Michael Joseph Jackson (August 29, 1958 – June 25, 2009) was an American singer-songwriter, dancer, businessman and philanthropist. Often referred to by the honorific nickname "King of Pop", or by his initials MJ, Jackson is recognized as the most successful entertainer of all time by Guinness World Records. His contributions to music, dance, and fashion, along with his publicized personal life, made him a global figure in popular culture for over four decades.
The eighth child of the Jackson family, he debuted on the professional music scene along with his brothers as a member of The Jackson 5 in 1964, and began his solo career in 1971. In the early 1980s, Jackson became the dominant figure in popular music. The music videos for his songs, including those of "Beat It," "Billie Jean," and "Thriller," were credited with breaking down racial barriers and transforming the medium into an art form and promotional tool. The popularity of these videos helped to bring the then relatively new television channel MTV to fame. With videos such as "Black or White" and "Scream" he continued to innovate the medium throughout the 1990s, as well as forging a reputation as a touring solo artist. Through stage and video performances, Jackson popularized a number of complicated dance techniques, such as the robot, and the moonwalk, to which he gave the name. His distinctive sound and style has influenced numerous hip hop, post-disco, contemporary R&B, pop, and rock artists.
Jackson's 1982 album Thriller is the best-selling album of all time. His other records, including Off the Wall (1979), Bad (1987), Dangerous (1991), and HIStory (1995), also rank among the world's best-selling. Jackson is one of the few artists to have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice. He was also inducted into the Dance Hall of Fame as the first and only dancer from pop and rock music. Some of his other achievements include multiple Guinness World Records; 13 Grammy Awards as well as the Grammy Legend Award and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award; 26 American Music Awards, more than any other artist, including the "Artist of the Century" and "Artist of the 1980s"; 13 number-one singles in the United States in his solo career, more than any other male artist in the Hot 100 era; and the estimated sale of over 400 million records worldwide.[Note 1] Jackson has won hundreds of awards, making him the most-awarded recording artist in the history of popular music. In what would have been Jackson's 52nd birthday on August 29, 2010, he became the most downloaded artist of all time. Jackson constantly traveled the world attending events honoring his humanitarianism and the 2000 Guinness Book of Records recognized him for supporting 39 charities.
Aspects of Jackson's personal life, including his changing appearance, personal relationships, and behavior, generated controversy. In the mid-1990s, he was accused of child sexual abuse, but the case was settled out of court for about $25 million and no formal charges were brought. In 2005, he was tried and acquitted of further child sexual abuse allegations and several other charges after the jury found him not guilty on all counts. While preparing for his comeback concert series titled This Is It, Jackson died of acute propofol and benzodiazepine intoxication on June 25, 2009, after suffering from cardiac arrest. The Los Angeles County Coroner ruled his death a homicide, and his personal physician was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. Jackson's death triggered a global outpouring of grief and a live broadcast of his public memorial service was viewed around the world
Jackson's music took root in R&B, pop and soul. He had been influenced by the work of musicians such as Little Richard, James Brown, Jackie Wilson, Diana Ross, Fred Astaire, Sammy Davis, Jr., Gene Kelly, David Ruffin, The Isley Brothers, the Bee Gees and the West Side Story dancers, to whom he made a tribute in "Beat It" and in the "Bad" video. According to David Winters, who met and befriended Jackson while choreographing the 1971 Diana Ross TV Special "Diana!", (which was also Jackson's first solo debut outside of The Jackson 5), Jackson watched West Side Story almost every week and it was his favorite film.
While Little Richard had a substantial influence on Jackson, James Brown was Jackson's greatest inspiration. In reference to Brown, Jackson declared: "Ever since I was a small child, no more than like six years old, my mother would wake me no matter what time it was, if I was sleeping, no matter what I was doing, to watch the television to see the master at work. And when I saw him move, I was mesmerized. I had never seen a performer perform like James Brown, and right then and there I knew that was exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life because of James Brown."
The young Michael Jackson owed his vocal technique in large part to Diana Ross. Not only a mother figure to him, she was often observed in rehearsal as an accomplished performer. He later expressed: "I got to know her well. She taught me so much. I used to just sit in the corner and watch the way she moved. She was art in motion. I studied the way she moved, the way she sang – just the way she was." He told her: "I want to be just like you, Diana." She said: "You just be yourself." But Jackson owed part of his enduring style—especially his use of the oooh interjection—to Ross. From a young age, Jackson often punctuated his verses with a sudden exclamation of oooh. Diana Ross had used this effect on many of the songs recorded with The Supremes.
