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More than a decade after Michael Jackson’s death, and despite the controversy that has plagued him for decades, Michael Jackson has found inspiration in new art, from hit Broadway shows to upcoming biopics. keeps giving.
Sexual abuse accusations, investigations and lawsuits against the “King of Pop” go back decades.They once again featured prominently in the 2019 HBO documentary leave neverlandIn it, two men share stories of being sexually abused by the singer as children (a family member denies).
But while much has already been said about the singer and his complex legacy, journalist Leon Neifak and hip-hop commentator Jay Smooth wanted to take another look.
“When you talk to people who have tried to look at this story with fresh eyes, who have seen it unfold up close, but who haven’t necessarily been interviewed a million times, it ends up being a problem. is going to come to the surface too much, and for most listeners it will feel fresh,” says podcast host Neifak. debacle hosted the first two seasons of slow burnon Watergate and the Clinton impeachment.
“And while it may not be like breaking news, it often has some effect on bringing articles that have calcified or frozen to amber over time to life.”
The result is Audible and Wondery’s 10-part podcast, “Think Twice: Michael Jackson,” available exclusively on Audible and Amazon Music on Thursday. The name comes from the lyrics of Jackson’s hit song “Billie Jean”.
The series explores Jackson’s staying power despite disturbing allegations, offering a fresh perspective on how he was shaped by American culture and vice versa. Smooth said listeners will hear from more than 100 people who played a role in Jackson’s story. Morning paper: The musicians who worked with him in Gary, Indiana, and the fans who showed up to support him in court.
This is not a biography of Jackson, but rather a social history of the people who loved him and the consumers of his art in the world in which he worked, Neifak says.
“This is a story about Michael himself, but it’s also a story about us, how American culture works, how world culture works, how history and memory work. It’s also the story of,” he added.
audible and strange
Where do I start?
The series began in 1993 and is considered by the host to be the middle part of Jackson’s story. He was at the height of his fame – “he was the biggest ever” – when the first allegations of child molestation were directed against him.
“In 1993, we see two sides of Michael’s story,” says Neifak. “Not only because of his meteoric rise and incredible cultural status, but also because of this tragic and difficult period that followed, no matter what he thought of the allegations, he could be seen the same way. It didn’t.”
One of the central storylines of that first episode is a short film called “Is This Scary.” Jackson co-wrote it with horror writer Stephen King, but it was never published (although some can still be viewed on YouTube).
In the film, Jackson plays a strange man in a haunted house who is accused of frightening children in a nearby town with magic and jokes. A mob of his angry parents chase him with pitchforks.
Neyfaq calls the video a “forgotten relic,” and says the most striking thing about the video is that it was made before anyone accused Jackson.
“Actually, the accusations happened during production, but production was halted when the first media reports about Jordan Chandler came out,” it added. “And I was very fascinated by the fact that this is the story that Michael wanted to tell so publicly.”
The series also delves into race, how Jackson thought about his racial identity, and what Jackson did in the larger cultural conversation (including his 1994 NAACP Image Award speech). It explains what kind of role it played.
Smooth said Jackson had more “investment and connection in being Black than many people realize” while also striving to “be this universal person for everyone.” said it was.
“And the tug-of-war of time and all the other ways he was trying to get through while in the brightest spotlight anyone had ever experienced reverberated through his life in so many ways. I think you know what I’m doing,” he says.
What should we think of Jackson’s music?
Hosts bring different perspectives to the project. Neifak didn’t grow up listening to Jackson’s music, but Smooth did – in fact, he feels, “I’ve known him since he was a baby, and… since he was a baby.” say that
Over the years, Smooth said, she came to see Jackson as “this kind of heartbreaking, tragic person who could have done terrible things to other people.” And he still doesn’t know what to think now.
“It remains really unsettling for me,” Smooth says. “What to do with all of them in a way that a lot of other artists don’t. I could find a way to more easily compartmentalize and either stay away from them or stay with them.”
And he’s not the only one with those feelings. Mr. Neifak specifically said afterwards: leave neverlandhe didn’t know what to feel when he encountered Jackson’s music.
“While people don’t know what to do with his greatness and genius, [or] “With the serious damage that Michael Jackson allegedly did to people in his life,” Neyfaq says, “by providing all this new material and first-hand testimony of how Michael Jackson lived. , I wanted to give people a new way of working with those contradictions.” Michael Jackson became. “
What broader lessons can we learn from Jackson’s story?
The hosts said they weren’t trying to persuade anyone to boycott or support Jackson’s music, just as they weren’t trying to prove or disprove any allegations against Jackson. But they want to explore how individuals, and society as a whole, approach the idea of separating art from artists.
Smooth admitted he felt an explosion of joy when “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” came on the radio, evidence of his emotional relationship with Jackson.
“I think it’s important to always ask how well you can compartmentalize,” Smooth says. “But realistically, that compartmentalization will always be part of our relationship with art.”
Reena Advani and Adam Bearne edited and produced the audio version.