Michael Jackson’s Music-Video Legacy

From the cinematic 'Thriller' to the bank-breaking 'Scream,' Jackson made an indelible impact on music videos.

It is a loss of immeasurable magnitude. [artist id="1102"]Michael Jackson[/artist], arguably the biggest pop-music star of the past quarter-century, unquestionably one of the greatest entertainers of all time, is dead at the age of 50 .

A star since age 11, Jackson lived in the spotlight for four decades, selling more albums than any other solo artist not named Elvis and forever changing the worlds of pop, R&B, hip-hop and even rock (check Eddie Van Halen’s solo on “Beat It” for proof) in the process. He was a true icon of the entertainment age, an international superstar who spread his fame across screens and stages around the world. He revolutionized the art of choreography, touring, multiplatform promotion and — of course — music videos.

Jackson, who always admired the showmanship of P.T. Barnum and the spectacle of the silver screen, realized the potential of music videos, and he maximized it like no one before (or, really, since).

Michael Jackson made music videos an event. When a new MJ clip premiered, you stayed home and tuned in to see it first — even if it were at midnight, even it were on a Friday. His videos were lavish, big-budget affairs, rife with spectacular choreography, eye-popping special effects and amazing costume changes. Directors like Martin Scorsese and John Landis clamored to work with him, stars like Eddie Murphy and models like Naomi Campbell lined up to make cameos. Jackson didn’t so much make music videos as he made movies, in more ways than one.

His crowning achievement was, of course, “Thriller,” the video he shot (and co-wrote) with Landis in 1983. Spanning more than 13 minutes and costing more than $500,000 to make (a record at the time), it was a true mini-film, featuring huge sets, makeup by Academy Award winner Rick Baker and incidental music by the legendary Elmer Bernstein. The video’s choreography — particularly Jackson’s midsong dance spectacle with a troupe of zombies — has gone on to become the most imitated (and parodied) in pop-culture history, and the “Guinness Book of World Records” lists “Thriller” as “The Most Successful Music Video of All Time,” having sold more than 9 million units. In 1999, MTV ranked it as the Greatest Music Video Ever Made.

But “Thriller” wasn’t his only event video. His 18-minute, Scorsese-directed clip for “Bad” broke the bank again (and featured a cameo by a then-unknown Wesley Snipes). “Smooth Criminal” was used as the centerpiece of his 93-minute “Moonwalker” film and saw Jackson file a patent for “anti-gravity lean” that was fitted inside his loafers. “Black or White” premiered simultaneously in 27 countries, featured groundbreaking “morphing” special effects and kicked up a whole host of controversy due to some aggressive dance moves by Jackson. And “Scream,” his high-profile duet with sister Janet, remains the most expensive music video ever shot, with an estimated budget of more than $7 million.

Of course, it wasn’t all flash-and-dash with Jackson’s videos. His early clips, for songs like “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough,” “Billie Jean” and “Beat It,” were iconic for their stylized look, Jackson’s natty manner of dress and his slick dance moves. And one cannot overstate their cultural importance, either: Jackson was one of the first black artists to gain constant airplay on MTV, and his choreography is responsible for bringing so-called “urban” moves to the masses.

More iconic MJ videos include the celeb-and-special-effect-heavy “Remember the Time” (directed by John Singleton); “Jam,” which featured two MJs (Jackson and Michael Jordan) going one on one; and the eye-popping clip for “Blood on the Dancefloor.”

Like we said, it’s a loss of immeasurable magnitude. Not just for music, but for music videos. We’ll never see another star burn as brightly as Michael Jackson.

MTV will be paying tribute to MJ throughout the weekend with music videos, exclusive performances and calls and tweets from celebrity admirers and friends. For everything we’ve got on the life, career and passing of the legendary entertainer, visit “Michael Jackson Remembered.”

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