On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

A world still under his spell


Michael Jackson must surely be the icon of our generation. The undisputed King of Pop of our times.

No one, not even Mick Jagger, Elton John, Bono or Rod Stewart – the giants of the 80s – can get anywhere near his status. He was simply larger than life.

I have been in London for the past few days and the grief there can be felt strongly and openly. At Trafalgar Square and Hyde Park, a large number of fans have gathered to sing his songs, some holding placards, posters and flowers.

Almost every British newspaper has Jacko on its covers, with some coming out with special tribute editions to mark the passing of a legend.

Fans have also been gathering at the Lyric Theatre at West End where a musical built around MJ’s career has been playing. The lights outside the theatre are dimmed as a mark of respect and a minute of silence is observed before the show begins.

The two-hour tribute, showcasing his songs ranging from Ben to Billie Jean, which had been getting poor ratings from reviewers since January, has suddenly become a hot event in town.

In some ways, Londoners have blamed themselves for MJ’s death, pointing at the punishing preparations ahead of the massive 50 shows that were planned to be held in the city.

Tickets for the shows, described by MJ as the “this is it” concerts, had been all snapped up within an hour.

But the extent and intensity of practices, especially the high-energy dances, must have taken their toll on the 50-year-old singer.

The shows would have helped MJ, who was in the red to the tune of US$400mil, earning him the unfortunate title King of Debt. But now, the shows will not go on.

Fans who bought tickets for the concerts have been assured of refunds but many have opted to keep them as a priceless piece of his legacy.

A colleague has aptly described the demise of MJ as “the Elvis moment” of our generation, in reference to what our parents must have felt when Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll, died in 1977 at the age of 42.

Like Sept 11 and the day President Kennedy was assassinated, Americans used Elvis’ death as a day to mark what and where they were and doing on Aug 16, 1977, when they heard the news.

It will be the same for our generation as we relate June 25, 2009, with MJ.

Those of us born in the 60s will remember MJ for his moonwalk, crotch grabbing and thrusting and jerky body movements.

He also made music different for MTV, the music cable channel, with his plots and storylines, instead of mere lip-synching videos.

The 80s, when many of us were teenagers, were the years of MTV, with British pop bands ruling the music wave.

MJ was arguably among the few American singers who could stop what was then the British invasion era, when hits from the UK dominated American top 10 charts.

Against more creative newcomers like Annie Lennox, A Flock of Seagulls, Duran Duran and Human League, MJ stalled the British wave with his Thriller album, one of the best-selling records in music history.

But we will remember MJ the most for his many inspirational songs themed on tearing down the racial divide.

His was a world of “it doesn’t matter whether it’s black or white” and of “ebony and ivory and living in perfect harmony”, great songs that we sang along to.

And how can we forget We Are The World, his 1985 collaboration with other artistes, a song which was uplifting in every sense?

Even when he was caught up in controversy over child molest claims, many of us could not help feeling that money was the reason behind these plots and allegations.

We sympathised over his child-like innocence, believing he was a victim of greedy accountants and promoters who used him like an ATM machine.

How else does one explain the mountain of debts burdened on a man who made hundreds of millions with the spell of his music?

But he has enriched us a lot, like in these lines from Man in the Mirror:

I’m starting with the man in the mirror,

I’m asking him to change his ways.

No message could have been clearer,

If you wanna make the world a better place.

Take a look at yourself and make a change.

MJ has taught us about love and unity, much more than politicians can. For this, his music will live on.

The fans won’t stop even if they get enough.