Here’s a clip of Michael Jackson with a song from his most popular album, 1982’s Thriller. It’s “Human Nature”, my favourite track off of that smash LP which solidified Jackson as a worldwide phenomenon in a manner that I believe, for good or ill, will never occur again.
There is a lot we didn’t need when it came to Michael Jackson. There was the eccentric behaviour, the self-mutilation disguised as serial celebrity surgical procedures, and of course there was the speculation about his sexual proclivities. But, what is measured against all of that is his immense talent that seemed almost supernatural. And where he drew inspiration from Jackie Wilson and James Brown, he inspired Justin Timberlake and every other dancing R&B pop singer in turn. Love him or hate him, that’s what true artists do; they pass it on.
And of course there is his worldwide fame and celebrity, from smash albums in America, Canada, the UK and Europe, along with similar success in every corner of the planet for years and years from Thriller onward. In the days before music, movies, and TV were at one’s fingertips through various online channels whenever we wanted them, Michael Jackson dominated popular culture, with his songs, his face, his influence pervading nearly every medium. And it strikes me that in this current age of media fragmentation, such influence, such fame, can never again be so ubiquitous.
But, fame destroyed Jackson, argubly never having developed as a person, as a man, due to all of the other things on his plate when other kids his age were playing baseball, hide and seek, and out on their bikes. For Michael, it was stage shows, Jackson 5 TV appearances, and (incredibly) a concurrent solo career by age 11. He was the image of a person who was victimized by fame, becoming a parody of himself; an image that subsumed the man.
And why did this happen? Why did he allow himself to get swallowed up by his own success? Was it the money, the love emanating from his fans which he didn’t otherwise get when he needed it as a kid, or was it just insecurity, the insecurity of a child trapped in the shell of a grown man walled off from reality?
Whatever the reason, he was only human, and subject to the very human nature he sang about.