The world of pop music lost one of its greatest talents yesterday with the unexpected death of Michael Jackson. Sadly, I'm sure that like other eccentrics, his personal life will at least partly overshadow his accomplishments. I don't care about his personal life, and never did. But being almost 26 now, I grew up in the era when Michael ruled the pop music landscape. Sure, Springsteen was a huge superstar, Prince was a mysterious genius, and Madonna was ridiculously popular (for God knows what reason), but Michael was the king of pop music and pop culture.
The news was very surprising to me, as I had just a day or two before been listening to my Michael Jackson mixtape marveling at his vocal dexterity and control, his rhythmic mastery, and his underrated songriting abilities and thinking that I wish Michael could make a comeback to that classic period level of greatness. Michael's deceptively strong voice allowed him to hop genres whenever the mood struck him. I'm listening to "Billie Jean" right now and am again caught up in that simple groove, terrific backing vocals, and Quincy Jones' layered production. That's to go along with the equally tremendous run of great singles like "Off the Wall" "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough", "Wanna Be Startin' Something'" and "Beat It" (with a guitar solo by Eddie Van Halen, who refused payment, saying it was worth it just to be able to work with Michael), among many other great songs. He also co-wrote (along with Lionel Ritchie) the song "We Are the World", which sold more than 20 million copies just on its own.
That his music succeeds without watching him perform it is another testament to its strength. Arguably, only Elvis has ever been on the same level as a performer that Michael was at. His dance moves are still the standard by which all dancers are measured. Even Fred Astaire once told Michael that he was the greatest dancer in the world. His presence on stage was magnetic, you just couldn't take your eyes off of him, and he always made it worth watching. We rarely see talents like Michael Jackson emerge in the music world. He was just two months short of his 51st birthday, and although he hadn't been a relevant artist in at least 15 years, it still feels like a huge loss to the world of music.