Over the course of his illustrious career, George Michael gave the world many gifts. One that keeps on giving is “Last Christmas,” the 1984 holiday classic by Wham!, Michael’s pop duo with Andrew Ridgeley. “Last Christmas” is such a uniquely beloved song that it inspired a 2019 film of the same name, and an internet game that people play each holiday season—but that’s just a small part of the “Last Christmas” story. Read on for 10 fascinating facts about this seasonal synth-pop favorite.
1. George Michael wrote "Last Christmas" in his childhood bedroom.
“Last Christmas” was born one day in 1984 when George Michael and his Wham! bandmate Andrew Ridgeley were visiting Michael’s parents. While they were watching TV, Michael suddenly dashed upstairs to his childhood bedroom and composed the modern holiday classic in about an hour. “George had performed musical alchemy, distilling the essence of Christmas into music,” Ridgeley said. “Adding a lyric which told the tale of betrayed love was a masterstroke and, as he did so often, he touched hearts.”
2. It isn’t really a Christmas song.
There’s nothing in “Last Christmas” about Santa, reindeer, trees, snow, or anything we typically associate with the holiday. Rather, the song is about a failed romance that just happens to have begun on December 25, when Michael gave someone his heart, and ended on December 26, when this ungrateful person “gave it away.”
3. Michael wrote and produced the song—but that’s not all.
By the time Wham! recorded “Last Christmas” in August (yes, August) of 1984, Michael had taken full control of the group. In addition to writing and producing the song, Michael insisted on playing the Roland Juno-60 synth in the studio. “George wasn’t a musician,” engineer Chris Porter said. “It was a laborious process, because he was literally playing the keyboards with two or three fingers.” Michael even jangled those sweet sleigh bells himself.
4. “Last Christmas” didn’t reach No. 1 on the UK charts until 2021.
As the movie Love Actually reminds us, scoring a Christmas No. 1 in the UK is a really big deal. Unfortunately, “Last Christmas” didn’t give Wham! that honor—at least not at first. It stalled at No. 2, and for more than 35 years it had the distinction of being the highest-selling UK single of all time to not reach #1. But in the decades since its release, “Last Christmas” has charted around the holiday season on several occasions. On January 1, 2021—36 years after its original release—“Last Christmas” finally nabbed the top spot.
5. It was another song featuring George Michael that kept “Last Christmas” at No. 2 in 1984.
When it was first released, “Last Christmas” was bested on the UK charts by Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” an all-star charity single benefiting Ethiopian famine relief. Michael sang on “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” and was so committed to the cause that he donated his profits from “Last Christmas” to helping the African nation.
6. Michael was sued for plagiarism over “Last Christmas.”
In the mid-1980s, the publishing company Dick James Music sued Michael on behalf of the writers of “Can’t Smile Without You,” a schmaltzy love song recorded by The Carpenters and Barry Manilow, among others. According to Chris Porter, the suit was dismissed after a musicologist presented 60-plus songs that have a similar chord progression and melody.
7. It has been covered by lots and lots of other artists.
Jimmy Eat World, Hilary Duff, Good Charlotte, Ariana Grande, Carly Rae Jepsen, Gwen Stefani, and Taylor Swift are just a few of the artists who’ve covered “Last Christmas” over the years. The strangest rendition may be the 2006 dance version by the Swedish CGI character Crazy Frog, which reached No. 16 on the UK charts.
8. Some people make a concerted effort to avoid hearing it.
While millions of people delight in hearing “Last Christmas” every year, an internet game known as Whamageddon encourages players to avoid the song from December 1 to 24. The rules are simple: Once you hear the original Wham! version of “Last Christmas” (remixes and covers don’t count), you’re out. You then admit defeat on social media with the hashtag #Whamageddon and wait for your friends to suffer the same fate. Note: The rules prohibit you from “deliberately sending your friends to Whamhalla.”
9. “Last Christmas” finally charted in the U.S. following Michael’s death in 2016.
Back in 1984, “Last Christmas” wasn’t released as a commercial single in the United States, and therefore it wasn’t eligible for the Billboard Hot 100 chart. However, Billboard changed its rules in 1998, and in the wake of Michael’s unexpected death on Christmas Day 2016, the song finally made its Hot 100 debut. On January 2, 2021, it reached its peak position (so far) at No. 9.
10. Michael was involved in 2019's Last Christmas movie.
November 2019 saw the release of Paul Feig’s Last Christmas, a romantic comedy inspired by the song starring Game of Thrones’s Emilia Clarke. Producer David Livingstone came up with the idea while Michael was still alive, and when he pitched the pop star on the project, he was given the greenlight—with one condition: Michael stipulated that Oscar-winning actor/writer/producer Emma Thompson play a part in penning the movie. Thompson co-authored the story and the screenplay, and she even ended up playing a supporting role.
A version of this story ran in 2019; it has been updated for 2022.