Commentary: 10 Lessons we learned from the death of Michael Jackson

06.25.10 7 years ago

Michael Jackson died last year on this same day, June 25, 2010. It’s been a weird year since. We’ve learned a lot about the pop star as a person and a performer, and a lot of lessons on bad class in the media.

Below, I outline some thoughts I had about what can be taken away from the time since.

  • For an artist of his size and caliber, one year is about enough time for ones reputation to lose the negativity and indiscretions of his past

Financially, Michael Jackson”s death is one of the best things to ever happen to him. His estate brought in close to $1 billion, which will help out on that whole $400 million of debt thing.
MJ is worth a lot. But as for his role in greater culture and society, MJ was rightly, immediately put on a pedestal as a pioneer in entertainment, for his voice and dancing, his mesh of musical styles, his many firsts for African-Americans, the videos, philanthropy and message of peace, fashion, live performances and the love of his fans.
In my mind, and many others, despite the uneven qualities of “This Is It” and the quotes from his lwayers and people closest to him, I”m positive he was gonna do those 50 shows in London. By the look of things, he was ready for his comeback, which makes his death that much more tragic, and diminishes the images of early-2000s Michael and replaces them with the fresh face of “Ben” or the red jacket flash of “Thriller” and the hope of what would have been.
The placeholders, then, will be in the Cirque du Soleil shows, the album or albums of unreleased material, archival videos or photos of MJ memories yet unseen. It”s only been a year, but there”s still so much to know about Michael Jackson posthumously.
  • … Or not.

