Friday, August 10, 2012

The Making Of The King Of Pop - part two

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.

The latest controvercy arrived in time to overshadow the attack Jackson had recently suffered from his brother Jermaine. In November, shortly after Jermaine's latest album was released and just as "Black Or White" hit the airwaves, Jermaine's song "Word to the Badd!!", with lyrics different from those that appear on the album, was leaked to radio. This version was directed right at Jermaine's superstar brother: "Reconstructed/Been abducted/Don't know who you are... Once you were made/You changed your shade/Was your color wrong."

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. be continued.


  1. Thank you for this... I hadn't seen the article when it was originally published.
    Michael certainly was capable of creating a stir! He always wanted to do something that hadn't been done before...I guess you can't do that without upsetting the apple cart a little.
    Considering the full range of antics on stage and in videos since Black and White, it no longer stands out so much. But at the time Michael was certainly breaking more than window glass! (Which was always his intention.)
    The thing is, everything Michael did in Black and White that was considered controvercial made sense in the context of his morphing into the panther (a wild creature devoid of inhibitions) and back.
    Transforming into the wild cat enabled Michael to express the frustration inherent in being pigeon -holed by skin color, which was of course the whole message of the video... to rise above such discrimination.

    (Looking forward to more.)

  2. Correction... 'Black OR White '

    1. Hi Helen!
      Don't worry I get the song title wrong half the time too!

      You are right. So much has happened since the days of "Black and White" in terms of videos and stage shows. It seems that nudity is the order of the day now. Yes, I know that this is generalization, but bear with me. Sometimes I feel I am getting too old to understand today's music and maybe I am. Anyway, I just get the feeling that a good song is not quite enough nowadays. Even Madonna, at her age, has to have a daring show on her recent tour - too daring for her age if you ask me. Oh there I go again... LOL!

      Michael did great. He did push the boundaries, but he never made a fool of himself in his videos. He never was too much (although he did make me feel embarrassed when I first watched "The Way You Make Me Feel" as you know. It was those sexy moves he did on the ground... Oh boy...)

      As for more...
      I just posted the next part of the article!

      Thanks for commenting!

  3. Missed this too..LOL..but just a comment...Some of today's music is think that Michael had to change lyrics of his songs...

    that now you can..
    "Come here, rude boy, boy; can you get it up? Come here rude boy is you big enough...."

    "I wanna rub you down"
    I wanna sex you up"

    Forget about the vulgarity and language...

    When all Michael was trying to do was make a statement...that we are not taking sht no in the lyrics he had to bleep out in black or white....

    Scary to think what our world is becoming.....

    Sorry ranting here...but I just feel that MJ was always being scrutinized for everything...

    Beautiful blog Enola love it...

    1. Nancy, you are so right - and you can rant as much as you like here. Michael was always scrutinized for everything.
      Why? I think simply because he was Michael. So unfair...

      I am glad you like the blog!