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Published on March 22nd, 2010 | by Yellow Magpie

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Michael Jackson: Personae’s Of A Talented But Controversial Superstar

Slick, determined, and in search of perfection, Michael Jackson was the ultimate performer. Dogged and resolute on achieving his dreams, Jackson changed the face of music forever. Redefining and reinventing a new landscape, he managed to merge the best of television, dance and music into a sumptuous blend resulting in a brilliant art-form. He did so while creating two completely different people in the process.

Visual Revolution

The 1980s made the already renowned Michael Jackson a superstar and he returned the favour by changing not only the direction that music was headed towards, but revolutionised its performance by making it visual. Under Jackson, music was no longer confined to just instrumental and aural arrangements. Instead, through the use of video, Michael Jackson managed to do what no one had done before him, create spectacular and fantastical videos that brought the magic of his music to life.

With feet that appeared to effortlessly glide across the floor, Jackson became the perfect vehicle to launch the new dawn of Music Television, MTV.

It is important to draw attention to what the norm was pre-Jackson. In essence, music videos did not exist. The only music to grace the small screen was footage of bands dryly performing their songs. This rather anemic approach meant that there was a lack of any creativity and expression. With no room to convey the meaning of the lyrics or to tell stories, the medium was highly stunted. Habituated by facial expressions and gestures, the best music performances were operatic in nature. While this is wonderfully apt in theatres and concert halls, it appears to be stagnant and visually dull on television.

Michael Jackson, taking the most of the opportunities presented by MTV, changed the dynamic of the music industry forever. Music videos were no longer confined to dull visuals. Instead the visuals accompanied the tempo providing an visceral assault on the senses.

In a way, Jackson was not revolutionising the genre but rather reinventing it through refinement. Highly inspired by dance routines from both classical Hollywood and big hit musicals, Michael Jackson used the freedom of the movable camera to dramatic effect. This included the viewer in the action and gave a much more fluid experience.

Vocal Unicity

It would be fair to say that Michael Jackson was not the greatest of vocalists. His voice did not possess a seductively rich timbre. Nor was it capable of hitting booming notes, the bread and butter of singers like Elvis Presley or, Queen’s Freddy Mercury.

However, what it did have was a sensitive fragility and a unique authenticity. Coupled with his introduction of  high pitched clipped screeches (what is now know as ‘vocal hiccups’), Jackson created a brand. With such a trademark sound, Jackson’s bona fide credentials as a unique performer were all but cast in concrete.

Dancing Deftness

However, to just concentrate solely on his voice would be to miss the meaning of Michael Jackson. What Jackson lacked in vocal ability, he more than compensated with his dancing prowess. Astronomically talented, no doubt due a strong work ethic, Jackson revolutionised dancing. Although the ‘Moon Walk’ had existed before it was shown to the world by Jackson, he completely refined it and made it his own. With flawless technique, whetted by countless hours of practice, Michael Jackson brought a fluidity to dancing that few people could match.

All of his talents were keenly accentuated by one rare quality. Discernment. Jackson possessed a discriminating eye for, not just detail, but for maintaining consistent standards of excellence. Invariably, all artists find their voice, their self-expression, their romanticism, through gruelling refinement and repetition.  It is through these processes that artistry lies.

Cinematic Music Videos

Michael Jackson’s music videos were dazzling filmic vignettes. Dramatic and highly choreographed, his videos not so much moved musical  boundaries as demolished them. Jackson placed great emphasis on aesthetics and visual impact. Not content to provide mere theatricality, he sought to make each film a great spectacle.

Thriller is perhaps the zenith of his work. Full of drama, the video spared no expense, hiring a large cast who each had to be clad in specialist make-up. Thriller builds upon each scene to further the plot and deliver the drama.


Public Persona Versus Stage Individualism

As the film This Is It showed, Michael Jackson was far more than his public persona suggested. It may strain credulity but Jackson had two very distinct personae. In public he was quiet, seemingly lost in the rather large world. Physically, his movements were smaller, and especially towards the latter part of his life he looked incredibly frail and delicate. His voice was high pitched, like that of a young boy’s. Nevertheless, his on-stage persona could not be more different from his public face.

Michael Jackson in performance-mode was a completely different person. If frail and delicate were the by-words for his public identity then powerful and commanding were the most apt words to describe him in performance mode. With a voice that was rich and deep, Jackson sounded like a totally dissimilar person. Instead of being someone who appeared to be at the mercy of others, on-stage, Jackson was the decision-maker. A larger than life character who had charisma and super-star presence, Michael Jackson had an amazing ability to effortlessly capture the attention of those around him.

