Michael Jackson: The Master of the Music Videos Passes Away

Posted by Michael Pinto on Jun 26, 2009 in Television |

Michael Jackson: A record player from the 80s

Above: A vintage Michael Jackson record player from the 80s, photographed by Dan Jones.

With the passing of Michael Jackson everyone is focused on title “the king of pop” but to me his contribution was much more important in another area: The fine art of making music videos. This is important to me as I came of age in the 80s and while my taste in music was more on the new wave side than pop or R&B I was (and still am) bery much a hardcore fan of music videos. Yet even if you weren’t a Michael Jackson fan during that era if you were into music videos you couldn’t avoid his domination of the medium. In fact I think it would be fair to say that Jackson was one of the artists that made a network like MTV possible.

What set him apart wasn’t his music (although his music was amazing) but his ability to marry that to the visual demands of a new medium. That ability to play to the camera, especially with his dance moves took him the next level. Up until that point a musician wasn’t expected to dance on the small screen — and the results were always painful to watch with stuff cut out singers flanked by dancers. Not only could Jackson dance, but he could dance well which gave his performance a multimedia quality.

The music video Thriller

Jackson also knew how to collaborate well with others: To me Thriller is a great example of this with Jackson working with legend Quincy Jones to create a remarkable album that even features Eddie Van Halen on the guitar and Paul McCartney doing vocals. Although even more impressive to me was Jackson working with director John Landis on the music video, this was a brave choice as it followed a low point for Landis after the deaths on the set of the Twilight Zone film.

With a huge budget of $500,000 (some estimates are higher by the way) that video changed everything that would follow in every level from cinematography to choregoraphy. After that a music video could no longer be some sort of after thought be pumped out after the album was cut. Also not as well known is that Thirller really brought down the color barrier at MTV, before then Jackson was struggling to get any air time at all. In fact you could say that if it weren’t for Thriller in ’83 that the doors wouldn’t have been open for Prince in ’84.

The music video Scream from 1995

As the 80s faded so did Michael Jackson and the era of music videos. However Jackson could on occasion pull out a surprise, an example of this was his Scream video with Janet Jackson. Till this day it’s the highest budget music video of all time, but what makes it amazing isn’t the budget (although every penny is on the screen) but the match of music to visuals. Anime fans should also take note that this video includes a clip from Akira. It’s also important to keep in mind that he did that video in 1995, so Jackson was already working in a universe where bands like Nirvana pretty much domolished what was left of the 80s. Also to his credit was working with a director like Mark Romanek who’s just a great film maker above all else.

The music video Bad

Sadly Jackson seemed posed for another comeback, so we’ll never know what he could have gone on to do. I suspect the level of attention over the next few days will come pretty close to when Elvis passed away. To me what makes his work in music videos so amazing is that so many years later the work holds up well.

Below: Cover artwork and a screenshot from Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker Sega game from 1990.

Michael Jackson's Moonwalker Sega game from 1990

Screenshot from Michael Jackson's Moonwalker Sega game from 1990

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