Michael Jackson, the "king of pop," died three years ago to the date on Monday. The anniversary of his death reminds us of his impact and irreplaceable persona in the music industry today.
Jackson was one of the most beloved entertainers of all time. He won America’s heart as the youngest child in the Jackson 5, the family Motown group that produced “I Want You Back,” and “ABC.”
His solo career was even more successful: his album Thriller, which won eight Grammy awards, is the best-selling album ever.
In the 1980s, he smartly set himself apart from other pop artists by pairing his catchy tunes with his unmatchable dance skills in a new art form: the music video. The Moonwalk and the Robot dance moves were Jackson inventions; the horror film, wolf-themed “Thriller” music video made the music industry redefine how pop should be packaged. Music began to revolve around stories and personalities behind the music.
Despite having become a musical tour-de-force and having supported the most charities of any celebrity, Jackson began to crumble in his troubled personal life.
As an unhappy man who was highly pressured and physically beaten by his father as a child, he expressed regret publicly about his failed childhood. His child-like amusement park called Neverland, named after the Peter Pan fictional land where children never grow up, raised suspicion of Jackson as being obsessed with children; in 1993 and 2005, he faced allegations of child molestation. He also caused a media frenzy for undergoing facial plastic surgery to bleach his skin and reconstruct his nose. Other strange habits, such as sleeping in an oxygen chamber to maximize his physical beauty and longevity and having a pet chimpanzee, made him a target for ridicule.
Jackson died from cardiac arrest triggered by a mix of medical drugs including propofol, an anesthetic for patients undergoing surgery, on June 25, 2009. Jackson’s personal physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, was charged with involuntary manslaughter for over-medicating Jackson.
Who is the next king of pop? Justin Timberlake and Usher seemed like favorites years ago, but both have strayed from their rocketeering solo careers, instead pursuing acting and music producing, respectively. Bruno Mars is a contender, but he hasn’t demonstrated game-changer potential in the same way Jackson did early on. It could be Justin Bieber — he has consistently produced hits, is transitioning smoothly into “older” material, and is actually a pretty talented singer and dancer — but we’re still too embarrassed to admire him openly.
Whoever it may be, Michael Jackson is irreplaceable. He was a style icon and a true entertainer in every sense. Songs like “Billie Jean,” “Beat It,” and “Thriller” not only were feel-good dance hits, but also have become timeless because they revolutionized pop forever. While “Wacko Jacko” was eccentric and disturbed, the pop legend was ultimately good-hearted. He cared deeply about social and spiritual harmony — “Man in the Mirror” focuses on inner change as the way to change the world, and “Black or White” challenges racism. Jackson’s legacy has been mixed, but there’s no question that he was an entertainment legend. With his influence on pop, nearly alien physical appearance, unparalleled eccentricity, he was almost non-human — but his gentle naivete and idealism makes us celebrate everything he has left behind.