FEATURE: Leave Me Alone: Will Michael Jackson’s Legacy Always Be Tainted?




Leave Me Alone


IN THIS IMAGE: Michael Jackson by Andy Warhol (1984)/IMAGE CREDIT: National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C./Gift of Time magazine © 2018 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./Licensed by DACS, London  

Will Michael Jackson’s Legacy Always Be Tainted?


IT has almost been a decade since the death...


 IN THIS PHOTO: Michael Jackson during the 2005 trial in which he was accused of child molestation/PHOTO CREDIT: Aaron Lambert/AP

of Michael Jackson (25th June) but it seems a lot of his posthumous recognition has revolved around scandal and digging up old allegations. It is a rather difficult time for music and with another big musician, R. Kelly, in the news following the documentary, Surviving R. Kelly, there is a lot of debate as to whether his music should be on streaming sites. In the case of R. Kelly, there are fresh allegations that follow up from an early court appearance – where he walked away a free man. It seems like this new wave of attention will go back to court and many people are asking for his music to be banned from Spotify. I think there is validity to the accusations and artists such as Lady Gaga, who worked with R. Kelly in 2013, have spoken out and backed the women. There are accusations abused and molested minors and it means, once more, the singer is in the news for the wrong reason. With news of a new Michael Jackson documentary, Leaving Neverland, about to hit the screens; we are seeing another popular male artist under the spotlight for the wrong reasons. Michael Jackson is no stranger to controversy but he has been in court before; cases that were either thrown out or he was found innocent. Now that two fresh revelations have come to light, as The Guardian reports, it has led to sensationalism and fresh filmic inspiration:

Michael Jackson’s estate has condemned a new documentary film, Leaving Neverland, which features allegations that the singer sexually abused children.

Speaking to TMZ, representatives from the estate said the film was “another lurid production in an outrageous and pathetic attempt to exploit and cash in on Michael Jackson … just another rehash of dated and discredited allegations. It’s baffling why any credible film-maker would involve himself with this project.”


 IN THIS PHOTO: Michael Jackson’s Neverland estate photoed in 2004/PHOTO CREDIT: Mark J. Terrill/AP

Leaving Neverland explores what a synopsis calls the “manipulation and abuse” of two unnamed men, from the ages of seven and 10 onwards. The film, directed by Dan Reed, who has won Baftas for documentaries including The Paedophile Hunter and Terror in Mumbai, is described as “a portrait of sustained exploitation and deception, documenting the power of celebrity that allowed a revered figure to infiltrate the lives of starstruck children and their parents”.

The four-hour film will receive its world premiere at the Sundance film festival in Utah on 25 January, and will air on Channel 4 later this spring”.

I can understand the need to take these accusations seriously but Jackson is not with us and cannot face his accusers. Many say he was the architect of his own downfall and did himself no favours with his erratic behaviour and abuse of power. I do not claim to know the real truth but do feel like there has been exaggeration, exploitation and falsehoods from those who have accused him in the past. Whether or not these latest accusations holds weight is yet to be seen – we will never know the truth because the accused cannot have his say. Whereas R. Kelly can answer himself and there are shocking details coming to light, is Leaving Neverland, a cheap and disrespectful documentary designed to once more attack and tarnish Michael Jackson’s name?

Last year, when Jackson turned sixty, we should have seen features looking at his biggest albums and how he transformed music. Madonna and Kate Bush also turned sixty, as did Prince, and it was a year when living and departed legends were celebrated. Whilst Madonna received celebration and Kate Bush got a few nods – not nearly as many as she should have -; Michael Jackson’s life and milestone birthday was dedicated to muck-raking and scandal. I recall looking at the combined press output and must have counted two articles that marked his life and his great work – countless others who talked about the idea as Jackson the predator and discrediting his name. I can never condone any accusation of sexual abuse but it seems like Michael Jackson will never find rest. Yes, the man changed his appearance, he was in the news for his bizarre behaviour – including dangling his child from a window – and deserves some sense of scorn. Those rather weird and wild moments, some say, is what made him a unique and interesting figure. I think some of his behaviour was troubling and his last days were very sad. The thought of the King of Pop in such a poor state, in ill health and dependant on medication...it breaks your heart thinking who he used to be and what he was in 2009. I shudder to think how the world’s media will the ten-year anniversary of Jackson’s death. Today, we are remembering David Bowie three years after his death. There is nothing but praise and one wonders whether anyone will have a kind word to say about Jackson come 25th June!

