On August 29, 1958, Michael Jackson was born in Gary, Indiana -- a city of about 80,000 people not far outside of Chicago. From this small-by-comparison place of origin, Michael grew both physically (from a child star into an entire presence) and successfully (becoming universally known as the King of Pop). Unsurprisingly, that influence continues today, because of course it does. Listen to any of his songs, especially the nearly flawless 19 songs that comprise Off The Wall and Thriller, and you'll hear why.
His trademark vocal hiccups, his knack for building instrumentals into ecosystems of sound and then into pop hits, his larger-than-life persona -- these are all part of the Michael Jackson mythology. It's a dense one. If you want to dive into it, you should start with our remembrance of him from 2012 and this outstanding obituary from Rolling Stone.
But if you want to hear the continuation of his legacy in 2015, all you have to do is turn on the (Internet) radio. MJ's sound evolved over time, so calling a song "Michael Jackson-esque" can have so many different meanings. But these six tunes, all of which were released this year, bear a lot of the hallmarks Michael made his own. And they're all great. For that reason and tons of others.
The Weeknd: "Can't Feel My Face"
The potential Song Of The Summer. The song every car has blasting with its windows down. The Max Martin-assisted piece of perfection that recalls Michael in all the right ways -- especially in its slick '80s production and Abel's out-of-breath vocal delivery. We cannot WAIT to see what he does with it at the VMAs.
Jason Derulo: "Want To Want Me"
When JD scales up to that lofty falsetto right before the chorus, my mind immediately draws up an Etch-a-Sketch outline of MJ's infamous tip-toe stand. It's like he's back with us, if only for a second. Also, the whisper/percussion combo at the start of the song is pure "Billie Jean."
Little Mix: "Black Magic"
Another Song Of The Summer contender, "Black Magic"'s supercharged, hook-heavy melodies would fit right in alongside Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Want To Have Fun" and Madonna's "Like A Virgin" -- glamorous '80s tunes that bands like HAIM have continued on in the style of today. But there's something about the itchy drum sounds in "Black Magic" that recalls the opening of "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" -- and it makes me feel like dancing.
Maroon 5: "Sugar"
An unexpected twist of funk from M5, "Sugar" is as sweet as its title suggests, and a large part of that is Adam Levine's gorgeously skyscraping vocals in the chorus. There's also something really melancholy in the music of this song that shows it's not just a careless ode to love. It recognizes the full depth of how pop music can represent the full depth of human emotion, something Michael Jackson did better than anyone (even with a cover).
Chance The Rapper: "Sunday Candy"
No one would confuse Chance's groggy raps for Michael's silken croon, and indeed, "Sunday Candy" is a hip-hop song through and through. But the bouncy piano rhythms and the ridiculously ebullient release of skittish energy that rises and swells over the course of this song's four minutes is pure Michael. Add in the showstopping singalong outro and we've got a borderline "Man in the Mirror" situation on our hands. So, so good.
Mark Ronson ft. Keyone Starr: "I Can't Lose"
On an album of stone-cold neo-classics like the immortal "Uptown Funk" and Mystikal's swinging-for-the-fences "Feel Right," "I Can't Lose" is more of a second- (or third-) listen discovery. But when you find it, you'll wanna play it again to unpack its dense, brassy, frenetic sounds. And, oh yeah, the hooks -- which are golden and delicious, just like Michael's.