Michael Jackson's music can't be erased but we must stop celebrating him
On this day 10 years ago, my hero died. A lifelong Michael Jackson fan, it was a text from a friend that broke the news.
‘Did you see? MJ is dead! Wonder if we’ll get refunds…’ was the gist. A group of us had bought tickets for his upcoming This Is It tour, his big comeback gig at London’s 02 that never happened.
It was meant to be my second time seeing him – back in 1997, my dad finally relented and bought us tickets to his HIStory tour at Wembley Stadium, a night I declared ‘the best of my life’ at school the next day…and every other morning since.
Michael Jackson’s final tour was not meant to be but if anything his death only amplified my adoration for him as I lamented the tragic circumstances and unreleased work the world would now miss out on.
I was, you see, a ‘proper’ fan, not some chancer who knew the chorus to Man in the Mirror or requested Billie Jean on nights out. By 1996, I’d joined his fan club – MJ News International – where I’d found a similarly obsessed pen-pal (hi Fiona from Fife, if you’re reading this).
Each week, we’d send each other excruciatingly-detailed feedback on everything from Jackson’s lyrics and album artwork to our scores on Moonwalker (the Sega game) and musings on his nephews, 3T (remember them?). And when a boy from my after-school drama club was picked to appear alongside Jackson for his infamous 1996 Brit Awards Earth Song performance, we seethed with jealousy together.
The debate of whether Jackson’s music should still be enjoyed, or even played, continues to rage.
Like most MJ fans, I was loyal, too, vehemently defending that Brits performance and cursing Jarvis Cocker for his disrespectful stage invasion.
Year in, year out I’d wearily roll out the ‘he had a tough childhood, guys!’ line when school friends made light of the ever-swirling rumours and truly, I didn’t believe them.
How could I, after growing up on songs that assured fans he’d been slandered and extorted his entire career? Songs like D.S (an attack on attorney Tom Sneddon) and Tabloid Junkie only served to make 11 year old Sophie more resolute in her stance. More recently, I referred naysayers who spoke of ‘no smoke without fire’ to the Cliff Richard police raids with an arrogant confidence that now makes me squirm.
But then came Leaving Neverland, the harrowing documentary from Dan Reed in which Wade Robson and James Safechuck allege they were sexually abused by the popstar as children. At which point it became impossible to conflate my own wilful ignorance with the chilling accounts the men shared.
Knowing how critical it is to support anybody who comes forward with claims of abuse – and without Jackson himself alive to face the music – my only choice was to switch allegiances, and to stand unequivocally behind his accusers. I believe them, and you should too.
Seeing – as an adult, instead of a fuzzy-eyed fan with blinkers on – the long-lasting effects of Jackson’s abuse on these grown men, their wives, children and wider family made any shred of doubt disappear, and an uneasy sense of shame settle in my stomach. It hasn’t really left.
The debate of whether Jackson’s music should still be enjoyed, or even played, continues to rage. It’s a personal choice for us each to wrestle with individually, I think.
Erasing a legacy like Jackson’s is impossible (streaming figures for his songs actually rose after the documentary aired) and how that will play out over the next decade is anyone’s guess.
Can I enjoy his songs in the same way I did before? Truthfully, I don’t know. Even Dangerous (his best album, I always felt) feels sordid and tarnished now, something to sweep – no, shove in a cupboard somewhere, with the rest of my MJ memorabilia.
If Michael Jackson and his music cannot be erased, we can – and should – at least stop celebrating him now. I’m just embarrassed it took me so long.
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