“Karma Chameleon” is a song by English band Culture Club, Boy George, Jon Moss, Mikey Craig, Roy Hay and Phil Pickett, featured on the group’s 1983 album Colour by Numbers. The single was released in the UK on September 5th, 1983 and became the 2nd Culture Club single to reach the top of the UK Singles Chart, after “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me”. The record stayed at #1 for 6 weeks and became the UK’s biggest-selling single of the year 1983, selling 955,000 copies (according to Official Charts Company sales data confirmed in March 2021 for the Channel 5 show Britain’s Favourite 80s Songs). To date, it is the 38th-biggest-selling single of all time in the UK, selling over 1.52 million copies.
“Karma Chameleon” also spent 3 weeks at #1 on the US Billboard Hot 100 in early 1984, becoming the group’s biggest hit and only US #1 single among their many top-10 hits. The single sold over 5 million copies globally. In 2015, the song was voted by the British public as the nation’s 9th favorite 1980s #1 in a poll for ITV.
It reached #1 in: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland, #2 in West Germany, #3 in Austria and Finland, #5 in France, #8 in Poland,
“Karma Chameleon” is about the karma that comes with trying to please everyone, meet their expectations and not being true and honest to yourself. It talks about how scared some people are when it comes to being left alone or ignored due to their beliefs.
The song is about the karma that bites when trying to please everyone and not being true to yourself. It talks about how afraid some people are when it comes to being left alone or ignored due to their feelings and beliefs.
Chameleons easily change colors depending on the environment and situation.
In an interview, Culture Club leader Boy George explained: “The song is about the terrible fear of alienation that people have, the fear of standing up for one thing. It’s about trying to suck up to everybody. Basically, if you aren’t true, if you don’t act like you feel, then you get Karma-justice, that’s nature’s way of paying you back.” In response to claims from singer-songwriter Jimmy Jones that the song plagiarizes his hit “Handy Man”, George stated, “I might have heard it once, but it certainly wasn’t something I sat down and said, ‘Yeah, I want to copy this.'” In an interview with 60 Minutes Australia, Boy George said that he wrote the song while he was on vacation in Egypt, and that the other members of Culture Club were initially hesitant to record it as they felt it sounded like a country or western song. Boy George wrote most of the lyrics, with Phil Pickett, under a strong influence from his secretive personal relationship with his drummer Jon Moss. Due to the relationship not being disclosed to the public, it was a way to break through the secrecy, a form of communication and expression of his feelings for Jon Moss. Boy George was frustrated that his lover, apparently, was affectionate in private, but distant in public, and that true feelings couldn’t be expressed openly. Boy George would not admit publicly his relationship or sexual preferences, at the time.
The harmonica part was played by Judd Lander, who had been a member of Merseybeat group The Hideaways in the 1960s. He is white, but in the video the harmonica is played by a black man, because the director preferred the image of a black man playing the instrument. The song was originally to be called “Cameo Chameleon”; the band was recorded in interviews in mid-1983 stating this was to be the title of their next single.
The song won Best British Single at the 1984 Brit Awards. In 2015 the song was voted by the British public as the nation’s 9th favorite 1980s number one in a poll for ITV.
The group performed the song as a finale when they appeared in the 1986 episode “Cowboy George” of The A-Team.
The music video, directed by Peter Sinclair, was filmed at Desborough Island in Weybridge during 1983.
The video is set in Mississippi in 1870. It depicts a large multiracial and diverse group of people in 19th century dress, including some dressed in red, gold, and green (as referenced in the lyrics). Boy George is dressed in what would be known as his signature look: colorful costume, fingerless gloves, long braids, and a black bowler hat. He stands out as an anachronism in the 1870s in Mississippi.
A pickpocket and jewelry thief is seen wandering through the crowd, stealing from unsuspecting victims. The band and everyone board a riverboat, The Chameleon, as Boy George continues to sing. While four men are playing poker, the thief is discovered cheating by giving himself the Royal Flush, and is forced to return all his ill-gotten gains and walk the plank at the points of ladies’ parasols, falling into the river. As the video ends, day has turned to evening and the party continues on the boat as it cruises down the river.
At the time of writing, the official video has amassed over 631 million views on YouTube.