By NEKESA MUMBI MOODY, AP MUSIC WRITER
NEW YORK — When Michael Jackson anointed himself “King of Pop” over two decades ago, there was considerable rumbling about his hubris: Yes, he may have become a world sensation with record-setting sales of “Thriller,” and yes, he may have had a string of No. 1 hits with smashes like “Billie Jean” and “Beat It,” but the KING OF ALL POP MUSIC?
Surely, in a modern music history that has given us Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Stevie Wonder and so many musical greats, that title was a more than a bit inflated.
But in actuality, Jackson understated his significance.
While his elaborate, stop-on-a-dime dance moves and sensual soprano may have influenced generations of musicians, Michael Jackson stood for much more than the pop greatness – or tabloid weirdness. One of entertainment’s greatest icons, he was a ridiculously gifted, equally troubled genius who kept us captivated – at his most dazzling, and at his most appalling.
At the height of his fame, he was among the world’s most beloved figures. Heads of state clamored to meet him, screen legends like Elizabeth Taylor were his close friends, and worldwide, simply the mention of his name could make people do the moonwalk, from Los Angeles to Laos (The New York Times once accurately described him as one of the six most famous people on the planet).
His whispery, high-pitched speaking voice was constantly imitated, his fedora hat on his lean frame instantly recognizable, his childlike image endearing.
He influenced artists ranging from Justin Timberlake to Madonna, from rock to pop to R&B to even rap, across genres and groups that no other artist was able to unite. He changed music videos with “Thriller” in 1983, still considered by most to be the greatest music video ever made. Stars like Beyonce still mimic his moves. His one glove, white socks and glittery jackets made him a fashion trendsetter, making androgyny seem sexy and even safe.
Almost everyone wanted that Michael Jackson connection (and those who didn’t were afraid to say so out loud). His celebrity and adoration was staggering.
So when his image began to crumble, becoming twisted and disturbed, that aspect, too, was larger than life. His multiple plastic surgeries and his vitiligo illness, which saw him transform from a masculine looking black man to a wispy, pale-faced, almost noseless figure, was held up as the standard for bad plastic surgery, a freakish-looking character.
His eccentric behavior left people confused, and when allegations (and later criminal charges) that accused him of sexually molesting two separate boys surfaced on two separate occasions, people were repelled by his alleged behavior and the man that their former idol had become.
And yet, it was hard to look away.
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