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domingo, 20 de junho de 2010

Michael Jackson: The Billboard Cover Story

On March 5, 2009,when music legend Michael Jackson announced that he would perform a run of 50 concerts at London's O2 Arena in a comeback tour called This Is It, the media largely greeted the news with skepticism and derision.

The Guardian wrote that a quickly erected stage at the press conference "served only to heighten Jackson's physical weirdness--the sunken cheeks, the upturned nose, the overpronounced chin cleft." The Telegraph described his behavior as "bizarre," and so many rumors circulated about his ill health that the tour's promoter, AEG, was forced to issue a statement that Jackson had undergone a battery of tests to prove he was in condition to play the dates.


Following his acquittal in 2005 on charges of sexual abuse, Jackson had spent much of his time in seclusion--at his Neverland Ranch in Santa Barbara, Calif.; in Bahrain; in Ireland; in Las Vegas--emerging only, it seemed, to fend off financial ruin, either through ill-fated recording projects or embarrassing public divestitures. Many saw the concerts as little more than a desperate, money-raising gambit.

Despite his ability to sell out 50 arena dates, the King of Pop was seen, even by some of his supporters, as little more than a hallowed oldies act, a performer whose heyday, albeit phenomenal, was more than two decades in the past. To his detractors, though, Jackson was even less than that: either a laughingstock--"Wacko Jacko"--or worse: a freak, a deviant, a pariah.

Flash forward 15 months, and Jackson's image in the public consciousness has undergone a dramatic revision. In the days, weeks and months following his death on June 25, 2009, from drug-related cardiac arrest, a popular reclaiming of Jackson as a beloved, once-in-a-lifetime musical genius took hold. While cable-news pundits endlessly pored over the tawdry circumstances of his demise, millions of fans new and old simply shrugged their shoulders and happily popped in their "Thriller" CDs.

In July, Jackson regained his spot at the top of the Billboard sales charts, moving 422,000 units in the week after his death alone--to date, the Jackson catalog has sold 9 million copies in the year since he passed, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Spontaneously, kids from Bed-Stuy to Beijing were seen sporting bootleg "Thriller" T-shirts and blaring "Billie Jean" as if it were 1983 and Reagan was in the White House.

In the fall, the film of Jackson's rehearsals for the mocked This Is It tour became the highest-grossing concert movie of all time, earning $72 million at the U.S. box office, according to (The soundtrack to "This Is It," Sony Music's only release of new Jackson material since his death, has sold 1.6 million copies.)

In March, the Jackson estate, led by co-executors John Branca and John McClain, signed a 10-album, $250 million deal with Sony that will include the release of a collection of previously unreleased tracks, set for November, as well as repackages of Jackson's 1979 solo breakthrough, "Off the Wall," and his 1987 album, "Bad." One month later, Cirque du Soleil, which had created the Beatles' show "Love" to great acclaim, announced it would produce both a touring and permanent show based on Jackson's music.

The African-American community, too, has re-embraced Jackson, whose skin bleaching, sexual ambiguity and crossover dreams had alienated some of his staunchest supporters: Just last week, when Harlem's prestigious Schomburg Center for Research held a symposium on Jackson titled "After the Dance: Conversations on Michael Jackson's Black America," the assembled scholars and writers declared the space a "Wacko Jacko-free zone."

And, of course, artists from all musical backgrounds have paid genuine and loving tribute to Jackson, from posting a video on his blog thanking Jackson for his music, to John Mayer, who told People magazine, "We don't have to reconcile the Michael Jackson we love with another Michael Jackson. In a way, he has returned to pristine condition in death. We can be free now for the rest of our lives to love the Michael Jackson we used to love."

So how did Jackson's complicated legacy become, to quote Mayer, pristine? When both fans and experts discuss the troubled last decade of Jackson's life, it's now in softer terms, with the artist portrayed less as an agent of his own demise than as a victim of a colluding set of circumstances--abusive family, circumspect entourage, incomprehensible pressures of fame--that would have felled anyone, no less a fragile man-child like Jackson.

Not wanting to speak ill of the dead is a human and rational desire--once someone is gone, he or she is unable to defend him- or herself. But the changed tone of the conversation surrounding Jackson has done more than just remedy some of the damage inflicted by his years of weird-to-aberrant behavior; it has also created a series of enormous business opportunities for his estate, opportunities that in all likelihood wouldn't have emerged had Jackson lived.

Read more in Billboard here

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