And by Michael, I’m of course talking about THIS GUY:
Michael Joseph Jackson. The King of Pop. The biggest-selling solo artist in music history.
Last month marked 11 years since his untimely death, and I was reflecting on how his popularity remains, despite the many obstacles. Early last year when the LEAVING NEVERLAND documentary came out, many wondered if this would be the final nail in Michael’s legacy. Coming right on the heels of the powerful SURVIVING R. KELLY docuseries, which finally brought to life Kelly’s many crimes and swiftly lead to his downfall, it seemed like Michael was next on the list. Many articles were written about “letting go” of Michael Jackson after this, and there were reports of radio stations across the world dropping his music and such.
And yet here we are, over a year later. Has much changed? 2019 ended with Michael Jackson as the #1 top-earning dead artist, and that’s even with a $60 million drop in earnings from the previous year. The total amount of streaming of his music actually increased by 17% from 2018, to 2.1 billion.
“Michael Jackson … maybe had a little bit of a downside from the detractors, probably an equal amount of upside from the supporters,” says David Bakula, Nielsen’s senior VP of Insight and Analytics. “He’s just going to continue to grow because streaming’s continuing to grow, and because he’s got some unbelievably popular pop songs.”
And I’m reminded of a post that Michael’s nephew TJ once made on Instagram:
Today I was at a restaurant near the Royal Palace in Spain and heard the live version of “Dangerous” playing in the distance. Hearing my Uncle’s music in public happens often but something told me to go outside and see the effect of my uncle in another continent. And I’m happy I did. I don’t write publicly often about him as he was my uncle first and a darn good one. But this is about his magic as a performer. He was really unmatchable. I’m not afraid to say it. I’m proud. To be in another country and see the effect he has on other cultures 25 years after a single performance makes me feel good and proud. He was a perfectionist who thought long term and wanted a legacy that would live on for eternity around the globe. And to see that happening makes my heart smile. I love you, Uncle Michael. #proudnephew #thegreatest #kingofpop
And that’s what’s protected Michael’s legacy, so far, that attitude that TJ mentions. That perfectionist attitude he had, he wanted his work to live on after his death, and it showed. His music, his videos, his performances, they really were timeless. As a fan during his life it was often frustrating at his lack of output, waiting years in between albums. From the time he released his first solo album as an adult in 1979 until his death in 2009, he’d released just 6 full albums, with the last one being 2001’s Invincible. During that same 30-year period his contemporaries Madonna (whose first album came out in 1983) released 11 albums, and Prince (who had released his 2nd album in 1979) released 33 solo albums (not counting his myriad side-projects).
But as much as I love Madonna and Prince’s music, there’s a lot of mediocre and bad music in their catalogs. Yet with Michael, most of his songs are pretty good. I’ve gotten flack from other Michael Jackson fans before when I say that I don’t BAD was one of his best albums, but I still like it. I’m just saying that I think it could have better, I think he was a little too preoccupied with beating the success of THRILLER while making that album. But “average” Michael Jackson music is still most other artists. And that’s the point, he only put out what he considered to be his very best work. He wouldn’t settle for less. And that paid off not only during his life but after that.
Music is an interesting thing. It can affect you on a visceral level like almost no other form of art or entertainment. The right song can make you laugh or cry or even get you angry. Music can put you to sleep and inspire you to work out or help you be more creative. I know of plenty of artists and writers who have certain music playlists to listen to while creating. Certain songs can bring back specific memories, good or bad. And these are feelings you often can’t control or have taken away from you, no matter what anyone says. And Michael’s music has those effects on many people.
I’ve got a coworker who recently turned 26, I found out some months ago that she’s a huge fan of Michael, she said he’s her idol. She was only 15 when he died, too young to experience his biggest time period, but she said she had an uncle who introduced her to his Michael’s music when she was young, and she loved him ever since. I’ve seen pro-Michael Instagram accounts from across the world that are run by teenagers, people who were barely out of diaper when Michael died, and yet they’re obsessed with him as if he were alive today. It’s like they’re born fans, it’s incredible.
And then there’s stuff like this:
Amazing. I don’t think that teacher was even born when Thriller first came out, much less those students. But look at that. Thriller is the perfect “Halloween” song, and just Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” get replayed everywhere ever December, Thriller gets replayed ever October, and tons of people continue to make videos copying those dance moves.
And this is why Michael Jackson endures. He will always have his detractors. Even if Leaving Neverland had never been made, and despite the many people who have thoroughly debunked the claims, and the SQUARE ONE documentary about the 1993 allegations, and continue to fight to clear his name, there will always be a segment of the population who believe he was a child molester who got away with it. But I think even more people will continue to discover his music and become new fans. And that’s because he made music that could affect you like no other.