FEATURE: Man in the Mirror: Following a New Michael Jackson Documentary, Is It Time to Put His Music Back on the Radio?



Man in the Mirror


IN THIS PHOTO: Michael Jackson in 1994/PHOTO CREDIT: Timothy White 

Following a New Michael Jackson Documentary, Is It Time to Put His Music Back on the Radio?


IT was hard to ignore the…

 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

furore and outrage that greeted the Leaving Neverland documentary from earlier in the year. You can see the documentary here, that revolves around allegations by Wade Robson and James Safechuck towards Michael Jackson. When the documentary came to light, the press and radio stations were keen to have their say. A lot of the focus, as you’d image, geared around the severity of the accusations and the outcome was clear: Jackson was guilty and his music/legacy should be reviewed. This article from The Guardian brought together contributors to give their opinions; whether Jackson was still valid and okay to listen to. Alexis Petridis had this to say:

I thought about that remark when the furore around the Leaving Neverland documentary blew up. More compelling allegations that Jackson was a paedophile will undoubtedly lead to more calls for his music to be treated the way Glitter’s is – unofficially banned from radio and TV, never mentioned in public (even the Glitter fans I met would only talk to me under a veil of anonymity). I can see why, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. You can’t easily eradicate Jackson from history: too many people have too much of their lives bound up with his music. And perhaps you shouldn’t. Perhaps it is all right that his music continues to be heard, so long as it comes with a caveat: that it reminds us great art can be made by terrible people, that talent can be weaponised in the most appalling way, that believing an artist automatically embodies goodness because we like their work is a dreadful mistake that can have awful consequences”.

The difference between an artist like Michael Jackson and, say, Gary Glitter and Rolf Harris is that no evidence has been found regarding Jackson’s alleged assaults. Even if one were 99% sure that he was guilty, he id dead (Jackson died in 2009) and there is no way he can be brought to justice. Leaving Neverland was a very powerful piece but, following its release, there was a split between Jackson’s fans and the rest of the world. It is insane to think how judgmental people were and how they leapt to conclusions without any proof. Jackson was eccentric and troubled, yet he was always tarred with a brush from early on. It is clear that he has a child-like spirit and love for children; controversy dogged his career and it seems like the Leaving Neverland accusations stemmed from a case in 1993; allegations that Michael Jackson sexually abused a child, Jordan Chandler. This article from Rolling Stone charts the timeline; I have selected a few key dates:

May 1992 – Jackson befriends Jordan Chandler

According to an October 1994 story in GQ, Jackson began a friendship with Jordan Chandler in May 1992 after the owner of a nearby car rental business offered him a free rental if the singer agreed to call his 13-year-old stepson, who was a fan of Jackson’s music. In February 1993, Jordan, along with his sister and his mother June, stay at Neverland — Jackson’s compound — for the first of several visits. In late March, the family begins traveling with Jackson to places like Las Vegas, Morocco and Paris. During this period, according to the Chandlers, Jordan and Jackson would often sleep in the same room.

IN THIS PHOTO: Michael Jackson with Jordan Chandler/PHOTO CREDIT: REX 

May 25, 1993 – The National Enquirer publishes a story entitled Michael Jackson’s Secret Family

Jordan’s parents were long divorced, and his father, Evan Chandler, a well-known Los Angeles dentist, was reportedly upset that the tabloid story portrayed Jackson as a father figure. Jordan’s frequent trips to Neverland and other travels with Jackson had caused a disruption to Chandler’s visitation schedule, and he allegedly became suspicious that something untoward might be going on.

September 14, 1993 – The Chandlers sue Jackson for $30 million

The lawsuit accused Jackson of sexual battery, battery, seduction, willful misconduct, intentional infliction of emotional distress, fraud and negligence.

December 20, 1993 – Michael Jackson is strip-searched by police

Jackson’s genitalia and body were photographed and videotaped by authorities so they could be compared to Jordan’s description. Two days later, on December 22nd, Jackson released a now infamous video statement in which he insisted he was innocent and described the strip search as “the most humiliating ordeal of my life.” No arrest warrant was issued.

On December 28th, Jordan gave a sworn declaration detailing the abuse allegations; the declaration was leaked online in 2003.

January 25, 1994 – Jackson settles with the Chandlers and agrees to pay them $22 million

After months of negotiations, Jackson chose to settle the molestation case out of court, with $15 million set aside for Jordan in a trust until he turned 18. June and Evan Chandler each received $1.5 million. (The remaining money went to the Chandlers’ legal team.).

IN THIS PHOTO: Jackson with his then-wife Lisa Marie Presley in 1994/PHOTO CREDIT: Stephane Cardinale/Sygma via Getty Images 

February-April 1994 – Grand Juries decline to indict Jackson

Grand juries in both Santa Barbara and Los Angeles were presented with the prosecution’s case against Jackson, including testimony from both Jordan and June Chandler, but declined to indict. Authorities said the case remained open, but in July, Jordan Chandler told prosecutors he would refuse to testify at a trial. In September, Santa Barbara District Attorney Thomas Sneddon and Los Angeles District Attorney Gil Garcetti admitted their 18-month investigation had failed to produce incriminating evidence, and without Jordan’s cooperation, they could not file criminal charges against Jackson.

