It’s hard to believe that it has already been six years since the world lost one of the most mercurial and memorable pop stars of all time – Michael Jackson. By the time he died at age 50, Jackson had become a reclusive eccentric, widely ridiculed for his physical appearance and unusual personal life. But when news broke that he was gone, the outpouring of appreciation was unparalleled.
Suddenly all the scandals and superficial stuff fell by the wayside when they were measured against the towering achievement of Jackson’s musical career. Spontaneous tributes and celebrations popped up all over the globe for an artist that had kept us all captivated from the age of 11, with a peerless voice and superior dancing skills. As he matured into adulthood, Jackson never lost his childlike qualities, which only made him seem more intriguing to his most dedicated fans.
Following his death, Jackson’s music starting selling faster than it had in decades and impromptu celebrations and tributes sprouted up all over the world. A new generation of music fans came to realize the impact he had – breaking racial barriers, revolutionizing the sound of music and raising the bar for what was once a burgeoning art form, the music video. Some have even argued that he helped make the country amenable to the candidacy of Barack Obama.
Six years later, the “King of Pop” is still an enormous consensus builder. Jackson’s estate is reportedly valued at $2 billion, having earned $1 billion since since his death. On Thursday, the sixth anniversary of his death, he was one of the top five trending topics on Twitter, garnering over 140,000 tweets in 24 hours. Why is he still dominating the pop culture conversation? Here are six reasons:
1) Artists are still mimicking his style Even before he died, Jackson spawned a plethora of imitators. One could argue that the history of pop music could be divided in two parts: Before MJ and After MJ. It’s not enough to just be a good singer anymore. For better of worse, Jackson’s vocal range, dancing ability, fashion sense and ability to create media “moments” has now become par for the course for any star who wants to remain relevant, including Justin Timberlake, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Beyoncé. It’s hard to pick up any R&B album these days and not hear traces of Jackson’s signature sound.
2) He remains one of the best selling artists of all time To this day, Jackson’s Grammy-winning blockbuster “Thriller” remains the best-selling album of all time, but many of his other solo masterpieces (such as “Bad” and “Off the Wall”) aren’t far behind. Shortly after his death six years ago, Jackson surpassed the likes of Elvis Presley and Jimi Hendrix to become the best-selling posthumous artist of all time. And thanks to the proliferation of Jackson content online, in films and even Cirque de Soleil shows – his discography is not going away anytime soon.
3) His music has multi-generational appeal There is a timeless quality to Jackson’s catalog that appeals to people of all different ages and backgrounds. Baby boomers can wax nostalgic about his pre-pubescent years fronting his brothers in the Jackson Five, while younger fans have latched on to some of his latter-day music, which featured ahead-of-their time collaborations with hip-hop artists like the Notorious B.I.G. Now, Jackson is a staple at every wedding and dance party you go to.4) The tragic circumstances of his death elevated him to iconic status Like Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and countless other stars who died at a prematurely young age, the loss of Jackson cemented his status as a tragic figure of fascination. His last years were largely overshadowed by unsavory allegations and an addiction to painkillers. Jackson’s death, which was the result of a fatal dose of a cocktail of drugs, was ruled a homicide and remains a cautionary tale for artists who have come in his wake.
5) It feels like his story is unfinished Jackson left behind a huge amount of unfinished music and unrealized projects, which has fans salivating. The materials he left behind have already led to two new albums – “Michael” and “Xscape” – which were both best-sellers, and there is hope for more in the future. Jackson’s career was so long and so varied, any portion of it is ripe for reappraisal. And because there is so much we still don’t know about the man himself, there’s a curiosity factor that won’t quit.
6) There will never be another artist like him With the music business still reeling from the age of streaming and downloads, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll ever see another artist with the kind of across-the-board national success that Jackson had. Only Presley and The Beatles had the same kind of cultural impact he did, and since Jackson’s rise paralleled with the peak of MTV, his visual image is seared into the nation’s consciousness. Young people today may not be aware of many figures from the past, but they all get discover “the King of Pop” sooner or later.
MSNBC host Rev. Al Sharpton may have put it best at his funeral. “Michael made us love each other. Jackson taught us to stand with each other. There are those that like to dig around mess. But millions around the world, we’re going to uphold his message,” Sharpton said. “It’s not about mess, but it’s about his love message.”