Musical themes and genres
Unlike many artists, Jackson did not write his songs on paper. Instead he would dictate into a sound recorder, and when recording he would sing the lyrics from memory. In most of his songs, such as "Billie Jean", "Who Is It", and "Tabloid Junkie", he would beatbox and imitate the instruments using his voice instead of playing the actual instruments, along with other sounds. Jackson noted that it is easier to sing a drum line, or sing a bass, instead of playing a drum line or a bass with an instrument. Several critics have said that Jackson's distinct voice was able to replace any instrument convincingly. Steve Huey of Allmusic said that, throughout his solo career, Jackson's versatility allowed him to experiment with various themes and genres. As a musician, he ranged from Motown's dance fare and ballads to techno and house-edged new jack swing to work that incorporates both funk rhythms and hard rock guitar.
According to Huey, Thriller refined the strengths of Off the Wall; the dance and rock tracks were more aggressive, while the pop tunes and ballads were softer and more soulful. Notable tracks included the ballads "The Lady in My Life", "Human Nature" and "The Girl Is Mine"; the funk pieces "Billie Jean" and "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'"; and the post-disco set "Baby Be Mine" and "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)". With Thriller, Christopher Connelly of Rolling Stone commented that Jackson developed his long association with the subliminal theme of paranoia and darker imagery. Allmusic's Stephen Thomas Erlewine noted this is evident on the songs "Billie Jean" and "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'". In "Billie Jean", Jackson sings about an obsessive fan who alleges he has fathered a child of hers.
In "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" he argues against gossip and the media. "Beat It" decried gang violence in an homage to West Side Story, and was Jackson's first successful rock cross-over piece, according to Huey. He also observed that the title track "Thriller" began Jackson's interest with the theme of the supernatural, a topic he revisited in subsequent years. In 1985, Jackson co-wrote the charity anthem "We Are the World"; humanitarian themes later became a recurring theme in his lyrics and public persona.In Bad, Jackson's concept of the predatory lover can be seen on the rock song "Dirty Diana". The lead single "I Just Can't Stop Loving You" is a traditional love ballad, while "Man in the Mirror" is an anthemic ballad of confession and resolution.
"Smooth Criminal" was an evocation of bloody assault, rape and likely murder. Allmusic's Stephen Thomas Erlewine states that Dangerous presents Jackson as a very paradoxical individual. He comments the album is more diverse than his previous Bad, as it appeals to an urban audience while also attracting the middle class with anthems like "Heal the World". The first half of the record is dedicated to new jack swing, including songs like "Jam" and "Remember the Time". The album is Jackson's first where social ills become a primary theme; "Why You Wanna Trip on Me", for example, protests against world hunger, AIDS, homelessness and drugs. Dangerous contains sexually charged efforts such as the multifaceted love song, "In the Closet".
The title track continues the theme of the predatory lover and compulsive desire. The second half includes introspective, pop-gospel anthems such as "Will You Be There", "Heal the World" and "Keep the Faith"; these songs show Jackson opening up about various personal struggles and worries. In the ballad "Gone Too Soon", Jackson gives tribute to his friend Ryan White and the plight of those with AIDS.HIStory creates an atmosphere of paranoia. Its content focuses on the hardships and public struggles Jackson went through just prior to its production. In the new jack swing-funk-rock efforts "Scream" and "Tabloid Junkie", along with the R&B ballad "You Are Not Alone", Jackson retaliates against the injustice and isolation he feels, and directs much of his anger at the media.
In the introspective ballad "Stranger in Moscow", Jackson laments over his "fall from grace", while songs like "Earth Song", "Childhood", "Little Susie" and "Smile" are all operatic pop pieces. In the track "D.S.", Jackson launched a verbal attack against Tom Sneddon. He describes Sneddon as an antisocial, white supremacist who wanted to "get my ass, dead or alive". Of the song, Sneddon said, "I have not—shall we say—done him the honor of listening to it, but I've been told that it ends with the sound of a gunshot". Invincible found Jackson working heavily with producer Rodney Jerkins. It is a record made up of urban soul like "Cry" and "The Lost Children", ballads such as "Speechless", "Break of Dawn" and "Butterflies" and mixes hip-hop, pop and R&B in "2000 Watts", "Heartbreaker" and "Invincible".
Jackson sang from childhood, and over time his voice and vocal style changed noticeably. Between 1971 and 1975, Jackson's voice descended from boy soprano to high tenor. His vocal range as an adult was F2-E♭6. Jackson first used a technique called the "vocal hiccup" in 1973, starting with the song "It's Too Late to Change the Time" from The Jackson 5's G.I.T.: Get It Together album. Jackson did not use the hiccup technique— somewhat like a gulping for air or gasping— fully until the recording of Off the Wall: it can be seen in full force in the "Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)" promotional video. With the arrival of Off the Wall in the late 1970s, Jackson's abilities as a vocalist were well regarded.
