Nobody moves like Michael Jackson.
Posted on June 25, 2014
I don’t often write about Michael Jackson on my blog. I don’t often write my blog, to be fair, but I’m aware that my fandom can be uncomfortable for other people. It was uncomfortable when I did a full, crotch-grabbing performance of ‘Billie Jean’ at a wedding, it was uncomfortable when I tried to curl my hair, and it’s always uncomfortable when I shout “he was acquitted on ten counts!” in people’s faces when they discuss those scandalous accusations.
But it’s the fifth anniversary of Michael Jackson’s untimely death, I’ve had a drink and I’ve been – what the fan community calls – ‘Michaeling‘. So, rather than talk about those allegations, the shrinking nose or the fate of Bubbles, let’s take a look at the performances that turned a poor black kid from the midwest into the greatest pop star of all time…
Who’s Lovin’ You (1969)
The Jackson 5 burst onto the scene with the piano roll and bubble gum pop of ‘I Want You Back’, but it was the performance immediately after, on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1969, that caused some viewers to believe they were watching a “45 year old midget”. How else could an 11-year-old boy sing with such soul?
This montage of concert clips is annoyingly interrupted by Shaggy who explains why he thinks the song is “banging”, but it’s an interesting look at the evolution of a Michael Jackson live performance – from the piping hot vocals of pre-pubescence to the sexual energy of young adulthood (and one fully-embracing musical theatre). Yes, it’s a song about a rat, but it’s a sentiment he makes believable. Verisimilitude.
Upside Down (1980)
When The Jackson Five signed with Motown Records and moved from Indiana to Hollywood, they lived, for some time, with Diana Ross. She was a mentor to little Mike and something of a crush. 10 years later, he is a fully grown man, and when he’s called up to the stage from the crowd in this clip, the transition is complete – not just from boyhood to manhood, but from student to teacher. Michael grabs the microphone and shows Miss Ross how it’s done. It’s a short clip, but a rare chance to see Michael Jackson in jeans – and freestyling.
Jackson 5 Medley, Billie Jean (1983)
Michael Jackson’s 1983 performance of ‘Billie Jean’ was television almost as jaw-dropping as the first Moonwalk in 1969. The TV special on which it appeared was supposed to be a celebration of the legendary Motown record label, but Michael insisted on performing a new, solo song. After a brief medley with his brothers, Michael muttered something about “the good old days”. Then his expression intensified. “But especially I like… the new songs.”
The Way You Make Me Feel, Man In The Mirror (1988)
Feeling snubbed by the Grammys in 1988 (after a record-breaking win in ’84), Michael decided to perform at the awards ceremony itself. In ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’ he is Fred Astaire for the hip-hop generation – crotch-grabbing and fake cigarette smoking – and in ‘Man In The Mirror’ he takes it to church. “White man gotta make the change,” he yells at 8:37. “Black man gotta make the change.” Forget the bombast of ‘Earth Song’. This is gospel.
Medley, Dangerous, You Are Not Alone (1995)
Between the Grammy snub in 1988 and this performance in ’95, things had gone from ‘Bad’ to worse for poor Michael. Feeling the need to remind people of the magic behind the madness, he performs a greatest hits medley here for MTV, before the campest introduction ever to the song ‘Dangerous’ and a serenade to new wife Lisa Marie (she does not look impressed). It’s all mad, obviously, but genius – especially the theatrics before Slash’s searing solo over ‘Billie Jean’.
Human Nature (2009)
Michael Jackson wouldn’t want you to see this performance of ‘Human Nature’ from the ill-fated ‘This Is It’ rehearsals. Notoriously, Jackson was a perfectionist and never performed in “full voice” until showtime. However, this rendition of one of his most intriguing songs is tender and vulnerable, a respite from the pyrotechnics, theatrics and dancers, and a reminder that not only could nobody move like Michael Jackson, nobody could sing like him either.