When I woke up this morning, I thought Farrah Fawcett’s death would dominate the news for the next few days. Joke’s on me, and you, too. Holy fuck.
In these days of iTunes, ultra-targeted radio programming, and level after level of niche marketing, our pop tastes have been stratified and narrowed so much that I fear it’s no longer possible to have a universal pop canon, a foundation of music that all youth knows. But Michael Jackson spoke to everyone. Along with Madonna and Prince, MJ represented the last generation of pop stars whose music and image everyone knew, who everyone sang along with. It, ahem, didn’t matter if you’re black or white, rich or poor, rural or urban, gay or straight. Because his career began with the Jackson 5, MJ crossed generations, too. My mom and dad love Jackson as much as I do, and grew up with his music just as I did.
If you grew up in the 1970s or 1980s, you either once owned a Michael Jackson record or knew someone who did.
He was the best pop dancer this world’s ever seen. He was the best singer, or at least in the top five, of any American pop artist. He wrote or co-wrote some of the most enduring songs of the last half century. His videos were among the most ambitious of the 1980s. He picked the best producer—Quincy Jones—with whom any pop star could hope to work and, together, they fused disco, funk, soul, and rock into a genre of their very own. That, in itself, is a major achievement. But they went further, and made that genre—distinct from the Motown Sound that dominated Jackson’s youth—into the soundtrack of an American generation.
I’m a little down today, and I’ll be a little down tomorrow.
UPDATE: Thanks, Achewood, for getting it right.