We'll be back to guilty pleasure week tomorrow; I just feel like saying a few words about this.
As I'm sure you know by now, "King of Pop" Michael Jackson passed away this afternoon. I've spent the last seven or eight hours thinking about this, and I've found that instead of trying to collect my thoughts on the matter, I've mostly been trying just to wrap my head around it. Trying to process it. Trying to grasp the full significance of what has happened today.
I will be the first to admit that I have never been an avid listener of Jackson's music, and I don't believe I have ever called myself a Michael Jackson fan. That being said, I have always (save for my short "pop music sucks" phase when I was younger) enjoyed his music, and have always recognized and appreciated him for what he was: the perfect pop star.
I make this claim with not even a hint of apprehension. When I think 'pop star', I typically envision a pre-packaged, manufactured entrepreneur. Someone who is flashy and extravagant and makes pretty for the cameras, but who most will admit has little-to-no artistic talent or drive. This is not what Jackson was. There wasn't some middle-aged businessman pulling the strings of his musical endeavors. The music, the lyrics, the beats, the moves, the image, it was all HIM. He not only created the idea of what it means to be a pop star, an idea that we are now surrounded by every day on the covers of our magazines and the screens of our televisions; he perfected it. He has been imitated ceaselessly since his heyday, but not once has he been matched. The man was not just a pretty face. He was an entire persona. He was the real deal.
He created some of the finest pop music of all time, with a slew of classic albums in the '80s and '90s, one of which to this day is the biggest selling album of all time. It seems like the man could do no wrong. Every song grabbed you in just the right way, every hook came in at just the right time, every dance move was choreographed and executed perfectly. He completely changed the face of pop music, and you'd be hard pressed to find anyone calling themselves a pop artist today who isn't influenced by him in a big way.
What amazes me most, though, is just how ingrained he is in the culture of not only the United States, but the entire world. I've seen outpourings of mourning today from every corner of the world and every way of life. His music seems to have done what almost no art can ever accomplish; it stretched across the entirety of human culture. Everyone, no matter their age, race, nationality, belief system, or taste in music, seems to have a story to share of a memory in their life that was soundtracked by Michael Jackson. Whether they were sitting on their plastic-covered couch with their children as he performed live on TV with the Jackson 5, dancing to "Thriller" at their senior prom with all their friends, or finding his albums in their parent's old music collections, everyone has a story.
I think that's what I was always overlooking when I thought about Michael Jackson before today. I knew he was a perfect pop star. I knew he made great pop music. And even though I certainly had a vague, unfocused notion of him being a pop culture icon, all I really saw him as was just another artist. It took his death to truly open my eyes to how much of an impact he has had on our culture, and on virtually everyone in the world, including myself.
When reports started surfacing this afternoon that he had been rushed to the hospital, it's like the world simply...stopped. For the next hour or two as we learned the sad finality of the situation, the reaction only intensified. As soon as major networks started reporting him as dead, I started getting phone calls. And text messages. And e-mails. And IMs. Every news source had the same headline, every internet forum had the same top discussion, every Myspace and Facebook and Twitter account was updated as people expressed their shock and grief. For a few hours, the entire world seemed to be talking about one thing and one thing alone. Michael Jackson. To put things in perspective, when Ronald Reagan died, I don't think I had anyone contact me about it until the next day. But within minutes (yes, minutes) of Jackson's death, I had six or seven dialogs going. And while some might see this more as a testament to our increased interconnectivity in today's modern age, I see it as a display of just how much this man meant to the world, even though many of us (such as myself) didn't really realize it.
I think that perhaps the most significant thing that happened today was not Jackson's death, but what it showed us. It allowed us to gain perspective on just how important a simple entertainer can be to the world. It allowed all of us to see what he really meant to us. To all of us.
I don't mean to undercut the significance of his passing; it has certainly affected me and millions (billions?) of other people across the world, and is especially disheartening as he was on the verge of a comeback. But Michael Jackson was not just a man; he was a cultural force in his life, and he will continue to be one in death. I predict that his influence in our culture will actually increase over time, as his death eclipses the unfortunate events of his later years, and he becomes more and more of a legend than he already is.
Really, the thing that matters most is this: People are going to be talking about Michael Jackson and his music forever, and everyone alive today is going to remember this day for the rest of their lives. And that's exactly the way it should be, because a man like this deserves no less.
Off the Wall