Michael Jackson was
acquitted Monday on all charges in the child molestation case. But in the
music world, the jury is still out.
Will the self-proclaimed
King of Pop ever reclaim the lofty status he held as a worldwide hit-maker
in the 1980s? Or will the taint of the now-dismissed charges -- and the
behavior revealed during his trial -- prevent him from attaining those
Even before the verdict,
as the sad and tawdry trial neared its climax, stories proliferated in the
media questioning whether Jackson could rebuild some semblance of his
career, much less attain the pinnacle he reached with "Thriller" in 1982.
"Thriller" became the
most successful album of all time, selling more than 40 million copies
worldwide. Its influence looms large on modern dance-pop, with current
chart-toppers such as Justin Timberlake and Usher among those who cite its
absolutely sign Michael'
Even before the
not-guilty verdict, many music-industry insiders and pop-culture experts
predicted that Jackson could redeem himself in the public eye if he returned
to performing his hits -- he has not done a full-fledged U.S. tour since
1989 -- or if he focused on recording strong new music.
However, just as many
also declared that fans would never be able to hear No. 1 hits such as
"Billie Jean" and "Beat It" the same way again, much less embrace his new
"I would absolutely sign
Michael," Island/Def Jam Records President Antonio "L.A." Reid told CNN. The
renowned R&B hit-maker said his plan to rebuild the star's career would
bring him to New York so he could reconnect with the streets, tune in to the
music in the clubs and let people see that, "Guess what, Michael is
bordering on normal."
In an interview with
Reuters, Morris Reid, a former Democratic political consultant turned image
and branding specialist, countered, "The brand of Michael Jackson, the uber-entertainer
beloved all across the world and the U.S. -- that's over."
Jackson's sales have
been in decline since "Thriller," a milestone that was also a millstone
around his neck, since it is unlikely that any artist will ever top those
numbers. But the star's claim on the pop charts became even more precarious
after 1995, when he paid the family of a teenaged boy who accused him of
molestation a $20 million settlement, even though he maintained his
The singer's 2003
greatest-hits compilation, "Number Ones," has yet to reach platinum status,
with a mere 900,000 copies sold in the United States according to Nielsen
SoundScan. And Jackson's last collections of new material, "Invincible"
(2001) and "HIStory" (the 1995 set that was half greatest-hits and half new
songs), have sold only 2.1 million and 6 million copies, respectively. Those
are still considerable numbers. But they are far fewer than his label Sony
Music expected after spending tens of millions of dollars to promote them.
Jackson maintains a
devoted following of hardcore fans, as evidenced by the supportive crowd
gathered outside the courthouse in Santa Maria, Calif., throughout his
trial. They charge that the media should separate the man from his music,
and the allegations of wrongdoing from the artistry.
made for bad music
But before his
acquittal, the singer himself was incapable of doing this. "HIStory" and
"Invincible" were both dominated by songs that were rife with paranoia and
full of weird, messianic images.
More than the coverage
of his eccentricities, the passage of time -- he will be 47 in August -- or
the inevitable shift in pop-music trends, Jackson's obsession with what he
called an unjust persecution at the hands of the media and California
officials seemed to account for his declining popularity. And it will
provide a roadblock in resurrecting his career if he can't shift his focus
away from his ordeal.
In the tune "D.S.,"
Jackson accused "Dom Sheldon" -- a pseudonym for Santa Barbara County
District Attorney Tom Sneddon -- of being a corrupt tool of the CIA and the
KKK, while in "They Don't Care About Us," he claimed to be a victim of abuse
at the hands of racist police.
Comparison to Jesus
suffered the barbs of a sensationalistic media, as he sang in the song
"Tabloid Junkie." But his complaint turned surreal when he compared his
travails to Christ's, singing, "You torture me and you crucify the Lord."
Every artist has the
right to seek catharsis in their music, and some of the greatest works in
pop history have been the result of musicians singing about their trials,
personal or public.
But if Jackson's next
album is devoted to rehashing his trial, will anyone care to listen? And if
it dwells instead on sunnier topics, will it ring hollow and insincere?
In the case of Jackson's
music, the audience will be the ultimate judge.