Michael Jackson Album-Cover Artist Explains Hidden Meanings In His Work

Kadir Nelson leads MTV News through his tribute to the King of Pop.

It is a testament to the legendary life of Michael Jackson that no matter how big a canvas artist Kadir Nelson used to tell MJ’s story — and at 9 feet wide and 4.5 feet tall, he used a pretty big one — he kept running out of room. It seems that Jackson’s reign as the King of Pop was just too lengthy, his list of achievements too large and his life too all-encompassing to be summed up in even the most massive of murals.

“Michael’s life was so huge I couldn’t get it all into the painting,” Nelson told MTV News. “So I would take images from throughout his life that were milestones … images that would resonate with his fans. And even doing that was a challenge.”

Still, Nelson gave it his best effort, and the result was “The King of Pop,” his epic tribute to Jackson’s life, which struck such a chord with the late icon’s estate (and his label, Sony Music) that it was chosen as the cover for the just-released Michael album . But what fans see on that album is just a fraction of Nelson’s original work.

” ‘The King of Pop’ is the life story of Michael Jackson, so what you see on the album cover is the centerpiece of the mural; Michael is wearing his famous bejeweled glove, and he’s wearing a golden suit of armor, and he has this collar around his neck, like what you would see in a French painting of King Philip,” Nelson explained. “The theme for this painting is ‘royalty’ and ‘pop,’ because Michael was the King of Pop. So you have Michael being crowned by two Cupids, he has his birthstones in his crown. He’s wearing a soft, velvet drapery over his armor, because Michael had a very soft heart. Also, his hand is placed over his heart, because he had a big heart, and he put that big heart into everything he did.”

And radiating from that royal image is Jackson’s life story, which begins with images of his childhood in Gary, Indiana, extends upward to a gallery of his musical influences (Barry Gordy, Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye, to name just a few), and then explodes with the launch of his solo career, starting with his star-making turn at the “Motown 25″ television special (where he unveiled his “moonwalk” dance) and rolling right along to his Thriller heyday. There are also portions of the painting dedicated to his Bad, Dangerous and HIStory albums, and images of his children, the omnipresent media that followed him everywhere, and the women with whom he shared close relationships (Liz Taylor, Lisa Marie Presley and Madonna).

There are also, as Nelson explained, coded images hidden throughout the painting, everything from bubbles (blown by his pet chimpanzee, of course), an apple (because, as the painter explained, “kids would call [Jackson] ‘Applehead’ on his Neverland Ranch”), Peter Pan soaring off into the Northern Lights (meant to symbolize Jackson’s ascension after his death) and, perhaps the most striking image of all, a golden throne atop a mountain: Jackson’s throne, never to be occupied again.

“It’s empty,” Nelson explained, “because no one will ever sit in it now that he’s gone.”

What do you think of the Michael cover? Share your thoughts in the comments!