On June 25, 2009, the world was rocked with news that Michael Jackson had passed. Today, six years later, is as good a day as any to remember the man and his legacy.
There's no doubt that his memory will be forever tainted with accusations of child abuse. And I can definitely appreciate that it's important to be informed about that kind of thing, which is, obviously, completely and totally intolerable. But today, let's remember Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, for the good that he did.
And of those, there are plenty.
He was doing it from age nine
While these reports became much more well-known following his death, it's still not universally known that Michael Jackson was tormented by his parents from a very young age during his upbringing in Gary, Indiana. His parents beat him with belts and insulted his appearance. In spite of all this, though, Michael joined the Jackson Five at age 9 and led the vocals for "I Want You Back" when he was just eleven. His stage presence in the above video is...ridiculous, frankly. It's a perfect video, and it's the perfect song. There is no song that brings with it the same guarantee -- guarantee -- that I will be up and dancing like "I Want You Back" does.
He recorded the best selling album of all time - by a long shot
Conservative estimates claim that "Thriller" earned $51 million in sales, while the most ambitious estimates list the number at $65 million. The next best selling album of all time, Pink Floyd's "The Dark Side of the Moon" comes in at $45 million.
It's important to watch the full, 13-minute original music video for "Thriller" every once in a while, just to remind yourself what this man was capable of.
His smile as he happily eats popcorn in the movie theater around the 3:50 mark is one of my favorite parts... what a creep. In an entertaining way, I think.
Michael played an integral role in breaking the musical 'color barrier'
Before his songs became too enormously popular to ignore, MTV was filled with white musicians. The station was extremely hesitant to include videos and performances of African American musicians, and there isn't really anyone who doubts that the company was brutally racist in the early '80s. But Michael Jackson went a long way to change that. "Billie Jean" was the first song by an African American artist to receive heavy airtime on MTV, and it paved the way for the future popularity of artists like Prince and Donna Summer to begin to populate the channel.
Let's not forget about the music...
Yes, Michael was the perfect performer. Yes, he was a champion of race relations in the music industry (which many see as ironic, given his appearance toward the end of his life). But Michael Jackson became as huge as he did for one key, irrefutable reason: his music was amazing. Above are some of my favorites.
"Rock With You" is always on top of my list. It's everything right about the 1980s, late disco, popular R&B and Michael Jackson himself.
"Man in the Mirror" may not be my favorite Michael Jackson song, but it's influence is undeniable. Personal issues aside, Michael Jackson was a man who cared about the world and its overall well-being. "Man in the Mirror" displays this.
"We Are the World," which was written Jackson and Lionel Ritchie is one of the most touching musical performances ever created, in my opinion. It has all the great sounds of the 1980s and will forever serve as an anthem for love, peace and togetherness.
"Wanna Be Starting Something" is another of those perfect pop hits. It's the first song from "Thriller" and sets the tone for the album and, in some ways, Michael's larger body of work.
I know that there are those who cannot forgive Michael Jackson for his alleged crimes (while he was never convicted, legitimate suspicions remain). People have reservations because of the way he looked in his later years. It's not my place to tell you that you're wrong.
But what also cannot be denied is that the more you know about his childhood and the emotional and physical abuse he was exposed to as a young child, the easier it is to explain things like his appearance. Some things - like the criminal allegations - can not be excused. No amount of abuse a child experiences will ever legitimize further subjugation of abuse, and that goes without exception. But his physical appearance and confidence were undoubtedly compromised by his parents. It's important to be informed.
The reality remains: Michael Jackson was the greatest musician the world has ever seen, hands down. No one understood the intricacies of pop music like Michael Jackson did, and it's difficult to imagine any other musician captivating an audience as wide as Michael Jackson managed. His music and his dancing (the man invented the robot and the moonwalk...), his production, his costumes, his influence - it's all completely unmeasurable. I can be in any kind of mood, and putting Michael Jackson will put a smile on my face immediately. So for that, he will be forever remembered in a positive light in my eyes.
Rest easy, Michael. You will never die.