Sunday, July 5, 2009

The day Michael Jackson died


The recent demise of the King of Pop sent shockwaves throughout the entire world. I couldn’t believe it myself. I was woken up by a friend’s SMS on Friday morning with the words, “Michael Jackson is dead.” In my grogginess, I thought it was some kind of a joke (this friend has a knack of waking me up early in the morning with her SMS, knowing fully well that I’m not a morning person at all).

But seriously, not to be disrespectful or anything, someone as big as MJ is bound to get into some kind of trouble when it comes to their mortality. Look at Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, John Lennon and Bruce Lee. I just didn’t think that MJ would die of a cardiac arrest. Even Lady D’s death was more dramatic than the guy who had created all sorts of controversy throughout most parts of his life.

You would think that growing up with MJ’s songs would leave me with extreme fondness and sentiments upon hearing his death. Strangely enough, I felt a momentary sense of sadness and pity for the loss of a person’s life; just as I would feel for anyone. I think what had really aroused my curiosity and concern about his death was how his fans would cope with his departure, having remember the images of fans breaking down and crying whenever they saw him in concert. I remember feeling disturbed witnessing how a human being could be worshipped and idolized in that way.

On the day when all the international news channel were broadcasting the news of his death, my husband blurted out in frustration, “Why must he die in such a bad timing, dammit!”

You see, just before his death, the political riot in Iran was occupying most of the headlines. Just when all the international community was giving attention to the uprising of Iranian youths against the allegedly foul play in the recent Presidential election, it sort of sizzled off as soon as MJ died. What would appear as another landmark political revolution in Iran since 1979, suddenly didn’t seem quite as interesting as the death of the King of Pop.

The thought of writing a tribute to MJ never crossed my mind. I think his long period of silence in the past few years had sort of diluted the magnitude of his popularity and influence in the music industry. He became more of a source for gossip columns rather than his artistic ingenuity. The other thing is, I am not that teenager who wished she could dance like Michael Jackson in his Smooth Criminal video anymore and I have also lost touch with the entertainment industry for a long while now.

But when I read David Segal’s article After Michael Jackson, Fame May Never be the Same in The New York Times, I felt the need to write what I thought is untrue in regards to some of the things he wrote.

According to Segal, the main reason why there will never be another celebrity as big as MJ is due to the unlimited access to online internet sources; YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Before such technological advancement, Hollywood superstars had to rely on the Ed Sullivan Show and MTV to make an appearance to generate publicity. It was easier to compete with each other due to smaller and exclusive pool of celebrities. The path to stardom relied very much on how much air time you gained on these popular TV shows and naturally, not everyone was invited to make an appearance.

Now, literally anyone can upload videos on YouTube or write about any particular personality on blogs, making competition that much tougher. Any Tom, Dick or Harriet can generate publicity with just a click of a button on the keyboard and hey presto, news will travel from one corner of the earth to the next in a matter of seconds.

I agree with Segal that it will be extremely difficult to have someone as phenomenal as MJ and the fame he generated will never be the same again. However, I would rather attribute this to two main factors, other than what he claimed.

First of all, MJ became as big as he was simply because he had that something many other musicians didn’t. He persistently rose to fame since he was a child with the Jackson Five. He wasn’t one of those types who was a child star and then hit rock bottom at the same time as puberty. Neither was he the type whose popularity dropped as soon as he became a solo artist. His talent and if I may say so, personality, were much bigger than his other brothers or sisters, and perhaps even himself.

MJ could do almost anything as an entertainer (short of acting). He could write songs, sing, choreograph and dance and he did it better than almost anyone in the history of modern music. His music was not mundane or carried that safe monotonous signature tune most singers often stick to.

MJ managed to reinvent his musical style (well, that and his physical appearance) which made him a truly creative and innovative artist. He revolutionized pop culture for crying out loud! Many artists tried to copy his moon walk and crotch grabbing movements but those movements, HELLO! will always belong to Michael Jackson. Thus, he created an immortalized image for himself.

His music videos were just stunning and phenomenal. Unfortunately, I can’t comment about his concert since I didn’t have the privilege to see one but I can bet they were as equally, if not more, astounding.

His unique voice was another strength of his. He could sing a sentimental ballad which made your heart wants to cry out loud and at the same time, made your feet do involuntary crazy little movements you never thought you could when he rocked you with his upbeat tunes.

So, Mr. Segal, sorry to say this but MJ owed his fame to his unprecedented and extraordinary talent, unblemished and unchallenged by any other musicians of our time. I even reckon that if YouTube and Facebook have existed then, it would have made him even bigger, not smaller.

You could have posted anyone on YouTube and if he or she has the talent of William Hung, I don’t think the fame would have lasted more than a year, give or take. Unless an artist is able to come back again and again with even more extraordinary treats, none of these media tools would have helped.

The second factor is, Segal is right about the increasing competition in the entertainment world today. However, I don’t think the competition comes from the unlimited access to online social network tools. During the past few years, we have seen the production of countless numbers of competitive talent shows on American TV; American Idol, America’s Got Talent, America’s Next Top Model, etc. The popularity of these shows have grown so much that many other countries have started their own version.

So yeah, what has made showbiz more competitive now than ever before, is that almost anyone has an opportunity to become a star, if you have the right talent for it. YouTubes are handy when it comes to publicizing the talents of those who have won the hearts of viewers such as Adam Lambert and Susan Boyle. I have a friend who is completely in love with Lambert and has persistently posted dozens of videos of him on Facebook. People don’t just post someone on YouTube and expect others to take notice  unless that someone has something extraordinary to offer or has appeared in one of those talent shows.

Having said this, I still don’t think anyone could have achieved the kind of fame that Michael Jackson had, with the exceptions of a few rare ones; The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Bruce Lee, Marilyn Monroe and my own personal pick, Madonna. What made these individuals truly unforgettable is how they have managed to win the hearts of the people, each in their own individual ways. It has nothing to do with the internet. I may see a certain someone with talent on my Facebook, but will it sustain my interest enough to want to see more of this person?

MJ was an identifying figure while I was growing up. Mom loved his Beat It and would rant on and on about it when she saw the video on TV. I was really scared when I watched his Thriller video when I was just nine years old and thought how crazy it was to have ghosts dancing like that on the streets.

Whose voice it was that strike your ears the most when you listen to We Are the World?  I loved dancing to the Jazz choreography of his song Billie Jean when I was taking my Jazz Dance examination at the age of 17.

We all talked about how bizarre he was when he got his skin tone altered and his facial features changed but yet were awe-stricken by his Black and White song and video. In university, we went crazy and synched our movements together when Blame It On the Boogie came on at the 70s and 80s music disco night. One of my housemates drove me insane when she kept playing You Are Not Alone over and over again.

Nobody could have made such a fantastic comeback again and again as MJ did. I bet that he would have successfully revived his career with that concert he was supposed to do before he died. Unfortunately he didn’t but I won’t be surprised if we continue to listen to his songs on the radio, TV and YouTube for many years to come. I’m only waiting to see whether my niece will one day come to me and asked, “Were you listening to Michael Jackson when you were younger?as I have asked Mom about Elvis Presley.

Thanks to David Segal, I am able to see and understand why the world had mourned for someone like Michael Jackson on the day he died.


  1. Having listened to him during my teens, his death also signifies the loss of my teenage history.

  2. Ms. Kong Piang,

    what songs of his reminded you of specific periods during your teenage years?