Ten years ago today, the world watched as an emotional Jermaine Jackson announced the shocking news that his brother Michael Jackson, one of the world’s first African-American global icons and a cultural phenomenon by all definitions, had died in Los Angeles at 2:26 p.m.
As dusk fell on June 25, 2009, the Internet became overwhelmed with people desperately searching out news, while hoping it was a hoax or a very bad dream. People wept openly on the street. Impromptu tributes and memorials popped up around the globe. And Michael Jackson’s name appeared in lights at New York’s famed Apollo Theater one last time as people gathered outside to hold spontaneous moonwalk contests in the King of Pop’s honor.
When dusk became nightfall on that summer evening, his music could be heard blasting from open car windows, restaurants, television sets, computers, and CD players. Groups of people danced together in the street to “Thriller,” to replicate that famous choreographed scene from the video that broke color barriers and sealed Jackson’s place as an iconic crossover artist when it appeared on MTV. People of all ages, races, and ethnicities sang, spun, and danced to the soundtrack of their lives provided by the creative genius that was Michael Jackson.
What he left behind are the indelible and irreplaceable gifts that his work, dedication, and passion produced. Michael’s unparalleled cultural influence today continues to loom large over music, dance, entertainment, fashion, activism, race, history, and philanthropy.
Across genres and generations, the name Michael Jackson remains unboxed –he was not just the King of Pop, he was more like the King of Lifestyle and Culture. His work set standards; standards even he devoted time to surpass, as he was admittedly his own most formidable competitor.
Michael’s brilliance, edginess, and courage to explore uncharted territory became part of his brand and influenced a new generation of artists. In 1983, it became clear to the world that Michael was built for super stardom, as his uniqueness could never be considered trend – far from it. He was the first artist to push and define a new concept for music videos; why just tell the story through lyrics when you can give the audience a short film?
The production of “Thriller,” a 13:42 film, was the first of its kind but soon spawned the documentary format in the music industry we know today. Even though MTV played the video in regular rotation, fans wanted on-demand viewing access, which led to the sale of millions of VHS copies of the film, ultimately, driving the increase of album sales as well.
Still making history with his artistry posthumously, on August 13, 2014, Michael’s song “A Place With No Name” marked the first time a music video ever debuted exclusively on Twitter. Other artists quickly followed suit.
His portfolio of legendary collaborations does not fall short of timeless musical greats. Michael worked relentlessly to produce content worthwhile. This called for strategic collaborations and meticulous production. No song was just a song. No feature was just a feature. Michael worked alongside the greats — Diana Ross, Minnie Ripperton, Paul McCartney, Quincy Jones, and Stevie Wonder, just to name a very few.
Each of the collaborations would go on to leave impressionable marks on the industry, topping charts and influencing the music genre, as a whole.
Fast-forward to 2018, Michael’s crossover influence was still evident. Rapper Drake sampled the King of Pop’s vocals on his Scorpion album. The song titled, “Don’t Matter To Me,” went on to earn Michael his 30th Billboard Hot 100 placement, ranking at number nine, nine years after his death. Ne-Yo, Bruno Mars, Janelle Monáe, Chance the Rapper, and Usher all have credited his influence on their work as artists.
Timeless and ubiquitous – two words that could only begin to define his effect on culture. He was so far ahead of his time but ever so present. This was evident in the work he produced and the philanthropy he championed. He was never concerned about being the first or the only one; in fact, he embraced his unique, standout appeal and used it to his advantage. That advantage reached far beyond music: he used his platform as a source — a source for hope, a source for peace, a source for love.
Michael Jackson is gone but the music and his seminal influence on culture will remain into perpetuity. Perhaps the Rev. Al Sharpton said it best during an interview with CNN three days after Michael’s death, “Michael Jackson made culture accept a person of color way before Tiger Woods, way before Oprah Winfrey, way before Barack Obama. Michael did with music what they later did in sports and in politics and in television. And no controversy will erase his historic impact.”
Supporters of Michael Jackson’s Legacy
Michael Jackson broke records and broke barriers. He was a pioneer in music, art, and entertainment. He blazed trails and created pathways. He brought people together through his unique gifts to the world: extraordinary music and unparalleled generosity. He achieved more in his brief life than many. He gave more to people in his 50 years than most. What remains is his legacy—immortal, indelible, infinite.