“Michael was the greatest performer ever, who had a terrible reputation. But under it all, he was freakin’ awesome.”
Everyone reacts differently. The most immediate illustration of this appeared on Facebook on Thursday night as the news spread like a wildfire over people’s statuses. Initially met with incredulous comments, “Haha, whatever, stop drinking!” as the story became more widespread, clearly catalysed by frenzied Google searches to confirm the news, cyberspace was littered with tributes. From the heartfelt “I love you Michael”, to the irreverent “I blame it on the boogie”, to some not appropriate for repetition, however people felt, their minds were on the same topic: the death of pop superstar, Michael Jackson.
Trivial though it may seem, this response formed a microcosm of sorts to the reaction which rebounded over the world. This was reflective of a life beset with controversy at every turn, controversy which at times threatened to destroy a career dazzling in its musical supremacy. At the height of his career Jackson was the biggest star in the world. Thriller won eight of his thirteen Grammys, the groundbreaking video playing every hour on MTV upon its release, launching both the singer and the channel to their present fame. His marriage to Lisa Marie Presley was dubbed the union between the King of Pop and the Princess of Rock ‘n’ Roll. From the ceremony, carried out in the inauspicious surroundings of a hotel room in the Dominican Republic, the pair were the subject of outrageous rumour. This was fuelled by bizarre incidences such Lisa Marie remaining seated during a fifteen minute standing ovation for a medley performed by her husband at the 1995 MTV Music Awards, and Lisa’s declaration on Oprah (in response to doubts expressed by the media) “Do we have sex? Yes, yes, yes!”.
The most controversial, most disturbing shadows which clouded Jackson’s career were the allegations of child molestation by thirteen year old Jordan Chandler and his father Evan in 1993. These plagued him for the rest of his life, and led to speculation over the nature of his relationship with other children, such as the child star Macaulay Calkin, who has always denied any abuse. The charges were eventually dropped as the authorities cited lack of evidence, however highly suggestive indicators for Jackson’s guilt irrevocably tainted his image in the eyes of many.
Not for all however. Since the news of his death broke, sales of Jackson’s catalogue have skyrocketed; by Friday his albums occupied fourteen of the top twenty spots on Amazon.co.uk’s sales chart. The outpouring of emotion on Jackson’s official website (from which the above quote is taken) is demonstrative of the deep affection still held by his most devoted fans. Dedications range from the weird to the wonderful to the rather endearing, “To the spammers, please have some respect and stop it now!”. Messages have appeared in chinese, arabic, french and a multitude of other languages I couldn’t possibly identify, at the time of writing fully two hundred and sixty-one thousand, eight hundred and nintey-four.
Some have gone so far as to post links to tribute videos on youtube, the most committed of fans having already penned their very own songs expressing their sorrow at Jackson’s passing. Not necessarrily the most artistically sound creations, the sentiment expressed is certainly genuine nevertheless. I click on one, and the song, though no lyrical masterpiece, is to the point. Kicking off, “Michael, you died yesterday,” and continuing to the chorus “Why, why did you die?”, it is hard to tell whether or not it’s tongue in cheek or the product of a grieving fan. Either way, the fact that someone took the trouble within forty eight hours of his death to write and film an original song marking the occasion is statement enough of Jackson’s stardom. Elsewhere, less musically inclined fans have expressed their grief through poetry. Some are oddly frank in their execution: “I wasn’t a huge fan right at the start, But something about you set you apart”. In others it’s his music which is most appreciated “You were the most brilliant star in my life, You were the soundtrack to my life”. The most extreme are practically evangelical, making Jackson sound almost godlike, “He came to us on earth a while, They had His time, His trust, His gift, The sick and ill he gave a lift, He came to us from high above….”
I spoke to a diehard MJ fan. “I remember when I was sleeping outside his hotel for the World Music Awards (safer because his security team make sure you’re ok), and it was really cold and we hadn’t had any proper food for a while, and at about 1am, there were only about 5 of us there, and he bought us a load of pizza!! He did that a lot for his fans! He was very generous! I spent a day or two completely inconsolable, but now I’m just focusing of celebrating his life and remembering him for his generosity and his musical genius”.
In terms of Michael Jackson’s legacy, the consensus amongst most appears to be that his music is to be celebrated and remembered. “I know there was a lot of stuff said – it might have been true – but I’d rather not dwell on that. I think that songs like ‘Thriller’ are too good not to be enjoyed”.