Michael Jackson is Back. But For How Long?

Johnny Loftus

After the wholesale failures of HIStory and Dangerous, and his increasing reliance on foreign sales receipts to purchase Neverland’s animal feed, it seemed unlikely that Michael Jackson would ever again rise to Thriller levels in the hearts, minds, and dancing feet of Americans. In fact, Jackson’s tenuous grip to his King of Pop throne was seemingly strengthened only by screaming throngs of Japanese schoolgirls (always an impressionable lot — remember, this is the same demographic that went rabid for teen albums by Alyssa Milano and Alanis Morrissette…) and the occasional US fan who, most likely, was also an avid watcher of “Wings” and “Coach” — two long-running sitcoms that no one ever admitted to actually viewing. Nevertheless, Invincible, the latest unassumingly-titled effort by Michael Jackson — and his first new studio album since 1992 — will debut at #1 on next week’s Billboard chart, bolstered by first-week sales of over 360,000 units. Taking into consideration the prevailing cultural view of Jackson as a guy just a few slices short of a loaf, his new album’s early success might suggest it a new name — Inconceivable.

Even his stable of high-priced producers admit the difficulty in navigating the hills and valleys of Jackson’s oeuvre to discover the trail to success with today’s youth. “It’s real weird to see a new generation accepting Mike,” said Rodney Jerkins, guru producer of Brandy, Britney, and now The Gloved One. “That was the mission for all of us [while making the album]: ‘How do we get the younger kids?'” And Jerkins didn’t mess around. His beats for Invincible’s lead single “You Rock My World” find Michael Hee-Hee’ing and Shah-mon’ing over a punchy backing track and a great mid-song loop that will definitely blow up in the clubs. And yet, if you dropped Blu Cantrell or R.Kelly vocals onto the track, it would be just as successful. Despite the best efforts of Jerkins and his hotshot mates, there’s nothing in Jackson’s new work that is as seamless as his 80s heyday. An invisible barrier separates Michael’s trademark MS-DOS vocal delivery from his albums’ Windows XP production techniques, making communication between the two impossible. The hype is in place, sure. There’s a longform music video with big Hollywood stars and extended dance moves. Chris Tucker stops by for a skit or two. And there’s a promotional budget that overtakes the GNP of Finland. But at the heart of it all is a frail-looking eccentric who — whether by his excesses or idiosyncrasies, scandals or disappearing acts — has distanced himself from, er, himself, as well as the American Pop audience.

There’s a pained look in George W Bush’s eyes when he addresses “the ‘maircun people.” He puts on a brave face and makes a go of it, but you get the feeling that he’d rather be back at the D.C. Hooters, pounding hot wings and grabbing waitresses’ asses. It’s similar with Michael Jackson. He’s appeared on the VMAs, TRL, concert specials, and has even waved to his fans (seriously — where did they all come from?) in Times Square. But watching his expression shift from grimace, to sweet smile, to glazed fear, and back to bashful grimace, you can’t shake the notion that The King of Pop would much rather be feeding the goats back at Neverland, or at least hanging out in ultra-moderne downtown Tokyo, where even a swan-clad Bjork wouldn’t get a second look.

He might not have to worry about it much longer.

Invincible‘s big daddy status might not last longer than a few weeks. Britney’s shitstorm of a new album will likely sucker punch Jackson with a giant boxing glove shaped like a dollar sign. After all, Jive Records/Spears have at least as much money as Michael, and they didn’t have to pay off Tito to appear on that Jackson 5 reunion special. It will be interesting to see how long Jackson’s newfound connection to today’s record-buying youth lasts. Because even when he tries to be, Michael just isn’t like the other guys.

Jam on it.


14 thoughts on “I WANNA ROCK WITH YOU — PLEASE?”

  1. Hmmm, in college I used to have an entire wall of my apartment covered with the same poster of Alyssa Milano in a hockey jersey over and over. And we all know where I stand on Alanis. Does that make me Japanese?

  2. I am ashamed to admit that in 1982 I owned and actualy wore a sequined white glove. I also owned a plether knock off of Mike’s “Thriller” era jacket. But hey, everybody was doin’ it. Now if I could find that old pair of mirrored sunglasses. hmmmmm

  3. Mike is a fascinating person — almost a caricature, a cartoon character really. We’ve been debating about whether it’s humorous/amusing or more sad/disturbing. He is certainly a cultural icon of sorts, and has a genius in his ability to reach the public, from the days of the Jackson Five, to Thriller, to Bad, to Invincible…just wonder what Mike is really like, what he’s really thinking under all of his personas, his plastic face…PS — Johnny Loftus rocks!!

  4. My most significant ‘Thriller’ related memory is taking the LP to a party at school in the fourth grade – it went over very well with the girls. And so the seeds of my own rock star status were planted…

  5. My first Thriller experience is also very clear. I was probably in the first or second grade (what year did it come out?), and we had a babysitter, who watching MTV (probably one of my first MTV experiences, too), and the Thriller video came on. I remember finding it really scary but also intriguing. My younger brother was scared and went to bed, but the babysitter let me stay up and watch more MTV.– Sarah What does anyone else think of the Alien Ant Farm cover of Smooth Criminal — we think it’s pretty cool…

  6. Why won’t MJ just do a straight Soul record? Could he still? What if Rick Rubin stepped in? When older artists TRY to stay relevant they tend to fall off the map. Why don’t they just do what they do best?

  7. Does anyone make straight soul records anymore? Even artists who get a lot of critical praise (Maxwell, Jill Scott, Faith Evans) still sound pretty fucking slick and synthesized to me. What are Steve Cropper and Booker T up to these days?

  8. Normally I’m not one to espouse conspiracy theories, but I’m not buying the throngs of crying/cheering fans, or the #1 slot in record sales. I’d like all 360,000 owners of “Invincible” to take one giant step forward please. Hey Michael – what’s in that semi trailer parked out on the ranch? Hey, wait a minute…


    Let me tel u sumthing….

    Dangerous has sold 28million copies…


    HIStory has sold 15 million copies

    now would you call those FAILURES?

  10. Just as McDonalds selling a gazillion hamburgers to those who don’t know any better doesn’t make it a great restaurant, Michael Jackson selling a gazillion records to those who don’t know any better doesn’t make him a great artist. Off The Wall was a great pop album, and Thriller, well, though not to my taste, certainly was a tremendous musical economic achievement. Unfortunately, Michael then went “Elvis”, literally and figuratively. He married a Presley to disguise his obviously confused sexuality and began to suck in the same way Elvis did after he caught a glimpse of The Beatles. Both became passe well before their time and spent and are spending the remainder of their careers in pathetic comeback attempts. At least Elvis could admit he had become irrelevant. Jackson still seems to delude himself that he is a noteworthy recording artist instead of the punchline to a joke. The hubris necessary to give yourself a title like “King of Pop” is all you need to know about what a damaged personality he is. R.I.P. Michael Jackson, guilty or not. What is sad is he didn’t know when he’d become dated. What is comical is that he still doesn’t.

  11. I love You Michael. You are a good person. I love “You are not Alone”(even though i cry everytime I hear it). I was about 6 or 7 when that song came out.

  12. Michael Jackson, Keep your head up and stay strong. You’re gonna make it. Just call on Jesus and he’ll hear you.(I’m serious.)Oh yeah, i want to go to neverland someday. It seems like a fun place.

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