Sunday, June 28, 2009

Michael Jackson - analysing an enigma and legend

Ever since Michael Jackson's death on Thursday afternoon, I have been seeing clips of this video on various news broadcasts about Jackson's life. I saw it so many times and the few moments were so captivating that I had to go find it for myself.

It is a clip of the Jackson Five performing on the Ed Sullivan show in 1969 when Michael would have been 11 years old.

To me, it shows what we have really lost with MJ's death. But then again, we seemed to have lost that joyous, smiling, confident little showman from years ago, long before Thursday, June 26, 2009.

For many people of that  generation, that is how they will remember Michael Jackson - as the phenomenal little singer and dancer with the big, bright smile.

That he became a shell of that in his later years, washed out, gaunt-faced, haunted by rumours of dreadful sexual proclivities, is a tragedy.

But that is the enigma of Michael Jackson. It was like the world was not enough. Everything which we saw on his surface in his first 20-odd years that seemed to be true, turned out not to be so.

Despite growing up in a huge, close-knit family with eight siblings all very close in age (his oldest sister Rebbie is only 8 years older than him and he was the 7th of 9 children) he later spoke of a sad and lonely childhood and we are constantly reminded of the imagery of Michael with Ben the rat as his only friend.


Despite being an adorable child and growing into a handsome man, he seemed to find himself so ugly that he basically mutilated his face repeatedly to achieve... who knows?

MJ youngMJ face ruined

He was very aware of black issues and concerns - he gave millions to the United Negro College Fund and wrote We Are the World to fight hunger in Africa.

Yet, he seemed to dislike his very blackness. The women he dated and married were white and his children definitely seem to be entirely white, raising the likelihood that the surrogate mothers who bore his children for him, were impregnated with a white man's sperm. At his request? Who knows now.

In his later years, he seemed to be trying to retreat into some Peter Pan-esque, asexual being. His light, feathery voice and delicate and almost naive manner seemed at odds with his frenzied, crotch-grabbing performances that were highly sexual. Have you WATCHED Dirty Diana? Especially that part where he makes the shape of a woman's body and then pelts two vicious jucks? It is virile and masculine yet those were not words we would eventually come to associate with Michael Jackson.

He spent his money wildly - at his death he was reputed to be $500 million in debt (or HALF A BILLION DOLLARS) but yet he was an amazingly shrewd businessman in other ways. The same man who indulged in the money-sucking fantasy that was Neverland, bought the hugely valuable Beatles catalog. And he was gritty in doing it. He outbid his own friend and former Beatle Paul McCartney and went through a 10-month bidding battle to get his hands on it. That is not the mark of a softie or someone who is soft-headed about business.

 Who can figure out what was in Jackson's mind? Who can figure out how all of these seemingly conflicting elements co-existed in the same person?

One thing is for certain. His influence on pop culture will last.

I have heard many presenters and talking heads this weekend ask if he could have become "relevant again" with his upcoming comeback tour.

It irked me because Michael Jackson has never stopped being relevant. Despite not putting out a popular album in years, he remains a cultural touchstone.

Every time Chris Brown or Usher or Justin Timberlake or Ne-Yo or Ciara just about any urban singer-dancer post-1982 moves, it is with the distinct influence of Jackson.  These are all people who grew up with the influence of Michael Jackson - either directly as 80s babies or indirectly through seeing his videos in MTV marathons or seeing their older siblings or even parents imitate his moves.

Chris brown michael jackson jackets

When Kanye West makes huge, cinematic videos and orchestral stage performances, he is influenced by the man who spent $800,000 on the Thriller video in 1984. Do you understand how much money that was in 1984? Especially at a time when black artistes were not getting a bligh on MTV? Michael went ahead and made a mini-movie so that MTV could not ignore him - or  us.

When Beyonce and Rihanna rock this season's 'it jacket, the Balmain, it is simply Michael redux. Take a look for yourself.

Beyonce balmain jacket

MJ military jacket 2

MJ rihanna jacket 

May the King of Pop finally rest in peace.


  1. An excellent article, thanks.

  2. Perfect talk. He lives on amidst all the taunts of life.

  3. I'm sorry but this is one of the most ignorant blogs I've read, you just advertised that your are nothing but part of a herd of SHEEP & a TABLOID RUMOR MONGER. CONGRATULATIONS!

  4. Nobody but God knows what's inside a human being. Jane Fonda said: how can I judge Michael about his looks if I don't know what went on inside of him? Those interested so much in why he acted certain way can eat their guts. It's irrelevant. What is relevant is his work which was intriguing and mysterious to say the least. And yes, he seemed to be a virtuoso. Everything else is irrelevan and they can blah blah blah but Michael will be studied, enjoyed and remembered. And to the haters: May you do in your lifetime something of value like Michael. I have the feeling many of you never will.