Michael Joseph Jackson (August 29, 1958 – June 25, 2009), dubbed the “King of Pop”, was an American musician and one of the most commercially successful entertainers of all time. His unique contributions to music and dance, along with a highly publicized personal life, made him a prominent figure in popular culture for four decades. He started a solo career in 1971, having made his debut in 1964 as a member of The Jackson 5. His 1982 album Thriller remains the best-selling album of all time, with four others — Off the Wall (1979), Bad (1987), Dangerous (1991), and HIStory (1995) — among the best selling. He popularized several physically complicated dance moves, such as the robot and the moonwalk. He is widely credited with having transformed the music video from a promotional tool into an art form, with videos such as “Billie Jean”, “Beat It” and Thriller making him the first African American to amass a strong crossover following on MTV. A double-inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, his other achievements feature multiple Guinness World Records — including the “Most Successful Entertainer of All Time” — 13 Grammy Awards, 13 number one singles, and estimated sales of over 750 million records. He was also a notable philanthropist and humanitarian who donated millions of dollars to a record 39 charities, plus what he raised by way of his own Heal the World Foundation. Jackson’s personal life generated significant controversy. His changing appearance was noticed from the early 1980s, with changes to the shape of his nose and to the color of his skin drawing media publicity. He was accused in 1993 of child sexual abuse, although no charges were brought. He married twice, first in 1994 and again in 1996, and brought up three children, one of them born to a surrogate mother. In 2005, he was tried and acquitted of child molestation allegations. Jackson died at the age of 50 on June 25, 2009, in Los Angeles, California after suffering from cardiac arrest. His memorial service was broadcast live around the world.
Musical style and performance
Steve Huey of Allmusic said that, throughout his solo career, Jackson’s versatility allowed him to experiment with various themes and genres. As a musician, he ranged from Motown’s dance fare and ballads to techno and house-edged new jack swing to work that incorporates both funk rhythms and hard rock guitar.Michael, himself, stated at his pre-release party for his Off The Wall album that Little Richard had a “huge influence” on him. Unlike many artists, Jackson did not write his songs on paper. Instead he would dictate into a sound recorder; when recording he would sing from memory. Several critics observed Off the Wall was crafted from funk, disco-pop, soul, soft rock, jazz and pop ballads. Prominent examples include the ballad “She’s out of My Life”, and the two disco tunes “Workin’ Day and Night” and “Get on the Floor”.
According to Huey, Thriller refined the strengths of Off the Wall; the dance and rock tracks were more aggressive, while the pop tunes and ballads were softer and more soulful. Notable tracks included the ballads “The Lady in My Life”, “Human Nature” and “The Girl Is Mine”; the funk pieces “Billie Jean” and “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'”; and the disco set “Baby Be Mine” and “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)”. With Thriller, Christopher Connelly of Rolling Stone commented that Jackson developed his long association with the subliminal theme of paranoia and darker imagery. Allmusic’s Stephen Thomas Erlewine noted this is evident on the songs “Billie Jean” and “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'”. In “Billie Jean”, Jackson sings about an obsessive fan who alleges he has fathered a child of hers. In “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” he argues against gossip and the media. The anti-gang violence rock song “Beat It” became a homage to West Side Story, and was Jackson’s first successful rock cross-over piece, according to Huey. He also observed that the title track “Thriller” began Jackson’s interest with the theme of the supernatural, a topic he revisited in subsequent years. In 1985, Jackson co-wrote the charity anthem “We Are the World”; humanitarian themes later became a recurring theme in his lyrics and public persona.
Jackson sang from childhood, and over time his voice and vocal style changed noticeably, either through puberty or a personal preference to align his vocal interpretation to the themes and genres he chose to express. Between 1971 and 1975, Jackson’s voice descended from boy soprano to androgynous high tenor.In early 1973, the singer adopted a “vocal hiccup”, first heard in the song “It’s Too Late to Change the Time” from the Jackson 5’s G.I.T.: Get It Together album.Although, Jackson did not employ the hiccup fully until the recording of Off the Wall; its usage can be seen in full force in the “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)” promotional video. The purpose of the hiccup—somewhat like a gulping for air or gasping—was to help promote a certain emotion, be it excitement, sadness or fear. With the arrival of Off the Wall in the late 1970s, Jackson’s abilities as a vocalist were well regarded; Allmusic described him as a “blindingly gifted vocalist”. At the time, Rolling Stone compared his vocals to the “breathless, dreamy stutter” of Stevie Wonder. Their analysis was also that “Jackson’s feathery-timbred tenor is extraordinarily beautiful. It slides smoothly into a startling falsetto that’s used very daringly”.1982 saw the release of Thriller, and Rolling Stone were of the opinion that Jackson was then singing in a “fully adult voice” that was “tinged by sadness”.
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