Free Press Journal

Birthday Special: Remembering Michael Jackson, the entertainer and youth icon

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Thirty-four years ago Michael Jackson moonwalked his way to everyone’s heart and became the biggest sensation in the music industry. He is gone too soon but he will always be alive through his music, writes Kalyani Majumdar

Michael Jackson was an enigma when he was alive, and his death too was shrouded with mystery. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that he left a music legacy that is unparalleled. On June 25, 2009, the world got the shocking news of his sudden demise. Just 48 hours ago, he was seen practising for his comeback concert, This Is It.

Although in the last decade of his life he was in news mostly for his oddities and allegations, he will always remain a legend. Despite all the heresy and the rumours, it was his music that everyone would always remember him for.


MJ and Jackson 5

Michael Jackson was bursting with talent right from the time he started performing as a child artiste with Jackson 5. Even as an adorable little boy his talent and stage presence was noteworthy. He was a natural performer with a soulful voice that surpassed his age with songs like Who’s Loving You. He was born on August 29, 1958, in Indiana, US. Even as a child it was clear that Michael Jackson was meant for greatness. And, that he came to be.

Thriller changed the music industry

He literally changed the music scene of the ’80s with the release of his album Thriller in the fall of 1982. Billie Jean and Beat It were already chart toppers from the album. Then in 1983 with the release of the 14-minute movie based on the song Thriller, the world of music was under his spell. Michael Jackson was a household name. Thriller remained on number one on the Billboard album chart for 37 weeks and became the world’s best-selling album, with sales estimated to 66 million copies.

With the album Thriller, Michael Jackson changed the course of the music industry and how it operated. MTV was a young channel back then, but until the MJ phenomenon, MTV only focussed on playing rock and featured white artistes. His song Billie Jean was perhaps the first video by a black artiste that was played repeatedly on MTV network. It was this album that helped other African-American artistes gain mainstream recognition. The success of Thriller also put MTV on the global map. This was followed by a live performance in 1983 during the celebration of Motown turning 25. During his Billie Jean performance, he did the moonwalk for the first time, and the audience was enthralled. Michael Jackson the superstar had arrived. He was not just a singer anymore, he was a dancing genius.

The ultimate entertainer

Before MJ, the concept of concert involved few guitar players, a lead singer and few musicians. MJ changed that. His concerts were full blown extravagant sets with an entourage of musicians, dancers, lights, special effects and back projections. Every MJ concert showed his showmanship. He changed how the music business worked. The next album Bad in 1987 was also successful, but of course nothing could beat Thriller.

Songs such as Bad, The Way You Make Me Feel and Smooth Criminal enjoyed being chart toppers. With every album MJ was reinventing his talent and introducing new dance steps. The album Thriller brought zombie-style dancing and moonwalking on the foray. The song Smooth Criminal from Bad brought gravity-defying lean.

Michael Jackson during the filming of the video clip for the song Black or White, shot by John Landis.///Michael Jackson with female dancers in traditional Balinese costumes

MJ, the youth icon

Along with dance, he took special care of his look for every album, and his clothes. He influenced the 80s fashion with his bright red jacket, silver gloves, bright suits. He was the youth icon. In 1984, he was signed for a Pepsi commercial. The ad showed young boys imitating MJ’s dance steps and an African- American kid wearing a red jacket and dancing on the street. Clearly, MJ mania was here to stay.

Even today some of the biggest names in the music industry such as Bruno Mars and Justin Timberlake have been influenced by MJ’s music.

The man that was MJ

Michael Jackson was a one man show — singer, dancer, choreographer, song writer, visionary, visualizer, and had a keen business sense. There was almost a child-like curiosity in him that made him likeable to all age groups, creed, colour and culture. He was meant for the stage. It was there that he really communicated with the world. His performance can never be dated.

Apart from music, MJ worked on humanitarian and ecological issues, and played his role in the betterment of the world through initiatives such as Heal the World Foundation.

Despite of all the eccentricities that Jackson displayed and the media did not miss an opportunity to attack him on those accounts, one must also consider that he was a star at an age when most of us start our schooling, and he was already impacting the world, and how people should relate and view music by the age when usually one is still figuring out a direction in life. Stardom comes at a price.

The world can often be overly critical of a public figure of his stature, and in the last decade of his life many people, including some of his fans, distanced themselves from him, but through all his trials and tribulations, one cannot refute the fact that he strived for perfection as an artist and, thus created memorable experiences for his fans.

Perhaps the real Michael Jackson was the man performing on stage, as he laughed, cried, displayed his vulnerabilities and truly expressed himself in front of his fans. He was rightfully the King of Pop and will always be loved for being who he was — a musical genius.