Forget The Scandals: Michael Jackson’s Legacy As A Performer Is Untouchable

A heartfelt testimonial on the man's musical career from MTV News' hip-hop editor.

For several years, Michael Jackson has been in the news more for his activities outside of the studio than he has for his artistry. Whether or not the King of Pop goes to jail, one thing remains certain: Michael Jackson is one of the greatest performers of all time, with a musical legacy of timeless records and historic moments.

(Check out photos of Michael Jackson’s career highlights. )

Before ‘NSYNC, the Backstreet Boys, B2K, New Kids on the Block or even before Ronnie, Bobby, Ricky, Mike, Ralph and Johnny formed New Edition, Michael and his brothers Tito, Jackie, Marlon and Jermaine became an instant phenomenon when they debuted in 1969 with Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5.

The Beatles had already set the standard for boy bands, but the Jackson 5 were like no other. They played instruments, had synchronized dance moves, wore puffy afros and snazzy threads, and their trump card — Michael — would propel them to legendary status over the next decade.

The pre-teen Mike stood out from his older siblings with his shy persona and innocence, but there was no denying the kid was a superstar. He could serve up a bigger dish of eye candy with his dance moves than James Brown, and his voice was so pure and soulful that it’s still hard to believe that someone so young was belting out hit records like “ABC,” “The Love You Save,” “Dancing Machine,” “Blame It on the Boogie” and “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground).”

  Photos: Michael Jackson Career Highlights

The Jacksons’ blitzkrieg left no stone unturned: They had hit albums, sold-out concerts, a Saturday-morning cartoon and more merchandising than your average summer blockbuster film. Still, the public needed to hear more from the collective’s breakout star. Michael had been dropping solo albums between Jackson 5 records, but it wasn’t until Michael hooked up with producer Quincy Jones for 1979′s Off the Wall that the masses would see his full potential.

That album, arguably Jackson’s best, highlighted his angelic vocal stylings with Jones’ blend of funk, disco and R&B. More than 25 years later, songs like “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” and “Rock With You” can crush anything on today’s charts. Little did the world know Jackson was just warming up, because three years later, with the release of Thriller, the singer took his career where no other solo artist, before or after, has been.

Thriller wasn’t just an album; it was a phenomenon that has sold more than 50 million copies worldwide. As much as the fans were into Jackson’s music, many were more infatuated with him as a person. Coming into adulthood in the ’80s, M.J. had a whole different swagger from anything we had ever seen or will see. Everything he did was an event. When he put on the white glove or a jacket like the ones he wore in the videos for “Beat It” and “Thriller” — every kid had to have one. Jackson truly was the epitome of a universal superstar because no matter what age, sex or race you were, he had a special place in your heart.

Then there was his performance. You think Usher or Justin Timberlake or Omarion have some steps? The three of them combined couldn’t begin to compare with Jackson’s genius on the stage. His choreography became iconic: The high leg kick, the crotch-grabbing and, of course, the moonwalk became synonymous with greatness. Michael didn’t need 18 background singers and dancers or a baseball team’s worth of hypemen — all he needed to connect with his fans was a mic, his dazzling white socks and the black penny loafers.

Not only did Jackson dominate radio and the charts in the ’80s, he was a trailblazer on television as well. “Thriller” is still regarded by many as the greatest music video ever made, and in the years that followed, his mini-movies such as “Remember the Time” and “Jam” would solidify his status as the music-video standard bearer.

How much of an impact has Michael Jackson’s legacy had? Just ask artists like Usher, Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg and Beyoncé. All of them cite M.J. as a major influence on their careers and continue to pay homage to him in their videos and music.

Regardless of whether the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer is convicted, there’s still no erasing the memories we have of staying up late to watch him take home an armful of trophies at the 1984 Grammy Awards, or seeing him ease on down the road in “The Wiz.” Of course, some critics will argue that, over the last 13 years, Jackson’s musical output hasn’t been what it once was — but after almost 40 years of making music, he has nothing left to prove.

MTV News will have live coverage from Santa Maria on-air, online and in Overdrive when a verdict is handed down.

For full coverage of the Michael Jackson case, see “Michael Jackson Accused.”