With last Friday marking the one year anniversary of his death, we are revisiting Michael Jackson’s influence on pop culture as a whole that has spanned several generations.
In the world of pop music, there is Michael Jackson and there is everybody else. New York Times, 1984
In an age where artists are granted icon status after they have managed to stretch their 15 minutes of fame into a somewhat lucrative career, Michael Jackson stands alone as the one solo artist that everyone born in the last half of the 20th century can identify. While Elvis Presley and The Beatles produced music my parents and I can agree on, only Michael Jackson remained relevant producing music throughout both their lifetimes and mine. The fact that both his influence and career spanned over 30 years and hundreds of hits ensures that his music will continue to live on well past tragic death.
In the 1970’s, long before boy bands were a thought in record label execs’ eyes, the Jackson 5 was murdering the charts with their infectious melodies and making teenage girls weak with their boyish good looks. Before Justin Beiber was a twinkle in his father’s eye, girls were getting Jackson fever and stopping at nothing for a glimpse of the brothers, and who could blame them. Little Michael and his brothers kept their fros fresh and their leisure suits crisp as they wowed everyone from the cities to the suburbs with appearances on everything from The Ed Sullivan Show and American Bandstand to their own Saturday morning cartoon. As the decade progressed and Michael grew from the precocious young star of his family’s group to a talented young adult seeking to become a star in his own right, he eventually went on to leave the group and produce his first solo record with Epic, Off The Wall. The release of Off The Wall proved that Jackson was camapble of directing the course of his own career and further established him as a bona fide solo star.
Following the success he achieved as a child in the 70s, Michael Jackson entered the 1980s with nowhere to go but up. That decade saw MJ at his best with his top selling album Thriller making its debut, his performance at Motown 25 which brought the moonwalk into our living rooms, the birth of his infamous rhinestone glove, and MJ being the first African-American artist to have a video shown on MTV. As a kid in the late 80s, I remember my older cousin having a picture of herself with an MJ backdrop hanging on her wall and trying to do the lean from Smooth Criminal after watching Moonwalker one too many times. During these ten short years, Jackson proved over and over again that he was the most talented musician on the scene. As he moved from the height of his fame in the 80s into the decade that would tarnish his career and reputation, Jackson continued to revolutionize the way that we think about pop music.
If the 70s saw the rise of my mom’s MJ, and the 80s was my Jackson decade of choice, the 90s definitely belongs to my younger brother who at age 5 danced around our living room to “They Don’t Really Care About Us”. Before everything got crazy and he married Lisa Marie Presley, had two kids with nurse Debbie Rowe, and was in court defending himself against false allegations, Jackson was keeping us entertained with the release of his eighth album Dangerous and his unforgettable performance at Super Bowl XXVII. As Jackson’s wacky antics began to overshadow him as a performer, even his most loyal fans began to distance themselves from him.
In the end, the storm of tabloid tales that continue to surround him after his death have done little to change the fact that Jackson was and still is the most successful recording artist of all time. There isn’t an artist alive, from Madonna to Miley, that wasn’t touched in some way by his work. Beyonce’s golden gloved hand in her Single Ladies video, Gaga’s over 7 minute long video for Telephone, Chris Brown, Uher, and Justin Timberlake’s dance moves, and even a pre-K Fed Britney (did I mention K-Fed was in the video for You Rock My World as a back-up dancer?) can attribute their success to Michael Jackson’s ground breaking work as a musician, dancer, philanthropist, and visionary.
Cue the video….
MJ killing the robot on Soul Train
My absolute favorite MJ song is and will always be Dirty Diana
A 90s MJ classic, with Iman, Eddie Murphy, and a pre-movie theater Magic Johnson.
Layout by Feesh