Michael Jackson’s New Album Cover Decoded

Painting is packed with iconic MJ images.

When Michael hits shelves next month , the world will get the first of a promised flurry of posthumous releases from late pop superstar [artist id="1102"]Michael Jackson[/artist]. While we don’t know yet what songs will appear on the album, Jackson’s label, Sony Music, did release the cover art, a Kadir Nelson painting that takes fans on a fantasy ride through the greatest moments of the King of Pop’s solo career.

(Check out our side-by-side analysis of the visual references on the Michael cover and the original moments in his career.)

The painting by Kadir Nelson features a montage of classic MJ images, from his Off the Wall-era tux to looks from the “Thriller” video. At the center is a a somber, Renaissance-like of Jackson in royal gold and burgundy vestments, a golden crown hovering over his head.

Let’s break down the references:

Almost as iconic as the cover photo on Thriller is the pensive image of Jackson from the front of another one of his smashes, 1987′s Bad, which sold more than 30 million copies.

Jackson’s video for “Beat It” is one of the most beloved of all time. His signature red leather jacket with the acres of unnecessary zippers, the bright blue t-shirt and the legion of pirouetting bad boys are all present in the painting’s representation of that clip.

One of the other Thriller-era looks that’s cemented in the minds of fans during is the custom-made tuxedo jacket, pink shirt and red bowtie that Jackson wore in the “Billie Jean” video.

The cover of 1991′s Dangerous portrayed Jackson as a mystery man hiding among a circus of bizarre, sideshow attractions. Here, Nelson has isolated a part of the cover that pays homage to the rollercoaster scene from the 1989 video for “Leave Me Alone.”

Jackson appears, under a cluster of cameras, in the silver spacesuit he wore in his 1986 3-D space flick “Captain EO.” The 17-minute film, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, debuted at the Disneyland EPCOT amusement park and went offline in 1998; it began screening again in 2010 following Jackson’s death.

The spaceship from one of Jackson’s favorite fantasy movies, Steven Spielberg’s 1982 film “E.T.,” floats in the painting’s sky. Jackson contributed the song “Someone in the Dark” to the movie’s Grammy-winning storybook, which he also narrated.

Another scene from the “Leave Me Alone” video isolating the rocketship the singer flies around in during the clip.

This detail from the “Leave Me Alone” video depicts a goldfish swimming in a bowl, another likely reference to Jackson’s feeling of being constantly scrutinized. An interesting detail is the addition of a crown to the fish’s head, which is likely another reference to Jackson’s status as pop royalty.

One of the key scenes from the 1987 video for “The Way You Make Me Feel” — in which Jackson prepares to unleash some of his classic dance moves in silhouette — is also depicted.

MTV’s Moonman makes an appearance, a reference to the fact that Jackson’s legendary videos were instrumental both in the development of the channel and the art form itsemf.

As we float above the royal image of Jackson — which is similar to a number of paintings the singer commissioned during his life in which he was placed into historical settings — we arrive at the menacing robotic face in the corner from Jackson’s 1988 movie “Moonwalker,” which co-starred Joe Pesci.

If there is a single moment in MJ’s career that can be considered ground zero for his superstardom, it might be his 1983 performance on “Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever.” There, he unveiled his signature dance move, the Moonwalk, for the first time.

With the sun setting behind him, we see a 21-year-old Jackson sporting his late-’70s afro and a tuxedo, an homage to the cover of his breakthrough solo album Off the Wall.

Some of Jackson’s most gravity-defying moves popped up in the Prohibition-themed clip for 1987′s “Smooth Criminal.”

The best-selling video of all time, “Thriller” is, to this day, thought of as the “Citizen Kane” of music videos. Here we see Jackson backed by some of the ghouls from the werewolf-themed mini-movie, which was shot by “Animal House” director John Landis. A classic scene from the “Thriller” video during which Jackson does his spotlight dance with the undead.

In addition to being one of the best-selling artists of all time, Jackson was also a humanitarian involved in many causes. He co-wrote and performed on 1985′s legendary “We Are The World.” Here he’s depicted alongside some of the other stars from that once-in-a-lifetime charity single, including co-writer Lionel Richie, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Cyndi Lauper.

Hidden just behind Jackson’s get-up from the “Smooth Criminal” video is a mirror with a reflection of the singer, which Nelson likely included as a sly reference to one of the Jackson’s most beloved ballads, “Man in the Mirror.” But also hidden in the image, just above the elephant’s head, is a bubble containing singer Prince’s signature male-female glyph. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Jackson and Prince had a contentious, competitive relationship and the inclusion of the diminutive Minneapolis star’s logo could be intended as a playful tweak.

What was your favorite Michael Jackson moment depicted in the Michael cover painting? Let us know in the comments!

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