“King of Pop” is a common phrase that many people use to underline the importance of Michael Jackson within the contemporary music industry. Thus, trying to trace the influence of the singer on pop music is the same as trying to locate the influence of gravity on the universe. Learning more about the impact of Michael Jackson’s music on contemporary culture is a matter of not only general knowledge but also insight into the history of pop and the value it brought into people’s lives.
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The vast and far-reaching impact, especially at the way of the commercial success of Thriller and the music video for the song (Figure 1), could be explained by the fact that there were not many artists of the same scale who could combine music and visuals in a harmonious and balanced way. His way of approaching music thus opened the door to a new form of marketing in the area of entertainment. Thriller, which was marketed as a short movie, took the popularity of the artist to the next level.
Produced by John Landis, the video also included the “Making Of” section that was unusual back in the days (Griffin). Besides, the one million dollar budget exceeded any music video expenses, thus increasing the attention of the public to the video. Networking companies were competing to get exclusive rights to air the video, with MTV paying the most (Mitchell). As a result, MTV ratings exceeded all of its records, and the music video won a Grammy.
While Thriller made many changes in the way in which music was created and marketed to the general public, the real importance of the album and the music video lies explicitly in its racial influence. After the music video was released on television, African-American artists became more prominently featured (Wilburn). Both Thriller and Billie Jean’s music videos were the first by a Black artist to be aired on MTV (Marcovitz 32). Slowly but surely, the impact of Jackson paved the way for other artists that included Prince and Whitney Houston, whose videos were later aired on the music channel. Because of Jackson and his innovative way of marketing his music, the public became more accepting of other artists of color who had immense talent and also contributed to the history of pop.
Michael Jackson’s impact should also be discussed in the way in which the industry changed. As mentioned by Stevens for The Atlantic, “it’s more like the music industry ballooned to encompass Jackson’s talent and shrunk down again without him.” Before Michael, music videos did not matter much, and they stopped to matter at almost the same cultural moment when Jackson seized to produce great work. The last relevant music clip “Black or White,” (Figure 2) was compared to the swan song of the pop genre. Therefore, the impact of Michael Jackson on pop is more about music videos. How Jackson managed to communicate the aesthetic and the imagination behind his music was more memorable and impactful when compared to such artists as Madonna, who was as gifted in communicating on-screen aesthetics.
Jackson approached his music from the stance of breaking down barriers and challenging stereotypes. Not only did the artist promote the egalitarian ethos of pop music, but he also tried to embody it. Jackson made a conscious decision to become an indeterminate combination of human types, connecting male and female, black and white, adult and child (Figure 3). What is essential to understand is that Jackson was not an arch person but rather a regular person, with his problems and ideas. While being a supremely talented and inspiring individual, Jackson was challenged by the immense pressure from the public, which is why his career stopped abruptly.
Beyond the innovative approach to music video marketing that allowed the artist to top all charts, the impact of Michael Jackson can be traced in the music and career of other artists. Justin Timberlake is the prime example of Jackson’s influence as he also started in a boy band and then developed a personality to launch a solo career (Figure 4). The very first successful Timberlake’s record, “Rock Your Body,” is an obvious nod to Jackson’s “Rock with You.” The trickle-down effect of Jackson can also be seen in Beyoncé’s “Get me Bodied,” and “Ring the Alarm,” showing that the influence of the musician is multi-dimensional (Keyes). According to Keyes for Rolling Stone, Beyoncé is unique in her drawing from Jackson’s music because she possesses his fierceness, especially in dance performances (Figure 5).
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Thus, the impact of Michael Jackson on pop music is undeniable and immense. The artist broke and set records, revolutionized music marketing through combining visuals with music, as well as challenged racial stereotypes. The groundbreaking creativity brought by Jackson to pop music made significant shifts in the framework of the way music was manufactured and marketed. Jackson has received a place in pop history as a pioneer and legend, which is why he will always be remembered as the King of Pop.
“Beyoncé Overtakes Jackson.” Women Africa. Web.
Griffin, Nancy. “The “Thriller” Diaries.” Vanity Fair. 2010. Web.
“Justin Timberlake and Michael Jackson’s New Music Video.” E News. Web.
Keyes, Edward. “Michael Jackson’s Indelible Pop Legacy.” Rolling Stone. 2009. Web.
Marcovitz, Hal. The History of Music Videos, Gale Cengage Learning, 2012.
“Michael Jackson’s “Black or White.”” Cartoon Brew. Web.
“Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” Vibe. Web.
“Michael Jackson’s Plastic Surgeries.” Viral IQ. Web.
Mitchell, Gail. “Exclusive: How Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” Changed the Music Business.” Billboard. 2009. Web.
Stevens, Hampton. “Michael Jackson’s Unparalleled Influence.” The Atlantic. 2010. Web.
Wilburn, Aly. “The King of Pop: How Michael Jackson Revolutionized the Music Industry.” Medium, 2018. Web.