Jacko: The ultimate Pop icon
‘Thriller’ was the very first music video album I saw in my life. And what a thrill it was. Ghastly chthonic figures appearing stealthily from their underground chambers in the middle of the night. Swaying around this slim and athletic figure, who danced like a man possessed. It was my first introduction to western music and nothing could beat the experience.
I remember still how all of us kids huddled in the TV room, popped in the latest music video tape in the VCR to watch the latest offer from the US, courtesy benevolent NRI relatives. It was a real treat. A perfect novelty in the 1980s. Nobody had seen music videos album in India. That’s simply because nobody cut music video albums here.
Among the others numbers that we all became fans of were ‘Billie Jean’, when the path blocks would brilliantly light up at the feathery touch of the slender and agile Jacko. Such special effects had never been seen before. Or ‘Beat It’ when our idol would thumb his nose at local goons, and then the two rival parties would suddenly break into a jig. What a dance competition it was. The vigour, the aggression, the flexibility were all unbeaten.
There was not a kid who didn’t try the moonwalk and in all probability fall on his/her face. See, that’s what it was….Jacko could do what no one else could. And if a kid came anywhere close to gliding on his toes, he became an instant hero amongst us all.
For our entire generation Michael Jackson became the ultimate entertainer.
Soon after, we became familiar with others pop stars as well. Madonna was there for one, then there was George Michael still a part of Wham!, Sting, Boy George, Lionel Richie, Cyndi Lauper and a host of others. But our young hearts beat for one man alone – Michael Jackson. For years all dance parties had to have Jacko numbers; Boney M, Abba, Police were fast becoming passé and we associated them with songs our dads listened to.
It was not in India alone that Jackson became an icon. In the land of his birth, the USA, too, he was effecting cultural and mindset changes that years of political movement and philosophizing could not. He became the first Black American to appear on MTV, which previously restricted to showcasing Whites alone. This was a major barrier crossed; it opened the floodgates for a surge of Black talent, who had a natural can for music and dance. When Michael Jackson took to the stage, all race prejudices melted away. It was the first time that White Americans attended a concert of a Black singer. White men would pulsate in the crowds just like their Black counterparts and White girls would scream, cry and swoon like obsessed fans.
Here in Bollywood, all his numbers were brazenly plagiarized over and over again. The tunes, the beats, the choreography and even the glitzy costumes were all shamelessly copied. Not just for a year or two, but for decades. Our own Prabhu Deva moonwalked into stardom aping MJ’s dance movements. As far as even very recently, Shah Rukh gave a hit item number in ‘Krazzy 4’, a film that was an otherwise flop, just because he dressed and performed like Jacko.
All of Michael Jackson’s formulae were like a philter that had a magical effect on whoever partaked in watching, hearing or experiencing him.
The sad part is that not all the adulation or cult status can buy you happiness.In an interview to a television channel this superstar once confessed to being a “very lonely man”. Michael’s life was a roller coaster which gave him many highs, but also plunged him into shocking lows. His initial life as a young Black boy in Gary, Indiana was full of trauma. Sensing his talent, his crafty father pushed him into the limelight at an incredibly young age. The stories about the torture that the little boy was to experience could fill a full horror book. The oppressive control exercised by his father, as well as growing up in a racially segregated society left deep and disturbing imprints on his supple mind.
After his initial success, Jackson moved under the wing of another very famous musician Diana Ross. The move helped him career wise, but his desire to break away from the old mould pushed him into slowly adopting a freakish lifestyle. A taunt that he had big flat nose continued to haunt him. While he continued to deliver several hit numbers like in the albums ‘Bad’ (including ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’, ‘Liberian Girl’, ‘Dirty Diana’, ‘Smooth Criminal’) and ‘Dangerous’ (including ‘Jam’, ‘In the Closet’, ‘Heal the World’, ‘Give In to Me’, ‘Keep the Faith’), his physical appearance started undergoing a transformation. He got his nose operated on so many times that it is believed that it actually fell off, and a new wax one had to be quickly put as a replacement.
Despite his very popular “it doesn’t matter whether you are ‘Black or White’”, which is believed to have helped fight racial chauvinism, the irony was that Jackson was quite gripped by the colour of his skin. He became so bleached after a series of skin treatments that there remained little similarity between his original and cosmetic self.
Later, he got embroiled in a series of ignoble allegations. Accusations related with sexual abuse of children, dangling his own baby from a hotel room, his shadowy ranch Neverland, all pointed towards a man in need of psychiatric treatment. This once savvy business man, who bought the Beatles catalogue in one of the best deals done ever, soon squandered his wealth living life king size. He got into huge debts, went to Bahrain for financial help and even converted to Islam.
His love for the excessive created problems for him all along while he was alive – whether it was his surgeries or his lifestyle. It is now believed that a drug overdose may have done him in to death.
What then is Michael Jackson’s place in history of the world of music? Clearly he stands on same lofty pedestal as the Beatles and Elvis Presley. No other singer has been able to soar such heights after him. These three are legends who turned the wheel. Jackson even today remains a bestseller and the most successful artist in the last 30 years. His 50 years on Earth have left us all a lot richer. Music, entertainment and showmanship can never be the same again. Though his life has been cut abruptly short, but for years to come he will continue to live in hearts of all his fans as the ultimate King of Pop!