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Michael Jackson's success explained to my daughter (and her friends)... (2)

Here is the continuation of my conversation, the other night, with my daughter and some of her young friends, musicians and student sound engineers; about Michael Jackson's success and his "value", in our time. In my previous post, I transcribed the notes I took that night following this interesting and symptomatic conversation and I mentioned their questions about Michael Jackson's commercial success. But they had raised a second point, which our discussion then turned to: the question of fame. Was this fame so impressive? Was it deserved and what was it based on? Here are, in broad outline, their legitimate lines of questioning...

OK, but then, if we don't talk about sales and money and we talk about his fame... How come it is said that even the most remote tribes in Africa, Australia or Central America, which did not have TV, knew him? Was it really that bad?

You know, Michael Jackson knew how to use the media, the TV, the press, for a long time. It's a bit of a paradox because at the same time he was everywhere, and at the same time, often nowhere... I mean... He was afraid, at one time, of media overexposure. To appear everywhere and become banal was his fear. That's what started to happen during the time of the Jacksons and their sometimes questionable TV shows... There was a period when he faded away, as much to preserve himself as to play on the mystery, the absence, and to make himself desired, to arouse the fantasy, the expectation. And it worked. He knew for a long time how to play on the edge, even if it ended up costing him dearly.

He is also, as I often say, the multimedia artist before his time. Already as a child, he was on the front pages, he was famous, we saw him on stage, on TV but he also had his own character in a cartoon. It was huge! As he grew up, he exploited all possible media and even blurred the boundaries between them. His videos looked like movies, his movies looked like musicals, the commercials he did for Pepsi also looked like videos, and on stage he would summon all of these at once and break the boundaries between the virtual and the real. He was seen in magazines and he had his fan club and dedicated fanzines. It was quite innovative to work like that, on a large scale. So yes, even living in a cave or deep in the jungle or the desert, you couldn't not have heard of Michael Jackson. And at a time when the internet and the networks didn't exist, it was incredible. That's why, for all the generations who knew him, like us, or your parents, your grandparents, it marked the spirits!

OK, yes, I see. It's true that it must have been more difficult! I mean today with TikTok, Insta and all that, it's easy to broadcast images, to share sounds. But him, without all that, he managed to place himself at all levels! But why was what he was doing so interesting and still interesting?

The talent, I will tell you. The originality, the creativity, the innovative, bluffing side. The fact that he associated in a very effective way a music (of quality) and dances (of quality). And that he combined all this in a "decor" of short film thanks to which, finally, he became a character, like an actor. Here again, he combined the arts: music, dance, cinema, performance. It's quite rare to have so many different talents and so many ideas. You know, it is often said of him that he was well surrounded, as if he was a product, a nice little puppy who obeyed and did what he was told. I'm exaggerating, I'm caricaturing, but in fact no, he was a driving force, a force of proposals, someone who had to be stopped because he had no limits! Without limits in ideas as in the challenges to overcome! And you could feel it. What marked so much the spirits concerning his talents, it is at the same time the quality of what he proposed, as the bluffing side of his productions. To have an artist who combines all of that is not common. And on the scale of the United States, to have a "black" artist who combines all that, it was exceptional (and embarrassing... but that's another subject)...

Isabelle Petitjean blog / the value of Michael Jackson's success / Michael Jackson's star on Hollywood Blvd ©Isabelle Petitjean, 2010
Michael Jackson's star on Hollywood Blvd ©Isabelle Petitjean, 2010

You say it's all innovative: his videos, his dances, his way of playing with the media. But I heard about Mylène Farmer in France, who did the same thing!

Certainly, it is not false. But it is afterwards. Mylène Farmer is often compared to Michael Jackson in France, but it is, regardless of his talent and qualities, whether you like Mylène Farmer or not, totally incomparable...

Certainly Farmer's videos have taken on the dimension of scripted short films, but it is after Michael Jackson and what he brought in his musical films from "Thriller". Yes, Mylène Farmer created beautiful choreographed tableaux on stage, but the construction of her shows does not rely on the same artistic intentions as Jackson. And yes, finally, Mylène Farmer plays with mystery and shines by her absence in the media, but this is, again, modelled on Michael's, among others. Except that on this plan, she benefited from more indulgence from the press than Jackson...

Indeed. There again, when you don't have the context, it's not easy to realize. But I understand better now.

Listen... with pleasure! It's rare to have the opportunity to discuss these things quietly. So thank you for giving me the opportunity to argue. If you don't mind, I'm going to take notes while I have our exchange in mind, because I figure that even though this is just one point of view, mine, and the beginning of an explanation (there are probably hundreds of things to consider), it could still be useful to make it a blog post. Are you ok?


Thanks to Téva, Clothilde, Noé, Liam for giving me this double opportunity!


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