Black and White
IN THIS PHOTO: Michael Jackson in 1983/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Ten Years After His Death, Will the King of Pop Ever Win Back the Media and Radio?
IT was hard titling this feature…
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press
because I know what I want to ask but it is tricky translating that into words. If you type ‘Michael Jackson’ in a search engine, chances are you will get a lot of news stories relating to painkiller addiction and something scandalous. I have just done this and there are waves of stories relating to Michael Jackson being abusive or cold; something tawdry and awful. Yesterday, there were articles relating to Jackson and drugs; before that it was something different – it seems that every day the media finds something new regarding Michael Jackson; a chance to poke the deceased star and dump muck onto his grave. I can appreciate we cannot ignore any allegations and assume people are doing it for attention but, more and more, the media wants to focus on the bad things and ignore his legacy. This article from The Daily Mirror shows you what I am talking about:
“The Thriller singer died from acute Propofol intoxication and a golden casket thought to contain his body was installed in a crypt in California.
However, it has now been claimed he was secretly cremated – with reports saying his kids had his remains encased in jewellery shaped like broken hearts.
A source claimed: “The ashes are now in necklaces. Paris and her brothers keep them in locked boxes at home, as they’re afraid of losing the last remains of their father.”
While Paris believes she was conceived in France, her mum Debbie Rowe claims she never had sex with Michael despite bearing two of his kids”.
The article relates to Jackson’s daughter, Paris, and the fact that she is marking ten years without her father. One can imagine, two days from that anniversary, she is feeling pretty sad and it has not been an easy past year for her. Every report regarding Jackson, even if it is about his death and family, feels the need to add something toxic and unnecessary into the mix.
Another article that has just been published concerns his former wife, Lisa Marie Presley:
“Elvis’ daughter, now 51, was wed to the singer between 1994 and 1996 as he battled a sexual abuse allegation against child Jordan Chandler.
Sandy Domz worked as an administrative assistant at the Neverland Ranch while the pair were together.
She claims Jacko taped his wife’s conversations to keep a close eye on her – but always chose to spend time with children instead of Presley.
Sandy told CBS documentary Inside Edition: “He wouldn’t tape her phone calls if she wasn’t on the ranch, she wasn’t a priority.
Along with four other employees, Sandy tried and failed to sue Jacko for mistreatment at the ranch.
Melanie Bagnall, Kassim Abdool, Ralph Chacon, Adrian McManus and Sandy said they were harassed and threatened by security guards before being fired or forced to quit in 1994.
Ex-maid Adrian was also called as a prosecution witness during Jacko’s 2005 trial, where he was accused of molesting 13-year-old boy Gavin Arvizo and eventually found not guilty.
She claimed Jackson’s private security outfit would issue death threats and intimidate staff and children to stay silent.
One does not have to look too far to see yet another article that mentions something darker – this one concerning an interview Janet Jackson conducted with The Sunday Times. Here, in Metro, they have taken up the story:
“Speaking to The Sunday Times Magazine, Janet said: ‘It will continue. ‘I love it when I see kids emulating him, when adults still listen to his music. It just lets you know the impact that my family has had on the world.’ Michael died on 25 June 2009 at the age of 50 following an overdose of the powerful anesthetic propofol.
Janet’s other family members, including nephew Taj Jackson, have been vocal in supporting Michael over the serious allegations. Michael’s brothers, Marlon and Jackie, claimed the controversial Leaving Neverland film ‘did not present any evidence’ to prove their brother’s guilt. During an appearance on ITV’s Good Morning Britain earlier this month, Marlon said: ‘No I have not seen it. But I’m not interested in seeing something where someone’s telling a story that do not present any evidence or facts about anything. ‘These type of things always come up, this isn’t the first time. When you’re in this business they take shots at you and people try to make money off you. This is one of those moments.’ He added: ‘Yes it’s been difficult for us but we get through it. We manage to get through it through the blessings of the lord who is in control of everything, so I’m not worried.’”
A lot of the negative press and attack stems from the documentary, Leaving Neverland, where Wade Robson and James Safechuck alleged they were sexually abused as children by Jackson. One can never say for certain whether the allegations hold weight and, to be fair, a lot of the judgement aimed at Jackson was based on perception and gut feeling rather than evidence. I am not dismissing Robson and Safechuck. We must treat their accounts with respect but, as Jackson is not alive and there is never any way we can ever know what happened, it seems like people have made their minds up. I have read numerous articles where journalists reacted to the documentary and expressed how horrified they were; the fact they will never listen to Michael Jackson’s music and how horrifying it is. I can understand, were the allegations proven true, how some would feel uneasy regarding Jackson and his music. We can get into a debate regarding separating the artist from the music but, from a purely legal stance, nothing has been proven. Even if there is a 99% certainty Jackson is guilty, it is reckless and one-sided to write him off. Before Leaving Neverland, there was never a lot of love for Jacko anyway. I remember when he turned sixty on 29th August of last year. Instead of articles celebrating his music, there was the usual heap of tabloid and gossip. I am not naïve enough to paint Michael Jackson as a saint and, to be fair, his eccentricities and behaviour though the years has been troubling.
