On Friday night Michael Jackson will sing and dance in front of a U.S. audience for the first time in almost a decade. With the world focused on New York’s Madison Square Garden, where the Michael Jackson: 30th Anniversary Celebration, The Solo Years tribute shows will take place on Friday and Monday, Jackson’s clout still resonates throughout the music industry, despite his long hiatus.
Why did we hear Britney Spears on MTV’s “Diary” blasting the Off the Wall album during a photo shoot? Why did we go to the movies this summer and see Chris Tucker do his best impression of Michael — including the leg kicks and cries of “schomon”— while performing “Don’t Stop ‘Till You Get Enough”? When Jay-Z wanted to solidify his place on the rap throne in June, why did he call on Michael to come onstage with him (see “Jay-Z’s Special Guest A Thriller For Summer Jam Crowd” )?
Jay’s latest single, “Izzo (H.O.V.A.),” uses a sample of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” — as does Lil’ Romeo’s #1 hit, “My Baby.” “Letter 2 My Unborn,” a new single by the late Tupac, uses a sample of the Jackson cut “Liberian Girl.”
Why does the shine on the self-proclaimed King of Pop’s crown remain so bright, despite lackluster album sales over the last few years and the fact that he hasn’t been able to sell out his tribute shows?
“That’s the king right there,” Snoop Dogg said to MTV News Thursday night after the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards about the love Michael still gets. “Michael Jackson has always been an inspiration to me as far as his music is concerned. You can’t take nothing from him.”
Even though he opted not to sing at the VMAs, Jackson showed the world he was still a “Dancing Machine” by accepting an invitation to perform with a giddy ‘NSYNC; his moves garnered a standing ovation (see “King Of Dirty Pop? Michael Jackson Joins ‘NSYNC At VMAs” ).
“Mike is the truth and you can never deny the truth,” Usher, who’ll perform with Jackson at the tribute shows, said in July. “That great choreography and great energy that Michael puts behind it, [entertainers] try to re-create that feeling. I try to take different kinds of dance and apply it in the same way Michael did in ‘Thriller,’ ‘Beat It’ and ‘Off the Wall.’ ”
Usher and some of his peers have paid homage to Jackson’s fancy feet in their videos and live shows of late.
There are Jackson’s dance moves from “Thriller” in Destiny’s Child’s “Bootylicious” video. Ginuwine and Sisqó do M.J.’s crisp spins and sidesteps regularly in their performances. Usher’s popping in the video for “U Remind Me” is reminiscent of a young Michael from the Off the Wall era. Alien Ant Farm, who are enjoying success largely due to the strength of their remake of Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal,” imitate Jackson right down to crotch grabs in their video for the song.
Some artists, however, have decided to keep their Michael Jackson mirroring private.
“I met Michael at his video shoot in California,” one-half of the Neptunes, Pharell Williams, said. “I told him from the age of 6 I would burn holes in my socks moon walking in the bathroom.”
“He’s influenced all of us in some way,” said Williams’ protégé Kelis. “We all at some point were in the mirror trying to be him.”
Jackson’s pull goes beyond just performing — his fashion sense still receives praise as well.
“I don’t give a f— how tough you are, you wanted a [Michael Jackson] glove,” Beanie Sigel said fondly. “If you were anywhere between the ages of 25 and 40, when Michael was out there doing his thing with ‘Billie Jean’ and ‘Beat It,’ you wanted the glove. And you had the [leather] jacket and you had the button and you had that poster too — the one when Michael had that yellow V-neck sweater on.”
Sigel, who met Jackson at New York radio station Hot 97’s Summer Jam in June, said Jackson gave him some of his fondest childhood memories.
“I remember I was young, I cried to my mom, I wanted to go to this [Michael Jackson] concert bad,” Beanie said. “My mother was like ‘no, you not going.’ I had the ticket and everything. I looked at it for a week. I stayed in the house, cleaning my room so I could go.
“She let me go to that concert. I remember standing outside in JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, [it was] pouring down raining, me, my sister and my aunt was standing on fold-up chairs with a poncho on watching Michael Jackson perform. It was him and his brothers on the Victory Tour. It was crazy.”
“My first concert was Michael Jackson at Dodger Stadium when I was like 10 years old,” Alien Ant Farm frontman Dryden Mitchell said earlier this year on the set of the “Smooth Criminal” video. “I was a huge fanatic, and I never stopped being a fan.”
Will Jackson’s new album be a big enough vehicle to generate sufficient interest to help him sell out concerts, should he decide to hit the road again?
The stars say putting the LP out on October 30 is all academic. They already know that Michael is “Invincible” (see “Michael Jackson’s Invincible Due October 30″ ).
“I heard [the album is] hot, that it’s blazing,” Usher said. “I can’t wait to get a sneak peek of it when we do the tribute at Madison Square Garden.”
“I like all the things Michael does,” said Williams, who is hoping to lay tracks for the icon (see “Neptunes Working With Britney, Kelis, But Dreaming Of Michael Jackson” ). “Michael does no wrong.”
“[I know the album] is going to be good,” Ludacris said. “I’m trying to get on there. He’s kept it a good secret. Hopefully he’ll come right back and surprise everybody. Do your thing, Mike.”
The response to his album’s first single, “You Rock My World,” has been big so far, according to mixtape king and Hot 97 record spinner DJ Kay Slay.
“That Michael Jackson joint is a strong song,” said Slay, who has included the cut on his latest hip-hop-heavy CD among offerings from artists such as Dr. Dre, Nate Dogg and Mobb Deep. “Everybody likes that song. Even when I spin it on the air, a lot of the calls are like, ‘Throw on that Michael Jackson joint. It’s for the streets.’ “