“Michael Jackson instantly left behind an untarnished legacy,” say people who stand to benefit from Michael Jackson”s legacy.
Everyone can agree that MJ”s eccentric past wasn”t always rosy.
While comparisons are made of between Jackson and say, Elvis, his struggle even starting back in 1993 was that he was accused of inappropriately touching young boys. Elvis died overweight, past his prime and, too, a massive drug abuser. Alleged pedophilia is a tough rake to shake. One can”t think of the Neverland Ranch, in all its intended good will, without thinking of its ties to the stories repeated in the media, through the trials and into the mid-2000s. Neverland will likely be sold, it won”t and can”t become his Graceland. For as many articles and posts and reports that will show that MJ is a saint, there will still be the commenters at the bottom of each saying “Yeah, but…”
It”d be a kindness to move on from those times and to remember Jackson for his music, message and moves, but part of his legacy, now, too is his kids. All eyes are sure to be on Prince (13), Paris (12) and Blanket (8), set to enter into private school in the fall. Everyone remembers the middle child stepping to the microphone, crying, during his memorial last July. Little homemade videos popped up on YouTube earlier this year, which indicate that they”re just normal kids, but also heirs to a multi-million dollar estate whose private media somehow leaked to the masses. We hope for their “normalcy”; but any dysfunction therein would also reflect badly on MJ”s legacy.
And there are still depths to be explored about Jackson”s extensive drug use, which will rattle out in court during the criminal trial of Dr. Conrad Murray. That will not conclude for at least another few months.
  • Radio knows when to step it up
Or step back. Several terrestrial stations switched their format to “All-MJ, All the Time” for a day or two after learning of his death, even up through the weekend after. Today, sitting here in Brooklyn, I”ve walked past shops blaring their radios of stations doing the same for the day – granted, not as many, or with MJ tracks mixed in, but still. It still won”t save the non-Top 40, A/C or Talk radio stations, but still it”s a nice homage to an artist that had so many fans dialing in to begin with.
  • Joe Jackson has no shame
This is a lesson we kind of already knew. But the death of father Joe Jackson”s son further muddies the waters between self-promotion and legacy-guarding, mixed in with genuine mourning (of son and lifelong cash cow).
It was formally announced today that Joe is suing Conrad Murray for wrongful death, even though his criminal trial has yet to take place. But still, the move seems like a hollow attempt to get in legal good graces with the Jackson estate: MJ only named mother Katherine and his children as his heirs in his will – not Joe, not his siblings. Joe, meanwhile, has been taking lawyers for the estate to court in order to, say, get a $15,000/mo. Stipend, or to allow Gary, Ind. to erect a museum campus to Michael Jackson when he doesn”t even have rights to use MJ”s image.
Eyes rolled when Joe promoted his own record company mere days after Michael”s death, in news conferences and even on the red carpet of the July 7 memorial. And earlier this month, Joe said comments that insinuated he blames Katherine for Michael”s death, for not sending Michael into rehab at his behest. And then he blamed Michael”s “This Is It” concert promoter AEG for hiring Murray. This, from a man and father that beat his son as a child, according to MJ himself.
  • Drugs are bad, kids
It seems somehow incongruent with Michael Jackson”s character that he had such a deep and seemingly unbounded use of drugs, where in his last 9 hours alive, according to testimony from Conrad Murray, that he was administered four sleep aides, sedatives and anti-anxiety meds, including that last does of anesthetic propofol. MJ used fake names to have prescriptions filled; he had fired doctors before for not filling these. For someone with a healthy-looking dancer”s body, ready for a string of 50-dates, MJ”s heart was failing in part to his drug abuse.
  • A new single release after death does not guarantee its adoption on large scale
Everyone got all excited that “This Is It,” the previously unreleased song, was dropping. Then they heard it. It was underwhelming. It peaked at No. 18 on Billboard”s Hot Adult Contemporary and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop tracks, and then disappeared in under a month.
  • Janet stands out publicly as the classy one
Everyone with association to Michael Jackson had something to say or do after his death, from his relatives to Paris Hilton. It was hard for any of it not to come off as opportunistic (hey, Joe). Jackson”s brothers completed their reality series “The Jacksons: A Family Dynasty” for A&E, complete with episodes spent mulling their brothers death. La Toya continues to beat the drum that her brother was murdered (and not the homicide of an accidental overdose, but a larger conspiracy) and has been making the rounds on talk shows.
Of the famous Jackson siblings, Janet seems to be making some progress while keeping it classy. She did a performance of she and her brother”s “Scream” at the MTV Music Awards, said some nice comments on BET and on the occasional night news show, and she let it be. She didn”t release her single “Make Me” on the coattails of his death, but kept it on the course of her hits compilation singles schedule. She was said even before MJ”s death to be an involved auntie to his kids. She”s been tapped for a movie role in Tyler Perry”s next “serious” project. She”s moving on without trying to getting her claws into politics (or the will).
  • Michael Jackson was big enough to change the rules
The Billboard 200 rules, that is.
OK, with a little help from The Beatles.
While it”s no new thing that the charts magazine adjusts its rules to new wisdom and data – digital album sales factoring in to the ultimate number, being another example – up until MJ”s death and the Beatle digital remasters, catalog albums wouldn”t qualify to re-enter the chart. That changed in the fall, so that scant sales of new albums wouldn”t eclipse the success of artists” major releases chart-wise when they bounce back.
  • It won”t be settled for a good long while which of MJ”s hits will remain best-known
Taking from the same carriage, Billboard says “Say Say Say” is the King of Pop”s No. 1 Billboard Hit. A song penned by Paul McCartney, shared with Paul McCartney?
But that”s just based on Billboard”s old radio and charting stats. “Billie Jean” seems to still be the most recognized, though “I”ll Be There” and “I Want You Back” from the Jackson 5 and “Man in the Mirror” has made a hell of a resurgence in the past year. 
  • God forbid, we may get tired of Michael Jackson over the next seven years
That $200 million deal with Sony? 10 recording projects through 2017.
Every other year seems to have a “vital” reissue, remaster, deluxe behind-the-scenes outing, rehashes of artists like, say, the Beatles, Elvis, Madonna, Bob Marley, Pink Floyd, even Radiohead or Pearl Jam.
Expect hype around a “Thriller” re-release, an unreleased songs album, behind-the-scenes DVD footage, anniversary reissues.

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