The thing I’ve been thinking, thinking about my relationship with the man and his image and his music, and watching “Billy Jean” and “Thriller” on Youtube with my girlfriend last night, is how absolutely a “STAR” he was. Older film buffs talk about the great age of the stars, larger than life actors and actresses that gave Hollywood its mythic stature, and in my lifetime there was Michael Jackson. Name any other star that loomed larger than him? We think of him in terms of the Beatles (indeed, he did a tune w./Sir Paul), but that was before our time. Michael Jackson was our star. You wouldn’t see him in a street. Even the “streets” of Billy Jean are a set — realism has no place in his world, and I suggest that this is a good thing. Stars are important. Fantasy is important. Everything today is so “relatable.” Today’s fantasy movies are written with the idea that “what if they were real”, thus we get “Iron Man” or “Batman” now rewritten with a plausible story. Even “Transformers” is now a tale grounded in reality. We have none other than Kurt Cobain to thank for this, who in his mere 4 years in the public eye sold — along with fellow Pacific Northwesterners Soundgarden and Pearl Jam — the fact that music can be made by people just like you and me. There was no American Idol in MJ’s time because no one in their right mind thought they could be that. We didn’t have the tech to record ourselves, to videotape ourselves, to see what we look like on a screen. Kurt, I argue, showed us what we look like in a magazine, on the television, on a screen. He showed that that private space was his space, thus our space, therefore Myspace. American Idol said “You can sing Michael Jackson songs in front of millions — you ARE Michael Jackson.”
MJ’s power was that you could never be MJ, never hang with him, never relate — and it is my belief that this was not only OK, but necessary. America, it has been argued over and over again, needs gods. We need myths, too, and I’d go as far as to say we need royalty — we need princes, princesses, and we need a king.
The King of Pop is dead. Long live the King.
-Erik Bader, 2009