We cannot overlook the more sworded side of Jackson’s life but it seems the media can think of nothing but. It is none of their business what happened or what was alleged. This latest matter should not be put to film because it serves no purpose. What is the point of heaping yet more dirt on the bones of Jackson?! He cannot respond and what we have is a film that will be viewed by those who want to kick Jackson and hear something sensationalist and salacious. His true fans and supporters are shocked by this film and want nothing to do with it. Have we all forgotten what Jackson gave to the world? From his infant years as part of The Jackson 5 – the 1969 album, Diana Ross Presents The Jackson 5 – to his final album, Invincible, in 2001; his genius and impact cannot be doubted. His work spanned five decades and the promising child grew into this colossal star who had the world in the palm of his hand. Jackson spoke out against MTV not showing black faces on the screen and was one of the people responsible for bringing about change. Some claim his change of skin colour was an attempt to get more attention but Jackson was passionate about seeing black artists on the screen and fought against discrimination. Albums like Off the Wall (1979) and Thriller (1982) catapulted him to superstardom and thrust him into the spotlight.

 IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify/Getty Images

I prefer Off the Wall because it is more complete and has fewer filler tracks but Thriller is the album many know Jackson for. It is considered one of the best albums ever and is the second-best-selling album ever (behind Eagles’ Their Greatest Hits – 1971-1975). Bad is my favourite album and, when it came out in 1987, there was no bigger Pop artist on the planet. Madonna was competing but she would hit her peak in 1989. 1991’s Dangerous was a fairly quick response to Bad – he took five years to follow Thriller – and one that saw Jackson adopt an angrier and tougher sound. A lot of this anger was a reaction to press allegations and constant haranguing. Whilst this anger fuelled some of his best and most reflective work – including Why You Wanna Trip on Me and Who Is It -, it was a clear sign, even then, Jackson was never going to get any room. You could say the press being on his case led to some brilliant music and urged him to become bigger and more successful. I feel like Dangerous marked a moment when the intrusion and constant attention started to affect Jackson’s psyche and behaviour – this would only intensify and get more extreme as we moved through the 1990s. I look back at Jackson’s back catalogue and am amazed by the consistency and quality. I think one of his only missteps, Invincible, cannot damage his legacy and the fact he was truly the King of Pop.

The man not only helped inspire legions of musicians and created some of the best albums ever; his live shows were incredible and his performances were legendary! He was a complete star and one who was always trying to escape his past. After Jackson’s death, we learned a lot about the abuse he suffered at the hands of his father, Joe. Joe Jackson died last year and we heard about the abuse all of the Jacksons received. Maybe that affected the aspiring artist and made him more determined to stand alone and be successful. It is clear the young Michael Jackson had a hard start and was thrust into the limelight very young. I love the way Jackson overcame that difficult childhood and managed to conquer the world. Although the man away from the stage was complex, often controversial and quiet; who he was in the studio and what he gave to the world as an artist matters more. Everyone has their favourite Michael Jackson album and we can all compile our favourite songs from the master. I genuinely did mourn his death and felt his final years were desperately lonely and sad. Some of that was his making but we cannot overlook all the beauty and brilliance he gave to us. It seems the media is keen to see Jackson as a monster and not willing to even mention his music.


 IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify/Getty Images

Leaving Neverland is another posthumous chapter that focuses on the scandal and abuse. I think, if there is validity to the claims, we need to ensure the victims are compensated and acknowledged but there is no reason to bring it to the big screen. It is clear the motive goes beyond justice: what the filmmakers and ‘victims’ are doing is to expose Jackson and kick him. Nobody can truly say whether the accusations are true and justice will never be done. It is a sad affair but pointless because of the futility. What is to be gained from this new film? The men who accused Jackson will benefit but they will never get to see Jackson in court. It is another attack on an iconic musician. I am never saying we should ignore this sort of thing and sweep it under the carpet. The fact R. Kelly is in the news for similar reasons means there will be a lot of interest regarding Leaving Neverland. He still gets to release music and I am sure he will continue to be oblivious to the gravity of the situation. In the case of Michael Jackson; it seems like we are only seeing him now as a disreputable and seedy character – we have no way of knowing if these allegations hold any substance. I was appalled by the lack of positive attention on Jackson’s sixtieth birthday and the fact he seems beyond redemption.


 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Rather than spend some time, as we should in June, looking back at the hugely impressive body of work Jackson has given us and how he has inspired so many others, I feel we’ll get a slew of articles vilifying Jackson and digging up his past. At the very least, I wonder whether Michael Jackson as an icon and innovator will ever be seen in the same light. Where is the film that charts his rise to fame and what he did for music?! How about we expose the fantastic songwriter and performer he was so that new artists can take guidance and be moved?! I will never ignore any allegations of sexual assault and turn away from this sort of thing but Jackson has already been acquitted and the man has been gone for a decade. Look back at all the news regarding Michael Jackson over the past year and it has been negative and scandalous. If people cannot find the time to write something nice and celebratory about Michael Jackson – there is plenty of ammunition and great music! – then can a moratorium be called?! His estate have reacted angrily to Leaving Neverland and dismissed it. There is this conflict between recognising this Pop genius and ensuring we do not overlook allegations and push it into the shadows. It is a tricky conflict but I wonder whether, when 25th June rolls by, we mark the tenth anniversary with applause and profiling of his great work or continue to only see Michael Jackson...

AS a dark and disgraced figure.