a song that would permanently change the history of this group, making them one of the first international symbols of the 80s. “Karma Chameleon” is first of all a very catchy song, with precious harmonica parts that make it recognizable and original. As Boy George explained, the song is about the fear of being excluded because you have a different opinion from the crowd, and how sometimes you try at all costs to satisfy too many different parts, a bit like chameleons that change color depending on what surrounds them.
Actually, as the Culture Club leader later explained, the song was also inspired by the relationship that Boy George was living with Jon Moss, a story that was never revealed in the 80s and which Boy George only admitted only long time later. “Do you really want to hurt me” was also inspired and dedicated to Moss, and some verses of “Karma Chameleon” echo this stormy situation. For example, the famous sentence “You’re my lover, not my rival”. In short, boy George also used these lyrics to communicate his feelings to Jon, according to what he himself stated. After all, verses like “you come and go” or “you string along” also seem to be quite explicit references.
The text also mentions some colors, red, gold and green, which according to some recall the colors of the Rasta flag, and ultimately the flag of Ethiopia. Actually, flags are waved in the video, but the tricolor looks vertical and not horizontal. In short, they would be flags of Mali, not of Ethiopia. In any case, according to others, these colors (which also appear in the costumes of the dancers) were also symbolic colors of the gay communities of the 80s especially in the United States, a sort of rainbow flag a few decades in advance.
The video was undoubtedly one of the most peculiar of the moment, with Culture Club singing on a steamboat of late nineteenth century, which we finally discover to be named “Chameleon”, in a scenario that absolutely reproduces the Mississippi of 1870 in the area around New Orleans, as stated in the initial titles. Of course, in the Confederate states of 1870 the presence of a distinguished gentleman dressed and made up like Boy George probably would have been absolutely out of the box, but it doesn’t matter. Similarly, Boy George probablywanted to send a message of integration by putting people with different skin color side by side, which is absolutely unlikely in Mississippi of the 1870s. The video was actually shot on the Thames, on a tourist boat called “New Southern Belle”, absolutely in the atmosphere of New Orleans.
“Karma Chameleon” was a resounding success, and Culture Club topped the charts all over Europe, the United States, Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. In short, everywhere. At that time they were really the most popular band of the 80s, along with Duran Duran.
Culture Club on Wikipedia