The four members of Culture Club wrote the songs for their first album Kissing To Be Clever together, with singer Boy George coming up with the lyrics. On this song, he later admitted that he wrote the lyrics about his relationship with their drummer Jon Moss. They had an affair for about six years that was kept hidden from the public, and George often felt hurt and emotional.
At first, Boy George didn't want this released as a single because it was such a personal song for him. When it was released, it hit #1 in 23 countries.
Boy George told Q magazine September 2008: "Our first two singles failed. That single was our last chance. But I threatened to leave if (the label) released it. I didn't think it was us; it wasn't club music. It wouldn't stand up to Spandau Ballet. But I was wrong. It was so personal in a way that our other songs weren't. It was about Jon. All the songs were about him, but they were more ambiguous."
This was Culture Club's first single released in the United States. It was a huge and unlikely hit for the British band, who embarked on an American tour in 1983 to gain traction in that country. The song crossed over to Adult Contemporary radio, where most listeners had no idea the lead singer dressed like a girl. MTV, whose library was mostly British bands when they launched, had acclimated their US audience to guys in makeup, so Culture Club wasn't so shocking on the channel and the group developed a huge audience of young people who liked the sound and the look.
The "look" was authentic: Boy George had been wearing makeup and women's clothes since his school days, and while he exaggerated it for publicity, it was his preferred style. In a 1983 Trouser Press interview, the singer explained: "I wear my hair this way 'cause it makes my face look longer, my hat because it makes me look taller, black clothes because they make me look thinner, and makeup because it makes me look prettier."
The band came up with the soft reggae beat and put the song together when they found they had some spare studio time during a recording session for the Peter Powell show on BBC Radio One. Their bass player Mikey Craig brought a Caribbean influence to the band's sound.
Boy George surprised a lot of people who met him in person, as his substantial size and manly speaking voice belied his feminine appearance. At least one line in this song addresses how perceptions can be wrong. He told Musician magazine in October 1983: "There's a line from 'Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?' that says, 'Everything's not what you see,' which is basically what I believe. It's kind of boring when things are just what they are."
In the book 1000 UK #1 Hits
by Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh, Boy George said: "'Do You Really Want To Hurt Me' is a really well-constructed song. It's probably the only proper song we've got with proper chord sequences and keyboard changes in it. It's just very musical. The most powerful songs in the world are love songs. They apply to everyone - especially kids who fall in and out of love more times than anyone else. At the end of the day, everybody wants to be wanted."
This song starts with a slow vocal intro by Boy George ("Give me time to realize my crime...") that signals solemn lyric to come. The intro was not part of the original demo, which they recorded with their producer, Steve Levine, at Rondor Studios in London.
In the 1998 film The Wedding Singer, which is set in the '80s, a member of the wedding band named George is clearly modeled after Boy George. At one point, he is thrust into the spotlight and sings this - twice.
In January 2009, one TV news program reporting the demise of the former Culture Club frontman Boy George said it was a case of life imitating art. The previous month, the openly homosexual George O'Dowd was convicted of the false imprisonment of a male escort. He was said to have handcuffed the man to the wall in his London apartment and beaten him with a metal chain. A Guardian
correspondent reported that in an apparently accidental allusion to the 1982 hit, Heather Norton for the prosecution, asked the jury: "Did he really have to hurt him?"
At least one newspaper used a similar headline; this was O'Dowd's second conviction in recent years; he had previously been ordered by a US court to sweep the streets of New York for wasting police time after reporting a non-existent crime. Ironically, the video Culture Club made for "Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?" was set in a courtroom.
Alexander Baron - London, England
The concept of the video was Boy George as an outsider, getting kicked out of different places in various historical settings. It was directed by Julien Temple, who came up with the idea of jurors dressed in blackface. This was a shocking image for American audiences, who long associated blackface with racism, but in England it was far more accepted as part of their music hall tradition.
Temple explained in the book I Want My MTV: "'Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?" was about being gay and being victimized for your sexuality, which George was kind of emblematic of. It seemed appropriate to me that in the video he would be judged by jurors in blackface, to send up bigotry and point out the hypocrisy of the many gay judges and politicians in the UK who'd enacted anti-gay legislation."
This was released on September 3, 1982 in the UK to almost universal derision. Smash Hits, for instance, called it, "weak, watered-down fourth division reggae." It only became a hit after Boy George performed the song on BBC music program Top Of The Pops wearing something resembling a white nightie with dreads wrapped in colourful ribbons and a face caked in make up. George recalled in Q magazine: "Our plugger got called and was told. We can't promote this record. What is it? Is it a bird, is it a plane, is it a drag queen. The ensuing tabloid frenzy with the 'Is it a boy, is it a girl' headlines gave the song all the publicity it needed and it zoomed to the top of the charts."