The Problem That Michael Created

Although we did our best to remember and not eulogize Michael Jackson--since he will never be gone in our hearts--I still can't help but to pour over the remembrance articles dedicated to his legacy. Scoop Jackson's article on Michael in this month's Wax Poetics entitled "Michael Jackson: The King Of Pop (1958-2009)" was interesting in its approach to the legacy that Michael left us. Since he was so groundbreaking on so many levels that we really do not fully realize and often take for granted, there was a point made by Scoop that really caught my attention.

Basically, the problem Jennifer Hudson will encounter the rest of her career is the one Michael Jackson conquered. The "box" society and music tried to stick him in and force on us, he destroyed. But only for him. No other soul singer will be able to break through that box. No one will have MJ's imagination, no one will have Quincy Jones to help them break through it, no one will be able to "transcend" the musical cultures and cultural paradoxes.


I posed a question after Michael's passing dealing with whether, in the aftermath of furious downloading and nostalgia for a musical force we will never get back, would this usher in a new era of creative brilliance. So far the most that we have gotten is the Death Of Auto-Tune. But this is not creative, nor is it brilliant.

So is the fact a little boy gifted with so much talent that he changed history--and I'm not only speaking of music--mean that he in effect messed it up for anyone else following in his shoes? Yes, it seems like an absurd question since many successful singers went on to garner much critical and commercial success. Yes, it also seems so absurd because many musical genres went onto flourish with nary a real mention or hat tip to Michael's brilliance. In the end, however, what we have is a music industry hell bent on consuming itself much as a phoenix would. The real question is whether out of the flames and ashes will the same industry be willing to find and foster brilliance or maintain more of the current status quo.

Using Scoop Jackson's assertion, is it possible for a talented singer such as Jennifer Hudson to break out of the box and the mold that Michael broke through so adeptly? I mean, let's be real here: She should have been on the same path that was created for Mariah a generation ago or Whitney two generations ago.

I honestly don't know the solution to this conundrum. I'm not willing to accept that Michael was the only artist who ever lived who was able to break out the mold many corporate conglomerates falsely assumed they could restrain him with. For me to believe that he is the only one who could have ever done this would cause me to loose faith in music's ability to heal, conquer, persevere, and to nourish.

Given I cannot answer this question myself, I pose the question to you? Is music doomed? Was Michael truly the best that will have ever done it? Or is there much more in store for us collectively as we learn to appreciate and not canonize his legacy?

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7 Responses

  1. As much as I love Michael Jackson, I think it's short-sighted and nihilistic to argue that soul music and/or music in general is doomed because of Michael's untimely death.
    There were great musicians in black music before him. Let's remember that Stevie Wonder was a child prodigy as well. Not to mention Ella Fitzgerald too.
    I think he's legacy will carry on in multiple forms. And I think that music in general -- despite financial/corporate pressures -- will continue to evolve brilliantly in multiple forms. I guess, I'm an idealist.

  2. Michaels phenomenon was a perfect storm. Why anyone would use Jennifer Hudson as a basis for this important question is to demean it's validity.
    It will be hard enough for someone to match Michael. In the same way that Aretha will ALWAYS be queen... ( the civil rights movement, singing at MLKs funeral, being a peer of Ray Charles and James Brown and able to hold her own when all of the originators of Soul were at their peak) Michael was a product of the times. Also the whole family dynamic thing was un-paralleled.
    No. Their will be someone we know that will step up to the plate and come close. But it will take a decade or two to get far enough from the collective experience that was MJ.
    As as this imaginary "box", you can't break out of something that no longer exists. The barriers may be different. The community that will find the "next great artist(s)" is vastly different than 40 years ago. my fear is that we have seen and heard the next big thing and failed to have him/her played on "black radio". Or we prejudged them because they "weren't Michael Jackson-esque in some A&R equation.

