Article from Rolling Stone, January 9th, 1992
- by Michael Goldberg
"The King Of Pop."
That's how Fox, Black Entertainment Television (BET) and MTV, the American TV outlets that got the right to première Jackson's "Black Or White", now refer to him. That was the deal. You want to get "Black or White" first, you dub Jackson "the King Of Pop."
It makes some kind of sense. Bruce is the Boss, Elvis is the King, Prince is, well, Prince. And Michael Jackson? Somehow W**** J****, as the British tabloids have called him, doesb't cut it. So if the world won't crwon him king, why, he'll do it himself.
Which explains the November 11th, 1991, memo, typed on MTV Network's letterhead, that was circulated among the MTV staff the week before "Black Or White" was first shown. The memo directed all on-air personnel to refer to Jackson as "The King Of Pop" at least twice a week over the next two weeks. It also thanked staff members for their cooperation, adding that "Fox and BET are already doing this."
"The fact is that a lot of people have changed their names recently," says Tom Freston, chairman and CEO of MTV Networks, in defence of the company's actions. "M.C. Hammer is now Hammer and Michael Jackson is 'the King of Pop'. Who are we to stand in front of the wheels of progress? Whatever they want to call themselves, we try and oblige."
So MTV and the others dubbed him "the King Of Pop" and showed his video, and the world went crazy. It's estimated that half a billion people saw the premiere of "Black Or White", which quickly became MTV's most requested video of the week. As a result of the overwhelming response, the network put the video into what Freston calls superheavy rotation. "No artistm including himself," Freston says, "has ever gotten more plays per day."
While "Black Or White" has received more concentrated exposure than any other video, it does not have the kind of influential impact that "Thriller" had. "Thriller" clearly broke new ground: Its $1.2 million budget was more than had ever been spent on a video. By combining narrative, dramatic nonmusic sections and ambitious choreography, Jackson and director Landis set new standards for music videos. The "Thriller" video also helped Jackson sell as many as 1 million albums a week for the month following its initial airing.
In the days immediately following the première of "Black Or White", in newspapers large and small all over the world, millions more read about it and about the controvercy that erupted over the video's last four minutes, in which Jackson simulates masturbation, zips up his zipper, smashes in the windows of a car and throws a garbage can through a storefront window.
Entertainment Weekly devoted its cover story to "Michael Jackson's Video Nightmare". Even the Wall Street Journal saw fit to tell its readers about the Jackson brouhaha, noting that "the Jackson video wasn't viewed as truly offensive to almost anybody of commercial importance to the singer."
Jackson's handlers immediately denied any suggestion that the controvercy had been planned. Certainly, it's not far-fetched to imagine that media-savy Michael Jackson, a star for more than twenty years, hero to both children and their grandparents, might have had an inkling that if he rubbed himself and smashed up windows, he would get a rise out of his fans. On the other hand, if he didn't plan to create a controvercy, it simply means that, yes, Jackson really is quite detached from reality, as many believe.
Yet, whatever his intentions, and despite his statement ("It upsets me to think that "Black Or White could influence any child or adult to destructive behavior, either sexual or violent..."), released the day after the video aired, those around Jackson, as well as at least one top Sony executive, seemed overjoyed at all the attention. "No story ever got this much play on the news but a war," said one Jackson associate a few days after the première.
Jermaine quickly claimed he didn't know how the song had gotten to radio. And although he said it was written as a way of personally dealing with frustration he felt when his brother did not return his calls for "eight or nine months", the altered version was formally released on CD to radio and critics by the end of the month.
Jermaine refused to elaborate on the lyrics, saying that "the overall message is to help mend our relationship." He also said that Michael had "lost touch with reality" but that they had talked recently and that "I love my brother."
But Teddy Riley - who coproduced half the songs on Dangerous and also is the leader of the New Jack Swing group Guy - say that, contrary to what Jermaine has said: "Michael does call his family. All this rumor about him not calling anybody, him not answering the calls - come on. I've been there plenty of times when Michael was talking to his mom, and I've spoken to is mom and I've spoken to Janet. It's a bunch of crap. That record ("Word to the Badd!!") was a desperate attempt for fame."
"We anticipated a lot of people saying a lot of stuff about Michael," says Riley. "Hammer going after Michael and Jermaine going after Michael. We anticipated that. That's why he wrote songs like 'Trippin' (Why You Wanna Trip On Me) and 'Jam'. We know that people are after him, people are talking about him. But we didn't get too direct, we didn't say anybody's name. 'Cause when you're too direct, it gets boring."
Despite Jermaine's denials, it seems clear that the whole thing was calculated to borrow some thunder from Michael.
...to be continued.
...to be continued.