Regardless of the abuse he suffered as a child and the way the media have been hounding him, there is never any provocation to inappropriately touch young fans or cross that line. That is always wrong and, if everything discussed in Leaving Neverland was true, we would need to have a discussion as to whether his music should be played on the radio. I still maintain everyone is entitled to make their own decision regarding that call but, when nothing has been proven in a court of law, removing his music from the playlists is irrational. Sure, there might be some uneasiness at first but why do radio stations still block his music? I have not heard a Jacko song for months now and it seems like that ban is continuing indefinitely. Not playing his music is a personal decision but, in the case of Michael Jackson, the decision has been set. It seems, to the media at least, that Michael Jackson’s legacy is ruined and he has no real place in music. One can only imagine the articles that will appear online on Tuesday. There will be very little written about Jackson the Pop innovator and how he has inspired countless artists. He pretty much rescued MTV back in 1983…
The station was not showing videos from black artists and, when Jackson’s Thriller stormed the charts, his videos could not be ignored. He became a global icon and helped revive this flagging station – which, in itself, would become an icon soon enough. It is not just that moment. Peel away the press intrusion and any personal issues and you have an artist that has transformed music and changed the game. It seems, where once his music was being celebrated, it is fresh revelations that threaten to tarnish his great work. This article from Rolling Stone talked about Jackson’s popularity in the wake of the Leaving Neverland documentary:
“Radio and streaming numbers could be a bellwether for Jackson’s legacy and the financial viability of his estate. In the days after Leaving Neverland premiered, per Nielsen Music, Jackson’s spins on U.S. radio dropped from about 2,000 a day to 1,500 a day, while several stations in New Zealand and Canada announced they would stop playing his music altogether. But, according to Nielsen, on streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music, Jackson’s solo music notched 16,497,000 streams in the week after the documentary aired on March 3rd and 4th — falling squarely within his typical range of 16 to 17 million plays-per-week. Additionally, Jackson’s music remains on several big Spotify playlists, including “All Out 80s,” which boasts nearly 5 million followers (his artist-specific playlist, “This Is Michael Jackson,” has more than 1 million followers).
Among the general public, Jackson’s legions of still-devoted fans have vociferously defended him at every turn. They’ve swarmed the Twitter mentions of public detractors and even crowd-funded a series of ads proclaiming Jackson’s innocence that briefly appeared on buses in the United Kingdom.
But opposition has grown as well. The activism team at Care2, a social network that connects activists around the world, launched a petition urging the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas to remove its statue of Michael Jackson and cancel its in-house Cirque du Soleil show, “Michael Jackson One.” The petition has over 12,000 signatures, but since the premiere of Leaving Neverland, “One” has continued to run, twice a day, uninterrupted. Though Cirque du Soleil declined Rolling Stone’s request to comment on ticket sales, a quick perusal of the show’s website reveals that most seats for all upcoming shows have been sold”.
Another train of thought – as explored in this piece from The Guardian - is that Jackson’s legacy is more important and bigger than Michael Jackson himself:
“Michael Jackson’s legacy is bigger than Michael Jackson, right?” said New York Times critic-at-large Wesley Morris on the Daily podcast. “We can’t cancel Michael Jackson because cancelling Michael Jackson means cancelling America in some way. Not just our love of [the] music, but our sense of who we are as a people.”
Jackson family members issued a statement calling Leaving Neverland a “public lynching” and a “tabloid character assassination” that revisits previously rejected claims. Jackson was cleared of child molestation charges by a California jury in 2005. The Jackson estate is now suing HBO for $100m for allegedly violating a non-disparagement clause related to a contract the network signed in 1992.
Meanwhile, a vast global army of fans have mounted defences on social media. Jackson supporters have flooded the internet with rebuttals to the documentary, questioning the credibility and motives of Robson and Safechuck”.
We cannot ignore and dismiss any allegations of sexual abuse, whether it can be proven or not. Of course, Jackson is not a clean-cut and innocent figure. Even his most ardent fans accept that the man is not perfect and he (Jackson) has made the news for the wrong reasons more than once. It was worrying seeing Jackson unravel after a certain point. Maybe the press attention was too much or he believed his own hype. There is no denying he is a musical genius but perhaps that expectation got to him and made him feel invincible. Nobody knows quite what was in Jackson’s mind and what happened behind closed doors. The allegations and stories recounting in Leaving Neverland are definitely shocking but, without Jackson being here to tell his side, we can never know what happened and make him accountable. Jackson’s music has transformed lives and, as Janet Jackson stated in a recent interview, there are children idolising him and a new generation discovering his work. None of Jackson’s songs referred to child abuse or taking advantage of young fans, and yet it seems like radio stations have blacklisted his music. It is going to be near-impossible to reverse the damage caused and see Jackson in a new light. It is clear the media have made their minds up and, ten years after his death, Jackson’s legacy will be one of an abuser and criminal as opposed a musical maverick. It seems things are very black and white to many.
