The Genius of Michael Jackson
If you’re coming to see Thriller Live in London then you are probably a fan of Michael Jackson. If you’re not a fan or do not know much about his genius then you might be wondering what all the fuss is about. Why does he generate so much attention from both the public and the press? Why has he sold 1 billion records worldwide? Why is he so popular? Why make a musical about him?
Michael Jackson virtually spent his entire life performing. From the age of 6 years old he joined his 4 older brothers in a group put together by their father, and they rehearsed constantly. With performances that eventually led to the group being spotted by recording artist Gladys Knight and pianist Billy Taylor, the five brothers auditioned for Motown and were snapped up immediately. Michael was just 9 or 10 years old. He was the youngest of the brothers but with his powerful vocals and swift dance moves that emulated his hero James Brown, Michael stood out as being the one to watch.
Below is the original video of the Jackson 5′s Motown audition:
Michael’s singing talent was undeniable, but what made him become a superstar phenomenon years after he had left his brothers behind? Most child stars never repeat their success as adults, fading away into obscurity or meddling with the wrong people, but not Michael.
Throughout the Jackson Five years, whilst the older brothers would hang out with their friends or visit nightclubs in any small slither of free time they had, Michael would be studying. His studying did not consist of the usual daily lessons at school, as his was a unique kind of education. Being a part of the Motown family enabled Michael to be around legends such as Stevie Wonder, and he would carefully watch Stevie and others in the studio, seeing how they put their songs together, how they worked and wrote, asking questions and becoming immersed in the world of music. As he himself later said, ‘The best education is watching the masters at work.’ Michael only knew this too well.
Once the success of the afro-wielding brothers had started to die down, with album and single sales plummeting, a move to a new record label and a replacement younger brother stepping in, the Jacksons started to write their own material to gain creative freedom. With Michael no longer being the baby brother of the group and with years of experience behind him as a performer, he was slowly beginning to feel a sense of independence, silently wanting to break away from his brothers. The time was not yet right, however, so he put his education to practice and the Jacksons released a handful of albums on their new label Epic, with lots of songs written by themselves.
This video shows The Jacksons performing Destiny, a song written by the brothers:
In 1978, Michael Jackson started putting plans together to release a solo album. He had previously released a couple on Motown but he was still very much with the Jackson 5 at the time. This new album was to be his first as an adult. Michael was 19 going on 20 and after meeting with Quincy Jones who he was introduced to on the set of the musical The Wiz, in which Jackson played the part of the Scarecrow, he had found his producer and was ready to get started.
Off The Wall was subsequently released in 1979, and garnered three hit songs, Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough, Rock With You and She’s Out of my Life. It was a popular album of the disco genre that showcased Michael on his own with his own look, style and moves, yet it failed to make any kind of impact at the Grammys which left Michael disappointed and wondering when his time would really come to shine as a solo artist.
The trademarks we associate Michael Jackson with – the white socks, the one glove, the vocal hiccups – were all created and put together during this period of Michael’s solo creativity. Yet it wasn’t until later that people actually took notice of them and they actually became known as his trademarks. That all happened four years after the release of Off The Wall.
Due to the disappointing amount of recognition for Off The Wall, Michael knew that his next album had to be the biggest album he had done. In fact, he set his sights so high that he wanted it to be the biggest selling album of all time, and no less. His wish came true when Thriller was released in December 1982 with a string of number one hits. Two things define the Thriller period as being Michael’s most successful: first, the moonwalk and the second, the Thriller video itself.
After Michael had shown a new type of dancing that showcased his originality as a performer, album sales soared, and after the innovation of the music video as a 14 minute short film – Thriller – Michael was thrown into the stratosphere, winning a record 8 Grammys in one night and having his album become the official world’s best-selling album ever, a record still retained today.
This video shows Michael Jackson as he collects his Grammy for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance in 1984:
Michael’s later albums such as Dangerous and HIStory also sold millions and millions of copies, and his music became grittier, with themes tackling racial abuse, false accusations and environmental issues. These later albums are highly underrated and include some of Michael’s best work. He could never beat his own record, however.
It seemed that with Thriller, Michael had peaked too soon. At the age of 25 he had the world at his fingertips, yet he continued to write and compose his own songs, create inspiring and innovative short films for his singles and perform exciting and impressive dance moves. One thing that made Michael so original was his own influences. Today, you can see Michael’s influence in Usher, Ne-Yo, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé and countless others, but who was the man himself inspired by? With a range of influences from Fred Astaire to James Brown to Charlie Chaplin, Michael stood out as original because he didn’t just draw inspiration from the obvious. He took elements from his heroes and created the image of Michael Jackson, an image recognised by millions throughout the world.
As well as never-before-seen dance moves, music that moved people and videos that inspired other artists, Michael entertained and kept the public interested in him in a different way. His ever-changing appearance may have caused a stir but it certainly kept his name in the spotlight. With each era of his, he had a completely different clothing style, various hairstyles and he looked almost like a different person with each album he brought out. His ‘crazy’ behaviour in which he first planted the seed – a story about him sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber to retain his youth – took off in a way that he didn’t intend, with the tabloid press making up daily rumours about the man and concocting an image of Michael that was false. Michael originally wanted to come across as crazy to entertain the press, and yet even today some people believe him to be extremely weird when in fact it all began with a story he planted himself. Unfortunately, his changing appearance bolstered the crazy claims and gave them credibility. Yet there is no denying that Michael doesn’t think like most people do, but what geniuses do? That is why they are geniuses in the first place.
Below is Michael’s performance at the 1995 MTV Video Music Awards:
Michael knew how to keep himself popular and he was an excellent business man. You cannot just be a good singer and dancer to achieve the title of recording the biggest selling album ever and the record for the most Grammys won in one night. His genius included his song-writing ability, his talent of not just dancing, but choreographing and creating a new dance style, his natural singing voice and his ability to make sure he was never out of the spotlight, even once he had become somewhat of a recluse at his home, Neverland.
With his charity work and countless songs about helping and healing our world, Michael was a kind soul who inspired so many people, including the creator of Thriller Live, Adrian Grant. Adrian put the show together based on the love he has for the musical legend and with the legacy and great music that Michael has left behind, is sure to be a success for many years to come.