Michael Jackson, born in 1958 in Gary, Indiana, was one of the world’s most successful recording artists (Jones and Brown, 2005, p. 14). Jackson first found fame as a young child, when he performed with his older brothers in the musical group, The Jackson Five, but he went on to superstardom with a solo career that began in the late 1970s (Jones and Brown, 2005). Jackson’s musical style can be seen as a blend of Motown and pop, while also introducing electronic synthesizers to produce a new sound of pop music that became popular in the 1980s. His first single with the Jackson Five was a song titled “Big Boy,” although the band received more success with their 1969 single, “I Want You Back” (Jones and Brown, 2005).
However, Jackson’s solo career produced even bigger hits, with “Thriller,” “Beat It,” “Billie Jean,” “Bad,” “Smooth Criminal,” and many more . Jackson’s musical reputation is that he is one of the most influential musical artists of the 20th century, although personal allegations of child abuse in his later life have raised questions about his character (Lull and Hinerman, 1997). Nevertheless, Jackson is considered a pioneer, as he helped connect musical genres that were originally identified as having a racial association by bridging “black” and “white” musical forms; he popularized the music video format with his dance routines; and he was a fashion icon that defined fashion trends in the 1980s.
Although Jackson first found success as part of the Jackson 5, which was a Motown band, many artists at the time tended to cater to particular ethnic groups. Essentially, the sound of Motown was considered to appeal to African-Americans, while performers such as Elvis Presley and the Beatles were considered to have mostly white audiences. Jackson’s solo success helped bridge this racial divide in music, as he appealed to all audiences in a way that few artists previously had, especially for an African-American artist. In this regard, Jackson is considered one of the first artists to help bridge this racial divide in music, breaking down the stereotype that individuals of one ethnic group only listened to a particular style of music (McClary and Walser, 1994).
Jackson’s landmark music video, “Thriller,” also featured a dance routine that would influence how music videos were conceived. The lengthy video featured Jackson singing and dancing alongside numerous zombies, but the concept of a dance routine was new for music videos. Previously, many music videos were conceptual art pieces. After “Thriller” became popular, many other artists began to emulate the song and dance style of Jackson’s video. “Thriller” also coincided with the rise of MTV, so Jackson helped define the music video format.
Additionally, Jackson’s fashion style was unique, as he would often wear a single glove and a red leather jacket. Because Jackson’s style was so innovative, he inspired many fashion designers in the 1980s to emulate a similar look. This helped define the look of the 1980s, which is notable for its vibrant colors and how it popularized elements of street fashion that were seen as rebellious, such as a colorful leather jacket.
Michael Jackson is often remembered as one of the most successful musical artists of the modern era because he helped bridge the gap between black and white music, he established the standard for the entire music video industry with his song and dance routines, and he inspired fashion designers and many others with a unique and innovative look. Although he died at the age of 50, his legacy will be sure to live on for generations. His musical success is also evidence of his legacy within the pantheon of all musical artists, as he has sold over 370 million albums in his lifetime, which is only less than Elvis Presley and the Beatles (Jones and Brown, 2005, p.13).
- Lull, J., & Hinerman, S. (1997). Media scandals: Morality and desire in the popular culture marketplace. Columbia University Press.
- Jones, B., & Brown, S. (2005). Michael Jackson, the man behind the mask: an insider’s story of the king of pop. Select Books Inc..
- McClary, S., & Walser, R. (1994). Theorizing the body in African-American music. Black Music Research Journal, 75-84.