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Adieu to the King of Pop-the Moon Walker

Posted by Ramesh Khati on July 7, 2009


Michael Jackson was the only entertainer in the world who could match Charlie Chaplin in terms of popularity, reach, talent and genius. Visit any rural setting in India, or for that matter, any part of the world — you are bound to observe that both the performers are equally loved and recognized. While Chaplin used only the film medium to share his genius with the masses, Jackson used several media with equal ease — recordings, videos, television, films, and the stage — to express his feelings. It’s only when one studies the entire body of Jackson’s work, one realizes that like Chaplin he touched upon every contemporary issue of his time — be it environmental degradation (Earth Song), fight against vagaries of nature (We are the world), racial discrimination (Black or White), among others. So vast and exhaustive is his work that despite the American media’s repetitive attempt at his character assassination, it has stood out like a shinning star on the horizon.

Jackson’s three decades of active professional work can broadly be divided into six categories: lyrics and albums, promotional videos, world tours, vocal and dance styles, charity works and costumes and changing appearances. Although the focus of the mass media in this decade has primarily been on his dwindling fortunes, eccentricities and allegations on child abuses which could not be proved in the court of law, the creative aspect of his works has largely been kept untouched. But to understand the making of Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, an insight into the other aspects are also equally important. We shall focus on them.

Born in 1958, Michael was a prodigy who started performing at the age of five with his brothers in a band called Jackson 5. He could write the lyrics, compose and then perform as the lead singer. What set him apart from other pop stars of his time is the fact that Michael could adapt himself quite comfortably to the constantly changing demands of the American music industry. By 1970s, broadcast television was on the wane giving way to cable TV, pay-per-view broadcasting, video cassette recorders, etc. To boost up sales of music tracks, promotional music videos had become a prerequisite. And this was exactly the scenario where the magic of Michael Jackson fitted in. In his promotional videos, he danced and sang like no one did, the images he used to illustrate his renditions caught the imagination of the masses and he became synonymous with popular music. Besides, his inimitable choice of costumes and a fetish for facial changeovers, created an enigmatic persona that the masses found impossible to resist.

Talking about his videos, one cannot, for the fear of sounding repetitive, brush aside Jackson’s epic album Thriller. Thriller, released in 1982, became a history not only because of being the bestselling album of all time, but it created a popular culture that would influence the emerging pattern of contemporary music and dance patterns in every nook and corner of the world, including Bollywood.

At its 25th anniversary, Thriller retained important influence over the music and video industry, artistes, and the American culture. In fact, Jackson transformed the music video into an art form and a promotional tool through complex story lines, dance routines, special effects and famous cameo appearances; simultaneously breaking down racial barriers.

The lead number from the album Dangerous (1991) titled Black or White used the morphing technique elaborately in the music video for the first time. Morphing is a special effect in motion pictures and animations that changes (or morphs) one image into another through a seamless transition. Most often it is used to depict one person turning into another through technological means or as part of a fantasy or surreal sequence.

His next mesmerizing number Remember the Time from the same album was an elaborate production, and became one of his longest videos at over nine minutes. Set in ancient Egypt, it featured ground breaking visual effects and appearances by Eddie Murphy, model Iman and Magic Johnson, along with a distinct complex dance routine. The video for In the Closet was Jackson’s most sexually provocative piece to date. It featured supermodel Naomi Campbell in a courtship dance with Jackson.

horizon1The acclaimed video for Scream from the album HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book 1 (1995) was shot primarily in black and white. This video directed by Mark Romanek, is one of Jackson’s most critically acclaimed. In 1995, it gained 11 MTV video music award nominations, more than any other music video and won ‘Best Dance Video’, ‘Best Choreography’, and ‘Best Art Direction’. The song and its accompanying video are a response to the backlash Jackson received from the media after being accused of child molestation in 1993. A year later, it won a Grammy for Best Music Video, Short Form; shortly afterwards Guinness World Records listed it as the most expensive music video ever made at a cost of $7 million. Earth Song, the third single from the same album was accompanied by an expensive and well-received music video that gained a Grammy nomination for Best Music Video, Short Form in 1997. The video had an environmental theme, showing images of animal cruelty, deforestation, pollution and war. Using special effects, time is reversed so that life returns, war ends and the forests regrow.