At the time, Rolling Stone compared his vocals to the "breathless, dreamy stutter" of Stevie Wonder. Their analysis was also that "Jackson's feathery-timbred tenor is extraordinarily beautiful. It slides smoothly into a startling falsetto that's used very daringly". 1982 saw the release of Thriller, and Rolling Stone was of the opinion that Jackson was then singing in a "fully adult voice" that was "tinged by sadness".A distinctive deliberate mispronunciation of "come on", used frequently by Jackson, occasionally spelled "c'mon", "cha'mone" or "shamone", is also a staple in impressions and caricatures of him.
The turn of the 1990s saw the release of the introspective album Dangerous. The New York Times noted that on some tracks, "he gulps for breath, his voice quivers with anxiety or drops to a desperate whisper, hissing through clenched teeth" and he had a "wretched tone". When singing of brotherhood or self-esteem the musician would return to "smooth" vocals. When commenting on Invincible, Rolling Stone were of the opinion that—at the age of 43—Jackson still performed "exquisitely voiced rhythm tracks and vibrating vocal harmonies". Nelson George summed up Jackson's vocals by stating "The grace, the aggression, the growling, the natural boyishness, the falsetto, the smoothness—that combination of elements mark him as a major vocalist".
Music videos and choreography
Jackson has also been referred to as the King of Music Videos, Steve Huey of Allmusic observed how 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. Before Thriller, Jackson struggled to receive coverage on MTV, allegedly because he was African American. Pressure from CBS Records persuaded MTV to start showing "Billie Jean" and later "Beat It", leading to a lengthy partnership with Jackson, also helping other black music artists gain recognition. MTV employees deny any racism in their coverage, or pressure to change their stance. MTV maintains that they played rock music, regardless of race. The popularity of his videos on MTV helped to put the relatively young channel "on the map"; MTV's focus shifted in favor of pop and R&B.
His performance on Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever changed the scope of live stage show; "That Jackson lip-synced 'Billie Jean' is, in itself, not extraordinary, but the fact that it did not change the impact of the performance is extraordinary; whether the performance was live or lip-synced made no difference to the audience" thus creating an era in which artists re-create the spectacle of music video imagery on stage. Short films like Thriller largely remained unique to Jackson, while the group dance sequence in "Beat It" has frequently been imitated. The choreography in Thriller has become a part of global pop culture, replicated everywhere from Indian films to prisons in the Philippines. The Thriller short film marked an increase in scale for music videos, and has been named the most successful music video ever by the Guinness World Records.
In the 19-minute music video for "Bad"—directed by Martin Scorsese—Jackson began using sexual imagery and choreography not previously seen in his work. He occasionally grabbed or touched his chest, torso and crotch. When asked by Oprah in the 1993 interview about why he grabbed his crotch, he replied, "I think it happens subliminally" and he described it as something that was not planned, but rather, as something that was compelled by the music. "Bad" garnered a mixed reception from both fans and critics; Time magazine described it as "infamous". The video also featured Wesley Snipes; in the future Jackson's videos would often feature famous cameo roles. For the "Smooth Criminal" video, Jackson experimented with an anti-gravity lean where the performer leans forward at a 45 degree angle, beyond the performer's center of gravity. To accomplish this move live, Jackson and designers developed a special shoe that locks the performer's feet to the stage, allowing them to lean forward. They were granted U.S. Patent 5,255,452 for the device. Although the music video for "Leave Me Alone" was not officially released in the US, in 1989, it was nominated for three Billboard Music Video Awards; the same year it won a Golden Lion Award for the quality of the special effects used in its production. In 1990, "Leave Me Alone" won a Grammy for Best Music Video, Short Form.
He received the MTV Video Vanguard Award in 1988 and the MTV Video Vanguard Artist of the Decade Award in 1990 to celebrate his accomplishments in the art form in the 1980s; in 1991 the first award was renamed in his honor. "Black or White" was accompanied by a controversial music video, which, on November 14, 1991, simultaneously premiered in 27 countries with an estimated audience of 500 million people, the largest viewing ever for a music video at that time. It featured scenes construed as having a sexual nature as well as depictions of violence. The offending scenes in the final half of the 14-minute version were edited out to prevent the video from being banned, and Jackson apologized. Along with Jackson, it featured Macaulay Culkin, Peggy Lipton and George Wendt. It helped usher in morphing as an important technology in music videos.
"Remember the Time" was an elaborate production, and became one of his longest videos at over nine minutes. Set in ancient Egypt, it featured groundbreaking visual effects and appearances by Eddie Murphy, Iman and Magic Johnson, along with a distinct complex dance routine. The video for "In the Closet" was Jackson's most sexually provocative piece. It featured supermodel Naomi Campbell in a courtship dance with Jackson. The video was banned in South Africa because of its imagery.
The music video for "Scream", directed by Mark Romanek and production designer Tom Foden, 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" 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, wars end, and the forests re-grow. Released in 1997 and premiering at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival, Michael Jackson's Ghosts was a short film written by Jackson and Stephen King and directed by Stan Winston. The video for Ghosts is over 38 minutes long and holds the Guinness World Record as the world's longest music video..[12