I don’t know if there will ever be an artist that had as much of an impact on me as Michael Jackson. I can’t even tell you the first time I heard an MJ song, how old I was, or what song it was. I can’t remember because I feel like his music was always there, even though I was born in the mid-nineties. By the time I could say that I consciously remember listening to him, he was well past his prime. This definitely says something about the legacy this man was leaving even while still alive.
When I first started using Youtube in 2006, I would spend hours watching his ‘short films,’ his live performances, interviews, fan-made montages, basically anything MJ related. My mom used to say if I studied my schoolwork as much as I studied Michael Jackson, my grades would be immaculate. At that time, I had never seen anyone move the way he moved, sing with such unique vocals, and have such an intriguing personality. This was the first time I realized how much I love eccentric people. I was hooked.
The reason I liked his music so much is because he was such a versatile artist. He was the King of Pop, but his music ranged from R&B, dance, rock, disco when it was in, funk, new jack swing (is that even a genre anymore?), honestly anything. He also wrote lyrics for so many situations. When I sit and put my MJ playlist on shuffle (because you know your girl has every song this man ever featured on), I go through an array of feelings, such as happiness, despair, anger, love, and loneliness, just to name a few. A song like She’s Out Of My Life or Childhood would have me want to curl up into a ball one minute, then a song like P.Y.T comes on and has me right back up dancing again.
As an adult and a music fan, I have come to appreciate MJ for more mature reasons as well. For example, I love how he became more of a singer-songwriter towards the end of his career. The biggest reason I admire him though is because of his activism that no one ever seems to talk about.
Because the media concentrated so much on his image and lived to form controversies around him, we forget that Michael was so unproblematically black. He was always true to himself, as seen by his eccentric style, but never shied away from his roots as a black man. How many times has some aspect of African culture been mentioned in his songs? How many Americans knew where Liberia was before Liberian Girl? Remember the Egyptian themed video for Remember the Time that featured a full all-black cast? Only God knows how many trips the man made to Africa. He’s openly spoken out about racism in the music industry, and remained conscious of the barriers he’s broken for the black community. Even until You Rock My World, most of his leading ladies were black. And then there’s his many politically charged songs like They Don’t Care About Us. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, there are many black artists who are blessed with power but remain silent on these issues. You know Michael would not have stayed silent about Ferguson.
Naturally, as a kid I was overly excited about the fact that MJ was a fellow Virgo, so to this day, remembering his birthday is second nature.
I have to thank MJ for being my introduction to music as a child. Before really listening to his music, the only music I would listen to as a kid in the early 2000’s was whatever was pop and current, basically Top 40, and I was even picky about that. MJ caused me to become obsessed with the 1980’s as a kid. The consequence of this was that I discovered more artists from that decade, including Prince, who also became one of my favourites. From Prince I got interested in the guitar, which lead to my love of rock, and so on. MJ also directed me to Motown, which lead to me discovering how great 1960’s music is. “The Girl Is Mine” introduced me to Paul McCartney, which subsequently had me start listening to The Beatles, and the rest is history.
Although my music collection is now more diverse than I could have ever imagined it could be when I was a 7 year old girl listening to Britney’s newest hit “I’m a Slave 4 U,” and listening to MJ is no longer part of my daily routine, Michael Jackson still holds a special place in my heart. Longtime friends still give me MJ memorabilia for my birthday and Christmas. I watch “Thriller” and “Ghost” every Halloween. I will forever know the lyrics to every song, down to the signature hiccups. No matter what song it is, these days, hearing the opening beat to a Michael Jackson song makes me happy.
Watch my favourite short film, “Smooth Criminal,” below.