Throughout his solo career, Jackson’s versatility allowed him to experiment with various themes and genres. As a musician, he ranged from Motown Records dance fare and ballads to work that incorporates both funk and hard rock genres. His album Off the Wall was crafted from funk, disco-pop, soul, soft rock and popular ballads. With Thriller, Jackson developed his long association with the subliminal theme of paranoia and darker imagery that are evident on the songs Billie Jean and Wanna be Startin’ Something. After We are the World in 1985, humanitarian theme became a central component of his life and music.

Interestingly, since Jackson sang from childhood, his voice and vocal style changed noticeably, either through puberty or a personal preference to align his vocal interpretation to the themes and genres he chose to express. In the mid-1970s, the singer adopted a ‘vocal hiccup,’ as used in Shake your Body. The purpose of the hiccup — somewhat like a gulping for air or gasping — was to help to promote a certain emotion, be it excitement, sadness or fear. With the arrival of the Thriller, Jackson was singing in fully adult voice, tinged by sadness. The lead single from the album Dangerous, titled Black or White, remains one of the most successful songs to date. The track contains many features of Jackson’s vocal style, including the vocal hiccup he is known for. Nelson George, an eminent music critic and Jackson’s biographer, summed up Jackson’s vocals by stating, “The grace, aggression, the growling, the natural boyishness, the falsetto, the smoothness — combination of all these elements mark him as a major vocalist.”

As far as his dancing style is concerned, he revolutionized hip-hop dancing and had skills in every other field from classical to jazz to any other form of physical expression you can think of. He popularized the ‘Moonwalk’ or the ‘Backslide’ during his performance of his song Billie Jean on March 25, 1983, in a television special — Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever, and was considered his signature move. The Moonwalk or Backslide is a dance technique that presents the illusion that the dancer is stepping forward while actually moving backward. It gives the appearance of a person moving in a conveyor belt. Michael Jackson performed two Moonwalks during a live performance of Billie Jean at the 1995 MTV Video Music Awards. It has since become one of the best known dance moves in the world.

Michael was also a passionate supporter of charity, and was honoured by many organizations for the work that he did and the compassion he showed. The millennium issue of the Guinness Book of Records names Michael as the pop star who supports the most charity organizations. Besides his charitable contributions to many organizations like United Negro College Fund, Michael Jackson Burn Center for Children, Children’s Defence Fund, among others, he was instrumental in organizing a charity single We are the World recorded by a supergroup of 45 popular musicians billed as the USA for Africa (United Support of Artists for Africa) in 1985. He co-wrote the song with Lionel Richie. The effort raised over $63 million and was sent to Africa which had experienced unusual drought in 1984-85.

Michael also exquisitely designed his world tours, profits of which mostly he donated to charity. In 1996, he performed in Mumbai to raise money for a foundation called Shiv Udyog Sena that wanted to provide jobs to 27 lakh Marathi youths. He donated millions of dollars to the Heal the World Foundation out of the Dangerous World Tour in 1992.

Michael Jackson’s sudden and mysterious death has shaken the world of entertainment and created a void that would be impossible to fill. Even in his death, he has created a mass hysteria seldom seen in recent times. The incident has whipped up the frenzy of his fans so much that even the responsible mainstream media, to keep pace with the race, has started indulging in blatant gossips.

Perhaps the most fitting tribute to the enigmatic legend came from Amitabh Bachchan. He posted on his blog: “Michael Jackson changed the very psyche of not just the kind of music he was making, but also the psyche of the listening audience. Nothing compared to him. He was just the incredible perfection that god could have possibly created in his mercy. His body moved like a wound up toy machine. Every conceivable action of rhythm and style was incorporated inside his diminutive form without any blemish. The exhilaration that he provided became synonymous with the ultimate. He was the impossible… An exceptional artist has gone. Someone that created an almost outer world experience for all of us with his art.”

Well, these are the words of appreciation and adulation of one legend for another. We couldn’t have said it better.

Written By:-Santanava Hazarika; Lecturer Third Eye College and students of Journalism and Mass Comm. Deptt. Third Eye College Guwahati.

Shared By:-Nanda Kirati Dewan


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