essential media: charting the demise of MJ through his music
Everyone has seen those pictorials that mark the change in Michael Jackson's face from adorable little boy to scary elephant man. But isn't it what's on the inside that counts? Of course it is. And that's why I am going to show you the slippery slope of MJ's psyche over the course of his recording career. We'll skip over the Jackson 5 era; obviously his mental state was clearly controlled by his father during those years (which, by the way, lends great explanation to his behavior today).
Let's harken back to 1972, when the fresh-faced young boy released his first album, Got To Be There. Look at that face, that smile. You just want to pinch his cute little cheeks! At this early point in his career, Michael had yet to develop the large ego that would allow him to build Neverland later on. This is evidenced by the selection of songs on the album. There are quite a few cover songs. Obviously, Michael wasn't self-assured enough to put out a solo album of his own songs. And it's obvious from the song titles that Michael was ready to embrace life on the wings of love.
Just eight months later, Michael released Ben. Already we see signs of stardom going to his head. Eight months? Who releases two albums in the same year? Even more disturbing, the title song is an ode to a rat. An evil, fictional rat. Was this a precursor to his monkey fetish? The rest of the album is filled with covers and generic pop songs but people, enticed by the sweet sound of MJ's voice singing to his rodent, bought the album in droves. MJ had made his solo mark in the world.
And another eight months later (was Michael a workaholic, or was he being forced into Motown slave labor by a cartel of sequined-jacket record producers?) he released Music and Me. Here is where things start to get interesting, as if Michael was leaving a musical trail of his path to child-obsession. Two titles, With a Child's Heart and Too Young clearly show that MJ, just fifteen at the time, was starting on the downward spiral to Neverland.
Obviously weakened by dismal record sales of Music, Michael waited two years to release another album. Forever, Michael wasn't much of a chart-buster either. You can tell by the lackluster performance on this record that Michael wasn't feeling it. Clearly, there was an underlying force at work here; Michael was obviously saving up his energy for something. He spent the next four years plotting to take over the world.
And he nearly did. In 1979, Jackson released Off The Wall. Was that title trying to tell us something? Did Michael already feel like he was losing his grip on reality? This album was pure disco. It was Michael strutting his stuff and doing his crazy little dance. Get on the floor, girlfriend and burn this disco out! Jackson started writing his own songs on this effort. Obviously, his ego was growing. And, as his ego grew, so did his popularity and his ability to hypnotize people just by looking into their eyes and saying, don't stop 'til you get enough. Ah, yes. That's a little known fact about Michael. How do you think he got all those girls to scream for him even though he was clearly stealing Jermaine's style? It was at this point that the old, cute-as-a-button, sane Michael Jackson left the building.
The sea change for Jackson came in 1982, when Thriller was released. He no longer had the Jermaine fro, opting instead for some Luther Vandross love god look. Look at those eyes. They are saying, come hither.
This is where we part ways with Michael Jackson and say hello to the King of Pop. Thanks to this new-fangled invention called Music TV, Jackson became a meteor in the industry. And while people danced and made love to Thriller, no one was really paying attention to the subtle messages on the album. Paranoia, anger, illicit love all reared their ugly heads in the lyrics. Looking back at the video for Thriller, one thinks that Michael might have felt a bit too comfortable in all that make-up. The descent was in full swing. Out came the white glove and red leather jacket. There was the change in hairstyles, the lighter tone of his skin and all that jumping in the air and waving his hands around like Liza Minelli on a bender.
Things got even weirder with Bad, released five years later. Jackson spent most of the five years in between albums collecting awards for Thriller, developing an aging-celebrity fetish and morphing into a freak of nature.
The first line sung on Bad is: your butt is mine. Hello, ring-ring-ring, does anyone hear an alarm going off?
I know, I'm pushing this idea too far and I've probably bored you by now. But let it be known that the signs were all there, and not just in the transformation from cuddly kid to plastic surgery addict to adult man living in a kiddie world, but in the progression of his songs and albums. You can see the ego growing, the mania ensuing, the penchant to hang around little kids getting stronger and stronger. He built an amusement park in his backyard, people. Does this not remind anyone of a certain wicked witch who decorated her house with candy in order to lure children in?
Let us all learn a lesson from this story. Never trust a man who wears one glove.