Wednesday, June 10, 1970

Musical Artist - Jackson, Michael

Michael Jackson was one of the most commercially successful singers and entertainers of all time. He got his start performing with his brothers as part of the Jackson 5, singing lead vocals on several of the band's hits including I Want You Back, ABC, and I'll Be There. Michael left the band in 1971 and embarked on a solo career achieving and fair amount of success in the 1970s with hits such as Got to Be There and Ben.

In 1975, Jackson left Motown to sign with Epic Records, and turned out the Off the Wall album in 1979, scoring chart-topping hits such as Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough and Rock With You. This presaged Jackson's dominance of the music scene in the 1980s as he was transformed over the decade from pop singer to pop icon.

In 1982, Jackson released the Thriller album, which included the hit singles Beat It, Billie Jean, and Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'. Powered by these hits, Thriller became the best selling album of all time and launched Jackson's career to stratospheric heights. He followed up on Thriller's success with the album Bad, which included hit singles such as Bad, Man in the Mirror, and Dirty Diana. His later albums also produced chart success with songs such as Black and White.

Jackson became such a pop cultural fixture that his personal foibles were transformed into fodder for the tabloids, a phenomenon that Jackson seems to have tacitly encouraged. Anecdotes about his personal proclivities, both real and fabricated, became front page stories, earning him the nickname "Whacko Jacko". He bought a chimpanzee and reportedly became overly attached to it. He built an amusement park on his property. He supposedly slept in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber and reportedly wanted to but the bones of Joseph Merrick (also known as the "Elephant Man"), although those claims were denied by Jackson. Rumors abounded about his supposed plastic surgeries and skin bleaching treatments (the reality is that Jackson suffered from vitiligo, which caused his skin to lighten).

Later in his life, all of the tabloid rumors seem to have caught up with him, and a substantial backlash formed against him, culminating in child abuse allegations and a very public criminal trial (in which he was acquitted), While almost every popular icon eventually finds themselves facing a hostile crowd, the intensity of the shift in public opinion with respect to Jackson was pretty stunning. I have a theory on that which encompasses both his prodigious success and his fall from grace. I don't mean to disparage Jackson's music: He turned out a huge selection of incredibly successful pop hits in his career, but his music simply wasn't so much better than his contemporaries as to warrant his outsize success.

The key element is that Jackson first came to prominence as a child, and as he grew up, he retained a childlike public persona. I remember when he was in the middle of the massive popularity following the release of Thriller, stories about Jackson often emphasized his commitment to his religious faith and his consequent asexuality - I distinctly recall one article in which he pointedly rejected a proposition from a young man with an admonishment that homosexuality was condemned in the Bible, and when the young man opined that it would be different if he was an attractive young woman, Jackson said that would be against Biblical teaching as well. The net result is that Jackson was a "safe" black man, utterly unthreatening to white audiences. The fact that a skinny little boy grew up to be a skinny, mildly effeminate and publicly asexual man was a selling point for him. Midwestern white teenagers could listen to him on the record player in their parents' basement and no one would bat an eye.

But this meant that when that public persona slipped, there was a huge backlash against him. I believe that this is because of the feeling of betrayal that came from realizing that the "safe" black man may not have actually been safe. No one seems bothered by the fact that guys like Prince, Marvin Gaye, or Barry White were overtly sexual, but that is because they never projected an image of being "safe". They were always sexual, they were always dangerous. Conversely, a lot of people seem to be very upset by the fact that it turned out that Bill Cosby was a sexual predator, not just because he is a sexual predator (which is appalling enough by itself), but also because he was more or less "America's black father figure". White America is always looking for "safe" black men to latch on to, and anyone who can fit that profile can do very well, but woe betide any "safe" black man who shows feet of clay. I don't think it is an accident that many of Jackson's public image problems coincided with the release of Bad and his attempt to project a more adult persona.

In addition to his music career, Jackson appeared as an actor in a few films, such as The Wiz in 1978, Free to Be You and Me in 1974, and Captain EO in 1986. He also appeared in numerous music videos and television commercials, most notably for Pepsi. Jackson was neither a prolific actor, nor a particularly talented one, but he was enthusiastic.

Over the course of his career, Jackson was honored with thirteen Grammy Awards and twenty-six American Music Awards. As a solo artist, he scored thirteen number one hit singles on the Billboard Hot 100. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice (once as a member of the Jackson 5 and once as a solo artist), as well as the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, the Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Dance Hall of Fame, and the Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame.

Jackson died in 2009 of a drug overdose. His death was ruled a homicide and his personal physician was convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

Jackson has an official web page named Michael Jackson. He also has an official Twitter page, Facebook page, and imdb page. He also has a YouTube channel.

Musical Monday Selections:

04/30/18: Rock With You

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