Although Jackson was the centre of notice, regardless of whether he was in performance mode or public mode, there was a clear distinction in the way that people reacted to him depending on which setting he was in. Those who worked closely with him while performing and rehearsing concerts were not only in awe of him, but also had a tremendous respect for him. This contrasted strongly with the manic adulation that Jackson received from members of the public.

Michael Jackson

Who Was The Real Michael Jackson?

In a sense, all aspects of a person that can be seen by other people is a mask, a facade, or a piece of fiction. Michael Jackson was no different in that respect. However, what was different was the stark contrasts between his two distinct characters. One could ask questions such as ‘Which was the real Michael Jackson?’ and go for either one. But the truth is that the two personae were constructs. Both were real and both were false.

A much more interesting question would be to ask ‘Why did Michael Jackson create his public personality and why did he not transpose his stage persona upon his public veneer?’ He could have been that larger-than-life figure off-stage. He could have removed his high-pitched voice, disbanded his frail physical movements and spoke with authority.

Instead he chose not to. He chose to retreat from life and become almost reclusive. Whether this duality was immediate or was the result of gradually retreating more and more throughout the years is hard to say. One thing is certain, whether caused by a destructive childhood or by choice, the chasm between both became enormous.

Milestones In The Life Of Michael Jackson

  • Born Michael Joseph Jackson to Katherine Esther Scruse and Joseph Walter Jackson in Gary, Indiana, on August 29, 1958.
  • Joseph Jackson was abusive towards his children. Undoubtedly, this abuse had long-term effects on Michael.
  • In 1964 he made his debut as the lead singer in The Jackson 5.
  • In 1971 he commenced his solo career.
  • 1982 saw Thriller released. Songs such as ‘Billie Jean’ and ‘Beat It’ and the eponymously named ‘Thriller’ propelled Jackson to stardom. Thriller became the most successful album of all time. So far it has sold over 110 million copies.
  • During the 1980s Jackson was diagnosed with lupus and vitiligo . Together, both of these diseases, and the necessary treatment required resulted in the pale complexion which saw his skin change from brown to an unnatural snow-white.
  • After feeding the media sensationalist and untrue stories to gain publicity, Jackson became a victim of his own tactics and gained the moniker ‘Wacko Jacko’.
  • In 1991 Jackson released the album Dangerous. Like Thriller, it too was a huge hit selling 32 million copies. Songs such as ‘Black or White’, ‘Remember the Time’ and ‘Heal the World’ were some of the standout tracks.
  • The 1995 album History was less popular than previous albums but still managed to sell a staggering 20 million copies worldwide. Songs such as ‘You are not alone’ and the ‘Earth Song’ were the pick of the album. History was accompanied by a record-breaking tour. Grossing over $165 million, the series of concerts spanned 35 countries and five continents.
  • Jackson had two child sexual abuse allegations levelled against him.
  • The first concerned a 13 year old boy, Jordan Chandler and his dentist father, Evan Chandler. Although this case was settled out of court, the claim has been discredited. The second child abuse case was brought against Jackson in 2005. Jackson was acquitted on all charges.
  • Michael Jackson died on June 25, 2009. It later emerged that Jackson died after being administered an anesthetic by his personal physician, Dr. Conrad Murray.
  • Dr. Conrad Murray has sunsequently been charged with the involuntary manslaughter of Michael Jackson.
  • Jackson’s sister, Janet, has confirmed that Michael Jackson had a long standing drug problem and noted that there had been many attempts at interventions.

A Legacy Left Premature

Michael Jackson redefined the meaning of success. Through craft and an endless quest for perfection he transpired to change the visuals of music. His death at only 50 years of age and his incredible fitness levels are indicative that he died needlessly. Jackson, despite the controversies (some of his own making), will leave behind a legacy that will secure him a place in history. ‘The King of Pop’ may be dead but like Elvis his spirit lives on.

Highly Recommended

For a look at a seldom seen aspect of Michael Jackson, This Is It is an ideal place to start. Here is Yellow Magpie’s review of the film.

For another take on Michael Jackson’s world check out Yellow Magpie’s Michael Jackson’s Secret Hollywood TV Review: The Sordid Reality Of Jackson’s Life.


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