"Karma Chameleon" is a song by English band Culture Club, featured on the group's 1982 album Colour by Numbers. The single spent three weeks at number one on the US Billboard Hot 100 in early 1984, becoming the group's biggest hit and only US number-one single among their many Top 10 hits. "Karma Chameleon" was also a huge global hit, hitting number one in 16 countries worldwide, and the Top 10 in several more. The sleeve features work from the photographer David Levine.
In the group's home country of the United Kingdom, it became the second Culture Club single to reach the top of the UK Singles Chart (after "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me"), where it stayed for six weeks in September and October 1983, and became the UK's biggest-selling single of the year 1983. To date, it is the 31st best-selling single of all time in the UK, selling 1.49 million copies there. It has sold over 5 million global copies, making it one of the best-selling singles of all time worldwide.
In an interview, Culture Club frontman 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."
The song won Best British Single at the 1984 Brit Awards. The group performed the song as a finale when they appeared in the 1986 episode "Cowboy George" of The A-Team. The harmonica part was played by Judd Lander, who had been a member of Merseybeat group The Hideaways in the 1960s. 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 music video, directed by Peter Sinclair, was filmed at Desborough Island in Weybridge during the summer of 1983.
The video is set in Mississippi in 1870. It depicts a large group of black and white people in late 1800s dress, including some dressed in red, gold, and green (as Boy George sings in the song). Boy George is dressed in what would be known as his signature look; colorful costume, fingerless gloves, long braids, and a black derby.
A pickpocket and jewellery thief is seen wandering through the crowd, stealing from unsuspecting folks. The band and other people board a riverboat, "The Chameleon", as Boy George continues to sing. The thief is discovered cheating at cards, and is forced to return his ill-gotten gains and walk the plank at the points of ladies' parasols. As the video ends, day has turned to evening and the party continues on the boat as it cruises down the river.