Friday, 26 June 2009

The Way He Made Me Feel

Unoriginal, predictable and unimaginative. That's how it feels to be writing about Michael Jackson today, after seeing how coverage of his death is dominating every single terrestrial and cable channel right now. Whenever a celebrity dies, two things always happen - some people rush to deify, while others choose to condemn and dismiss. At first, I thought I might lean more naturally towards the latter.

Then I realised something. Everywhere I've been today, I've heard nothing but Michael Jackson's music. Driving to work it was all I could find on the radio. At the office, the playlist in the design studio played Jackson's music all day. We went out for a team lunch and the pub was playing MJ's greatest hits. Then this evening we went to an arts exhibition, and the DJ played an exclusive set of Michael Jackson. Everyone was nodding solemnly and singing along with every song under their breath.

It was then that I realised that this was something extraordinary. For the last 25 years Michael Jackson has been a one-man joke industry, an easy punchline for anyone who chose to disregard his impact on popular music. Whether or not you agreed with his self-proclaimed status as the 'King of Pop', you'd be hard-pressed to name an alternative worthy of the title. With the news media and blogosphere utterly dominated with quickly written eulogies, I thought I'd take a different approach and simply address all the things I learned from Michael Jackson's fifty short years.

1) Don't stop till you get enough
Michael was already storming the charts with his brothers by the age of 11, scoring four consecutive number ones with I Want You Back, ABC, The Love You Save and I'll Be There. Problem is, when you conquer the world of music before your voice breaks, where do you go from there? By the midpoint in his life he'd already recorded the world's best-selling album Thriller. It's no wonder James Cameron has been under the radar for 12 years since winning the Oscar for Titanic.

2) It don't matter if you're black or white
People found Michael's skin tone an endless source of fascination. It started back in the mid-80s. His face looked patchy and he started wearing the glove - which most people put down to celebrity eccentricity and poor fashion sense. By the time he released Black or White in 1991, they found the lyrics ironic in the extreme. After all, if one's colour was irrelevant, why had he gone out of his way to change his racial identity? It emerged later that he had been diagnosed with vitiligo back in 1986, and in 1990 was prescribed a de-pigmentation cream to even his skin tone. By the late nineties he was almost translucent, and spent his time under a parasol or behind a man-burqa to protect his skin.

3) You've been hit by a smooth criminal
During the latter stages of his career Michael was accused not once but twice of child molestation. The first time his accuser was 13-year old Jordan Chandler who, together with his father, concocted a compelling case against the troubled singer. Eventually the Chandlers settled for $22 million and Jordy refused to participate in any further prosecution. Despite the fact that we live in a world where 'innocent until proven guilty' is supposed to be our legal system's guiding principle, Jackson was forever tarnished by this chain of events. Now that Jackson has moonwalked off this mortal coil, we may finally find out the details of the case. But I've always been willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, if only because I believe that no parent worth their salt would ever accept a payment in place of prosecuting the person who had molested their child.

4) Never can say goodbye
Throughout his life Jackson inspired a level of fandom that George Lucas could only dream of. His impersonators even went under the knife to reconstruct their face to replicate his ever-more grotesque visage. Wherever he went there was always a healthy-sized crowd of uberfans willing to hyperventilate simply by being in close proximity to their idol. I imagine the coming weeks and months will be particularly tough for them.

5) I can thrill you more than any ghost would ever dare try
Not only did Michael break down racial barriers by being the first African-American artist to appear on MTV, his artistry redefined the entire genre of music videos. Partnering with visionaries such as John Landis, Martin Scorsese, David Fincher and Spike Lee, he turned the music video from a three-minute promo into a multi-million dollar experiment in short film-making.

6) The kid is not my son
His love of children led inexorably towards him having children of his own, Michael Jr, Paris and Prince (Blanket). However, following revelations of surrogacy and artificial insemination, not to mention the fact that the children (when we got a glimpse of them) were whiter than the Midwich Cuckoos, it became clear that Michael might have bought the kids rather than made them himself. Either way, he at least made sure that they enjoyed a life outside of public scrutiny, giving them a chance at an anonymous upbringing, something he himself never experienced.

7) You rock my world
Rock With You. Thriller. Bille Jean. Beat It. Bad. The Way You Make Me Feel. Smooth Criminal. Black Or White. Jam. Stranger in Moscow. Ten great hits, and that's just for starters. He rocked everyone's world. Is it any wonder that by lunchtime he filled seven places in iTunes top ten albums chart?

8) Invincible
He wasn't.

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