I doubt we will see many articles (on Tuesday) regarding Jackson’s songs and his best albums. Instead, there will be a flurry of articles regarding drugs, controversy and his oddities. Apart from these articles having very little purpose – what is the aim of publishing them? – I do wonder whether Jackson’s music will find legacy years from now. I grew up listening to his music and first discovered Bad (his album released in 1987) in the early-1990s and I remember listening to it on my Walkman. It was a revelation and one of these albums that hit me immediately. The confidence and quality of the songwriting was instant; the memorability of the choruses was obvious and I followed him from that moment on. Of course, Thriller (1982) went on to become the biggest-selling album ever (it has since been surpassed) and it is seen as one of the defining records of the 1980s. Dangerous, released in 1991 was a tougher and more physical album whereas his earlier work, such as 1979’s Off the Wall, seduced with its maturity and slickness. Jackson’s later work was nowhere near as strong as his classic albums but there is plenty of genius Jackson material in the world to make up for that. As a live performer, his shows were legendary and he could stun audiences like no other. His videos became more and more lavish and almost become pieces of theatre.
From the ambition and brilliance of Thriller to the record-breaking Scream, Jackson was never shy to push the envelope and take music videos to new heights. This feature from Cheat Sheet highlights some of Jackson’s positives:
“One of the most significant ways Michael Jackson influenced the world was through global culture. The music legend wasn’t just famous in the United States. He was famous all over the world, including in areas that were seemingly untouched by Western influence. Through his influence, he was able to bring a sense of connection — similar to what we see online today — to all corners of the world. He envisioned the world coming together in peace and harmony and created music that unified.
While Michael Jackson wasn’t the only celebrity to use his fame for good, he was one of the most influential. Today, celebrities everywhere use their social media followings and fandom to raise awareness to the causes that matter to them — and they have Michael Jackson to thank for it.
Michael Jackson was more than just a pop star. He was a humanitarian who supported organizations, such as United Nations High Commission for Refugees, Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Social Change, UNICEF, American Cancer Society, and more. When it came to his humanitarian work, he was a huge advocate for children and mostly worked with organizations that supported the youth across the globe”.
IN THIS PHOTO: Michael Jackson on his BAD World Tour in 1988/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
The Guardian added to this in a feature from 2014:
“Things have changed, however. The panopticon of the internet means that today it should technically be easy to get as famous as Jacko – you can be adored from the Mongolian steppes to the Madagascan rainforest, all via YouTube. But in reality, fame is diluted by the internet as everyone makes their own collaged personal vision of global culture, and so that Jacko-level fame, an omnipresence mediated via the restricted channels of radio, TV and recorded sound, is unlikely ever to be repeated.
It doesn't mean people haven't tried to replicate it though; Jackson's legend is constantly propelling the already-famous to dream of greater heights.
Jackson's repertoire of dance moves are still the base notes from which all street dance and R&B moves are derived. The peacockish pointing, the robotic fussing that smoothes into a glide, the endless spinning – this was dancing for a digital age of precision, and the likes of the Step Up movies have struggled to innovate their way into the next era. Chris Brown is the leading new-school exponent of Jackson's moves, executing brilliantly exact funk and athleticism – but where Jackson's braggadocio lifted the spirits and drew a room together, Brown merely preens, fixated on sexual transaction.
When David Guetta-branded pop ruled the world a few years back, it felt like there was little room for Jackson's funk – but the success of Pharrell, Robin Thicke, Daft Punk, Bruno Mars, and a resurgent Justin Timberlake (as well as new imitator Ed Sheeran) shows the music Jackson popularised is still relevant. The soft-focus twinkle of Rock With You is the sound they're most obviously lifting, but there are other borrowings: his use of crazily overdriven rock guitar to denote roiling sexual longing or spiritual ecstasy has been picked up by R&B musicians like Miguel, for example. More generally, he surely remains a touchstone for someone like Katy Perry, for his ability to oscillate between universal anthems and personal ballads, all punctuated with hedonistic confectionery – a skill that only a few pop stars, still led by Jackson, have been able to hone”.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
One suspects, only five years after that article, these new sexual abuse allegations will tip the scales. Are those in the media able to balance the proven brilliance of Jackson’s music and put it beside allegations that have dogged him for the past few months? It is ignorant to ignore the positives and dismiss any criticisms but, at the same time, it is insulting and wrong to wash away decades of great music. I know his fans are listening to his music and Jacko can never disappear. One can still find his tracks on streaming services and buy his albums. Radio is a bit split depending on where you live but here in the U.K., it seems the bigger stations have made their minds up. The vast majority of articles from now on will concentrate on the darker aspects and ignore the legacy that Jackson acquired. Decades of golden music has been outweighed by the cumulative effect of allegations and Jackson’s proclivities and it does make me sad. Not that the man is not around anymore – one feels he contributed to his premature death – but the fact the brilliant work he left behind, every day, is starting to fade away and is being pushed under the rug. On Tuesday, it will be ten years since he died and I am sure very few will rush forward to pay tribute to his great music. It is a shame because, since the 1970s, Michael Jackson has enriched lives, inspired other artists and made countless people…