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A life in pictures: Michael Jackson

The King of Pop is still one of the most influential artists of our time, we look back on his life and everything that built the icon he became

Early life

Michael Joe Jackson was born in Gary, Indiana, on August 29, 1958, as the fifth child of Joe and Katherine Jackson's brood which included nine others; Maureen “Rebbie”, Sigmund “Jackie”, Toriano “Tito”, Jermaine, LaToya, Marlon, Brandon, Steven “Randy” and Janet. His childhood was notoriously difficult and his Father’s clamour for success overshadowed all the love and affection that a parent is designed to show their child—even venturing into disturbing abusive behaviour and neglect.

During an interview between Producer Chris Rooney and Chris Apostle, Rooney recounted a remark Jackson had made about growing up with his father:

“When I was a kid, I was denied not only a childhood, but I was denied love. When I reached out to hug my father, he didn't hug me back. When I was scared on an airplane, he didn't put his arm around me and say, ‘Michael, don't worry. It's going to be OK.’ When I was scared to go on stage, he said, ‘Get your ass on that stage.’ ”

Jackson 5

After an early Jackson 5 performance when Michael was only six years old, the group won an on-stage prize which cemented their father, Joe Jackson’s pursuit of their fame. During a “Soul Weekend” in Gary, Diana Ross became affiliated with the boys and with her support in tow, they shortly signed a contract with the label Motown Records.

As long as I can listen to the moment, I’ll always have music

With their funky sound attracting attention around the country (especially that of young people) and transcending colour boundaries, the group were the first pop group in history to have their first four singles hit number one. They were becoming the “new sound of America” and becoming a category of their own with their new so-called bubblegum-soul sound. With tracks like ABC, I Want You Back, and The Love You Save storming into the charts, the Jackson 5 pop sensations even spurred the making of a cartoon series based on the brothers called “The Jackson 5ive” in the summer of 1971. Jackson hysteria was well and truly underway.

Going Solo

Michael Jackson with rats, taken while filming Ben

With the Jackson 5 falling in the charts and no longer hitting the top of the charts, Michael ventured out to pursue a solo career and was almost immediately met with success. His first No. 1
single was from his 1972 album, Ben which featured the eponymous ballad about his dead pet rat.

"People ask me how I make music. I tell them I just step into it. It’s like stepping into a river and joining the flow. Every moment in the river has its song. So I stay in the moment and listen. What I hear is never the same. A walk through the woods brings a light, crackling song: Leaves rustle in the wind, birds chatter and squirrels scold, twigs crunch underfoot and the beat of my heart holds it all together. When you join the flow, the music is inside and outside, and both are the same. As long as I can listen to the moment, I’ll always have music."—Michael Jackson in his book Dancing the Dream


MJ’s iconic smash hit Thriller might have been very different to the one we know and love today. The album which parents it was almost named “Midnight Man” and the track called “Starlight” until songwriter Rod Temperton thought up Thriller one morning as he woke up.

Never one to deliver a perfunctory routine, MJ refused to settle for only a smash hit and created a scenario that would change music videos forever. In 1983, he called director John Landis and asked if he would be interested in making a film for the song Thriller which at the time had been released for around a year. Landis agreed to make a 13-minute short and with massive stars such as Fred Astaire, and Marlon Brando on set along with a budget of $900,000 the aspirations were high.
It certainly delivered in a freaky and theatrical fashion and has inspired other artists throughout history to infuse their music videos with dialogue. John Landis spoke at its screening at the Venice Film Festival’s 3D and told journalists that “It was a vanity video because Michael wanted to be a monster. And everything that came, evolved from that, it was spectacularly successful and I was totally surprised.

In an online audio chat, October 26th, 2001 Michael described what the world of dance meant to him:

Question: "How do you come up with a dance move, and how long does it take for you to put the choreography for a song together?"

Michael Jackson: "I pretty much just get in a room and I start to dance, and uh, I don't create the dance, the dance creates itself, really. I'll do something and I'll look back on tape and I'll go, 'Wow,' I didn't realize I had done that. It came out of the drums. Dancing is about interpretation. You become the accompaniment of the music. So when you become the bass of Billie Jean, I couldn't help but do the step that I was doing when the song first start, because that's what it told me to do. You know, if I turn around, spin, stop, move my legs to the side and then lift up the collar of my shirt, that's for that moment, it's an accompaniment."

A life in pictures: Michael Jackson Reviewed by Akande Boluwatife on July 12, 2018 Rating: 5

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