Jordan Chandler went on to attain legal emancipation from both of his parents. June Chandler testified at Jackson’s 2005 trial and said she had not spoken to her son in 11 years. Evan Chandler, who closed his dental practice in 1994, killed himself in 2009”.

There is this camp of people who are keen to find Michael Jackson guilty, regardless of whether there is evidence or not. The fact he paid the family, to some, indicates culpability, but nothing was ever proven. If it had, I would have viewed Jackson differently and would have been uncomfortable thinking of him as an icon and positive role model. There is that debate as to whether we can separate the artist and the music and, if they are guilty of child abuse, does that mean we need to ban their music?

It is a hard call but, in the case of Gary Glitter, it seemed stations had no choice. Michael Jackson’s stature and legacy does not mean he is immune from the same rules as someone like Glitter. Again, even if one thinks he is guilty, that is not proof. Every individual can decide whether they want to play Jackson’s music; there was such an outcry from the media following Leaving Neverland that called for the music to be banned, for his legacy to be questioned and, essentially, for people to sort of forget about him. A  new documentary is out, Michael Jackson: Square One, that questions a lot of what was said in Leaving Neverland and highlights flaws – the fact the accusations seem to be financially motivated and, as only five accusations have been made against Jackson, he does not fit the profile of a standard paedophile (who abuses far more children). Regardless of what side of the fence you are on, two recent documentaries have sort of cancelled one another out. Again, as there is no definitive proof against Jackson, stations around the world have banned his music. I know North American stations took a pretty hard line; there are stations in Australia that blackballed his music and, here in the U.K., it seems like the BBC has made it clear. I cannot remember the last time I heard a Michael Jackson song on BBC Radio 2 or 6 Music, but it would have been before the Leaving Neverland documentary was broadcast.

In this article from March, we get the sense that, perhaps, Jackson will never be allowed back:

With Michael Jackson’s legacy in tatters following new child sex abuse claims, BBC Radio 2 appears to have quietly dropped the King of Pop’s music from its playlists.

The decision is said to have been made last week in the run-up to the broadcast on Channel 4 this week of the controversial documentary Leaving Neverland. In the four-hour, two-part programme, James Safechuck, 40, and Wade Robson, 36, claim that as children they were groomed, sexually assaulted and raped by the pop star over a number of years.

In a BBC interview last week, Robson said the abuse started when he was seven, adding: “Every time I stayed the night with him, he abused me. Fondling, touching, my entire body and my penis.”

The last time Radio 2 played a solo Jackson track was last Saturday, when it broadcast the 1979 hit Rock With You. The BBC said: “We consider each piece of music on its merits and decisions on what we play on different networks are always made with relevant audiences and context in mind”.

It is worth correcting the article when it says Jackson’s legacy is in tatters. His reputation might be, but his musical legacy can never be! Despite a lack of Michael Jackson music on the radio, there is a new musical arriving.

The new Michael Jackson musical Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough has been making its controversial way towards Broadway, first announcing a Chicago run then cancelling shortly after the documentary Leaving Neverland premiered. The production wasn't deterred, announcing a cold open on Broadway in summer of 2020.

The musical, now titled simply MJ, is currently in the midst of a developmental lab.

The new musical Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough will feature a book by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage and a score made up of some of the best-loved, top-selling songs in recording history. Tony Award winner Christopher Wheeldon will direct and choreograph”.

There is also a new Michael Jackson release coming:

A small-batch box set of film, music and memorabilia will be released to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Michael Jackson’s This Is It, the movie that captured Jackson’s final concert rehearsals before his death. Only 1,000 numbered copies will be made of the set that is available for pre-order at the Jackson online store and will be released on Dec. 11, Sony Music and the Jackson estate announced Friday (Oct. 4)”.

There is still demand and love for Michael Jackson and, with a new documentary seeming to nullify a lot of what was claimed in Leaving Neverland, surely it is time for radio stations to redress their policy. Jackson can still be found on streaming sites and you can buy his music. I do think that it seems severe Jackson is banned on a lot of stations, considering he has not been found guilty of anything. I can understand it is hard from the position of radio stations. They do run the risk of complaints.

I think it is unfair that an artist should have their music banned without any form of review and consideration. A lot of time has passed since the Leaving Neverland documentary and there has actually been very little mention of Jackson and any allegations since. Maybe radio stations are sweeping Jackson’s music under the carpet or going quiet in the hope people will go away. I discovered Jackson’s music through the radio and I think the radio is the most powerful medium when it comes to influencing and connecting people. There are artists out there who will miss out on Jackson’s music. I can understand it is not as simple as reinstating Jackson back on the airwaves: there would have to be some sort of transitioning period. It does seem a shame he is being ostracised by radio stations and I do hope, soon enough, his music starts to make its way back. One can quibble with the man himself but his music can never be scrapped; his legacy will never be overlooked and ignored – maybe there is a slight tarnish but, compared to other artist, it is not like he is that much worse. There does need to be reappraisal and respect for an artist who, musically, changed Pop and has inspired so many people. Not only has Jackson inspired artists but he has lifted people around the world! It has been a rather challenging year regarding his music and reputation but, in light of new findings and challenges, it is time to give Michael Jackson’s music fresh investigation. To deny the airwaves Michael Jackson’s legacy would be a crying shame because, when you look at things, it is obvious how much…

GENIUS music he has left behind.