  3. Think of MJ like Usain Bolt. Michael was something that only happens once every few centuries. Some people are just special

  4. For right now I would say Michale probably is the best to have ever done it. Part of me wants to say what about Janet... since I'm a huge stan for her but it's not fair to Mike since she was able to follow his path and then break her own barriers.
    I think the next person to transcend and supersede the Iconic Legacy of the King of Pop has not been born yet. If you look through music history when the best are no more generations pass before the next greatest thing comes along.
    Look at how greater society lament at the plane crash that took Buddy Holly and others and remember it as the "day the music died."
    Elvis was the best (we won't get into the Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Stax side of this argument) and he was gone and then there was Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin and that whole crew and by the end of the 70's they were no more. (forgive me if my dates are wrong)
    So with Mike in the 80's their was a brand new best and he did more than be the best. He gave a whole new definition for it.
    And now his voice is no more. And for all the people that say the King is now a Queen in reference to Beyonce... my only comment is the sideye.
    That makes no sense. Not to discount B. But her mold is Michael's mold to the letter. Not only that Mike was a creative genius doing new things not rehashed old things. While Bey is creative she's not on that new new. She's good at what she does but it isn't close to the level of Michael.
    With that said... the music industry may become vapid with the loss of the Legend until a new one is born and that may or may not be in our lifetime.

  5. truth is michael is the best that ever done it period. he was blessed with a ability that nobody else have. there will be other artist that make it big and have a run. but nobody will ever be able to touch the world like he did. with his flaws came his ability to love music more than anything else and to respect it and make it for the people.

  6. Great writing. If I wasn't married I'd make like the whole of soulbounce my wife. serious. dudes and all, I love freakishly smart black people... is butta black? (I kid).
    Michael is/was an avatar, a funky, soulful, life edifying avatar. And like all avatars their wont be another of the ilk for a millennia. We will need said time to catch up.
    But the thing about Mikey. (yep calls him Mikey). I can say without any stretch he didn't ever leave anything on the table! When he did a song, from 'got to be there' to 'human nature' he did in its entirety. You were not left for wanton any emotion, any funkiness or any sexy ass intonation.
    But back to my avatar theory: We don't want nor need another MJ. Because he has left all of music better. Michael has left all of us better. Music has been pushed forward and like Mami said music is better in ways we take for granted everyday. A good microcosmic example of this effect is seen in D'Angelo's 'brief' career. Dude immediately made RB/Soul music better. He showed up & showed soul who it was again. And it really took him one album to spawn a new life in most music. People like ARAH-Kelly, Maxwell, etc. came through his brief burst of true soul.
    Now look at the 40+ years of Mikey in music. He, the 5 bros & later Q multiplied that transformative effect on modern music exponentially. They don't talk about that much. So we bouncers gotta do that! He changed music several times. The original boy group format (that's still popular today). The off the wall speed funk era. Lastly the Thriller mega pop funk epoch. Everybody was chasing that style. Not to mention several less developed iterations in between. When you listen to his interviews you can see how intentional it all was. Only miles Davis change music more times than Mikey Jay! But that's another blog comment.
    Thank you for writing that.

  7. Great piece. I've been thinking abt it seriously. Even before Michael left us.
    Do I think music is doomed? No
    Do I think we'll ever see another like Michael? Not in our lifetime.
    I think Michael had a number of things going for him besides raw talent and unprecedented drive: time and relationship.
    The time period in which Michael produced his best and greatest works as a solo artist were ripe for creativity. The labels cared about the 'bottom line' but they weren't so consumed with it as to deny an artist the ability to step outside the box on a meaningful level. Michael didn't have to choose b/w being an artist and being profitable. He was able to succeed at both. Today it seems as if artists must choose one or the other.
    And relationship. Michael was blessed to meet and form one of the most successful relationships in music history w/ Quincy Jones. Quincy was able to bring his vast experience and his open-mindedness to the table and help fuel Michael's creativity. Quincy was the catalyst that Michael needed to finally step out and do his own thing. He didn't try to control Mike w/ a heavy hand like Joe and Berry. With Quincy, Michael found his musical freedom.
    What musical relationships exist today like that? People (crazy people) keep pushing Beyonce as the "next" MJ. But where's her 'Quincy'? Jay-Z? I think not.
    Is Michael the best to have ever done what he did? Yes. For right now, yes.


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