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NaKan Journal: special issue on Michael Jackson

"Michael Jackson's artistic contributions: another perspective"

Issue directed by Isabelle Petitjean, April 2022

The number of academic studies on Michael Jackson has increased in recent years, probably coinciding with a growing awareness of his impact on the music industry, the history of music and society, and a growing interest in him from the cultural studies perspective. However, many of the studies on Jackson have focused less on his artistic contributions than on issues related to his physicality and his racial or gender positioning.

By devoting a special issue to Michael Jackson, NaKan wanted to propose to shift this gaze and this cluster of approaches too often centered on the social sciences to generate a reflection more focused on the work and the mediums of expression of the artist, as many channels offering a possibility of contextualizations and historical and stylistic analysis. The challenges of this edition have been met, since it is nourished by contributions that have been able to focus on the work and offer disciplinary or multidisciplinary analyses of the artist’s musical and visual production, per se. And this was indeed the challenge of the proposed lines of research.

The specialists and academics who responded to the call for this second issue of NaKaN come from Europe (France, Italy, the West Indies) and the American continent (Canada, United States). Their fields of investigation cross musicological, choreographic, scenographic, cultural and sociological approaches, pointing out, once again, the multiplicity of readings and questions generated by the artistic and human hieroglyph that was Michael Jackson. These studies enrich the understanding of a sound and visual heritage as much as a legacy that continues to inspire new generations. They will undoubtedly provide a basis for further research and nourish the academic foundation of the multidisciplinary corpus left by the artist.

The first part of our issue focuses on pure or transdisciplinary musicological dimensions: Guillaume Deveney analyzes the internal compositional and structural strata of Jackson’s work, notably through the title “Wanna be startin’ somethin'”, by placing it in the context of amplified music from which it originated and whose reappropriation by Jackson has had an impact on the artists who have succeeded him. Mathilde Recly explores the complexity of Jacksonian vocal technique through the identification of “personalities” and his distinctive use of phonostylistic effects, which have become key vectors of the singer’s expressive palette. The voice is also a central element of Fabio Pastore’s study, which focuses on the ambivalence of the female figure, seductive and fascinating on the one hand, and a source of anxiety and paranoia on the other. Through a corpus of 5 songs, he observes, for this purpose, precise parameters of its vocalization (phonological, syntactic and pragmatic dimensions) but also the narratological and textual framework and the live staging of these titles.

Buata Malela takes an in-depth look at a recurrent practice of Michael Jackson’s, the artistic recoding by resemantization and visuality, through his emblematic cover of “Come together”, and deciphers the modalities that lead to its resignification within a logic that is specific to the artist. Isabelle Petitjean proposes a musical, textual and scenic analysis of “Will you be there” in order to highlight the way Jackson uses music and the stage as a space to convince and transmit a charismatic message, with the help of sound and iconographic cues from the liturgy.

The second part of our issue focuses on the visual dimension of the artist and opens with a choreographic and didactic exploration by Aurélie Doignon, who analyzes the link between Michael Jackson, street dances, hip-hop and sabar dance in Senegal, and studies the modalities of his indirect choreographic transmission. The phenomenology of Michael Jackson’s successful artistic career is the focus of Luca Izzo’s article, which concentrates on reconstructing and demonstrating how Jackson was inspired not by mainstream trends, but by his ideal as an artist, perhaps of the “Renaissance” variety, as well as by the desire to produce an expression of “total art.” Finally, from a more identity-based perspective, Zada Johnson offers, through the visual representations of “Remember the Time,” an analysis of the Afrocentric discourse and social commentary on racial marginalization that affected, at the time, particularly the entertainment industry. Elizabeth Amisu closes this issue by examining the interpretation and transitional meaning of Michael Jackson’s performance of high-level blackness through two visual productions. Indeed, her article seeks to make explicit the workings of this performance as well as its connections to both early modern representations and notions of race and ethnicity.

Isabelle PETITJEAN, editor in chief


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