[Image credit: The Floacist]
The Line of Beauty: An Essay About Michael Joseph Jackson
One recurrent theme of my early childhood was my father telling me and my siblings to always go for gold. As I’ve grown older, my late father’s words have meant that I have looked to my parents for inspiration for my dreams. When I was younger throughout my early childhood & all the up to me going to university, there have been two examples of contemporary ‘go for gold’ examples that I have liked and respected, besides my parents: Michael Jackson & Beyonce Knowles.
Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough
I’m not a bandwagon stan. From the VHS tape that was in my family home when I was a baby about how he made Thriller to attempting to do his iconic leg kicks when at clubs with my friends during university. This essay is a way for me to try to put into words why he was so important. When he released Off The Wall, he had that gorgeous, babyfaced swagger that would T.I blush. He had so much swagger and attitude, yet his shy and modest personality didn’t even know that. That is one quality about him that makes him so endearing. During Off The Wall and most noticeably on Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough, Michael’s voice was tinged with almost seraphic undertones. To me, it is no accident that he was the real deal throughout all his musical eras. He never lost that innocence in his solo work that he had from his Off The Wall days.
Talent is only half the story. The bloke worked his arse off.
In a ’99 MTV interview with a journalist called Alex Colletti I believe, Michael said that he was happy with the outcome of the Thriller video, but never completely satisfied. If that isn’t the definition of a perfectionist, I don’t know what is. I have the deepest respect for people who always strive to outdo themselves. Whenever me or my younger sister would watch music videos on MTV, my mum would tell us:
those people are working!
I think in Michael’s case, he had been working for 45 years in entertainment, setting precedents that probably no one will top. It’s no surprise that the tabloid media wanted to flog him for whatever personal or lifestyle choices he made. After all, jealousy is not immune to anyone. The way I see it is if you work for something, you deserve to reap its’ rewards. People who were not there when Michael was writing the Bad album have no right to tell him what he can or cannot do with his rewards. No right whatsoever. It seemed unfair to me for Michael to be ridiculed as ‘Wacko Jacko’ when Michael contributed to society through his incredible charity work by donating millions of dollars and culturally through iconic music.
Line of Beauty
YouTube MJ videos are now full of people coming out of the woodwork saying RIP etc and all noting that he was a legend. Not that you need to tell any real Michael fans this because we have known this since our early memories. Lots of people think Michael’s legendary status was cemented in the 25 Motown anniversary performance of Billie Jean, but to be honest with you, I think his status was made concrete when he made the Thriller video. The originality of the whole video, mixed in with the dialogue and adding Vincent Price blows me mind even today. He broke boundaries and that video alone is ground-breaking. Compare it to any of the music on today’s charts, it is embarrassing to think of what the music industry looks like today.
It goes without saying that Michael was the greatest performer ever. Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs famously said that Michael could see the beat. And Puffy was right. On his last album, Invicible, on You Rock My World (which is a banger to me), in that video, just when you think you know of all his moves, he punks you and shows you bare things you could not even imagine doing, for example his Quasimodo-esque hunch dance at 4:07-4:23 that you can see below here.
[Video credit: Uploaded by MichaelHDJackson]
Throughout all his videos, he was an instinctive dancer who know how much technique and flair to mix to make a visual enticing to the eye, even on his mid-tempo songs like You Rock My World and In The Closet.
18th century English engraver William Hogarth came up with the concept of ‘the line of beauty’ which denotes an S-shaped curve as being the most visually pleasing line in paintings or pictures for the viewer. Why Michael was so fascinating is because his lines of beauty as seen in many of his music videos are a mixture of straight, parallel lines and curved ones as seen in Beat It. Bad is the best example of Michael’s lines of beauty. He stays in synch with the linear shapes of his dancers, yet he mixes up the choreography so you do get the impression that there are circular gangs competing against each other.
Another Part of Me
In jazzy Another Part of Me from the Bad album, it is one of the effective examples of his original way of using his voice. Towards the end of the song, he lifts it with his trademark falsetto adlibs (”hee-hee”). One thing I love about this song is the way Michael’s voice almost mimics the highs and lows of the instrumental accompanying the song. My favourite part of the song is at the end when he says: ”This is the truth, Baby”. Note in this live version below, he puts the emphasis on ‘Baby’ — it sounds absolutely incredible! And he switches up the lyrics to say ”This is my plan, Baby”.
[Video credit: Uploaded by micaljaxon]
His talent as a vocalist means he added elements to his voice that were so textured that you hear them after listening to the song again. In The Closet is a great example of this, where he whispers ‘Dare Me’. I didn’t know that until I was alerted to this by a commenter on YouTube. After that, I listened to the song again and of course, I heard the subtle ‘Dare Me’ chants peppered in the first half of the song. That was how subliminal he was. Amazing.
Blood On The Dancefloor was released in ’97 and it is one of my favourite Michael songs…ever. I think it is so underrated considering the vocal gymnastics he does all over the track. The most addictive part of the track for me is the part just before the chorus when he sings:
Every night stance is like takin’ a chance
It’s not about love and romance
And now you’re gonna get it
Every hot man is out takin’ a chance
It’s not about love and romance
And now you do regret it
He says that whole segment so quickly, yet he is not rapping. It’s just another sidebar in his richly developed methods of delivering his voice. It’s like he is almost vocally misleading the listener on purpose so you really listen to what he has to say, because the song is about a woman scorned who is coming back with a vengeance.
Michael was a musical genius whose hard work ethic and perfectionist attitude produced some of the most beautiful music I have ever heard. What he made was so inspiring to me. It makes me want to go and work hard. In a 2007 interview with Ebony magazine (which I will post in a later entry), Michael tells the interviewer that ‘competition breeds higher effort”. Never has a truer moment been stated about working your arse off to produce high quality. Michael did not do anything half-baked or half-arsed. No one is ever going to achieved what he has professionally: 750 million albums sold worldwide.
As much as haters don’t like him, their hate still does not matter. No one is fucking with Michael in terms of music and performing – no one. Hopefully his family and in particular his children will find closure, even though life will never be the same.
In a lovely 2002 interview with Steve Harvey which I will post in a later post, the comic tells Michael that interviewing him was it for him, even over people like Bill Clinton. Hilariously, he tells Michael (on the Clinton thing): “he ain’t Michael though”. And he’s right. No one is every going to be like Mike.
He was an inspirational person who worked incredibly hard to contribute to society. And no one can deny that Mike did. He’s a credit to black people and black culture. No one can fuck with Michael’s legacy in any way, from where I am standing.
I’m sure many fans have their thoughts on him, but I hope with this essay I can show that I will always be a Mike stan.