Today marks nine years since the passing of the GOAT. An infinitely talented artist who sang to his own to tune and broke down racial barriers for future generations, Michael Jackson was undoubtedly The King. So, for each track on the legendary Thriller, let’s take a look at 9 moments that he proved it.
First Man on the ‘Moon’
At the historic television special Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever (1983), The Jacksons reunited to perform a spirited medley of their greatest hits. After his brothers left the stage—a projection of things to come—the surging star Michael seized the microphone. Wearing his sparkling outfit and glove, he paced back and forth before saying, “Those were the good ole days. I love those songs. But most importantly, I like the new songs.” Instantly, the opening bass line to “Billie Jean” began to play. Placing his hat on his head, Michael proceeded to give one of the defining live performances of the 20th century—complete with a triple-spin into a stop on the dime. The King of Pop also debuted his signature moonwalk in dazzling fashion.
Record 8 Grammy Wins
The Recording Academy began snubbing black artists long before overlooking Kendrick Lamar and Beyoncé’s masterpieces became an annual ritual. In 1979, Michael Jackson’s solo breakthrough Off the Wall—which has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide—failed to receive a nomination for the coveted Album of the Year. Distraught and insulted, Michael and the legendary Quincy Jones went back into the lab with renewed focus and hunger. Out of their sessions came Thriller, by far the best-selling album of all-time (over 100 million copies worldwide). This juggernaut paired Michael’s mastery of R&B (“Human Nature”) and disco (“Baby Be Mine”) with a new venture into pop (“Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’”) as well as rock-and-roll (“Beat It”). The album netted a record eight Grammy Awards, including the elusive Album of the Year. Michael even snagged an additional Grammy for his work on the ET soundtrack. Treat the king like a peasant, and you will pay the price.
“They Don’t Care About Us”
Many of us have seen the international version of this socially-conscious video, but the domestic version is not often discussed. The provocative video places Michael in a prison, where he incites a riot and offers commentary on the militant police state. With brutal, shocking imagery laced throughout, there’s a reason you haven’t seen these visuals. Though he lived a privileged life from childhood, he uses himself as a megaphone for the black and brown people in America. As tortured as ever, he sings, “I have a wife and two children who love me. I am the victim of police brutality. I’m tired of bein’ the victim of hate.” Due to his changing appearance overtime, many have questioned whether Michael identified with his blackness. Here’s your answer.
This iconic video damn near speaks for itself.
After the massive success of Thriller, the King of Pop followed up with Bad—which spawned five chart-topping hits on the Billboard 100, the all-time record for one album. The record also represented an important artistic step for Michael, who composed nine of the album’s eleven tracks. To complement the release, the pop artist embarked on his first solo world tour. With a generous budget, and the King at the peak of his powers, the iconic tour was the highest grossing in history and had the largest audience as well.
“Remember the Time”
Though Thriller was his most iconic album and Bad his most experimental, many would argue Off the Wall is Michael Jackson’s most well-rounded body of work. “Remember the Time,” spawned from Dangerous, is undoubtedly the video version. Set in Ancient Egypt, the influential video celebrates blackness and features many stunning dance numbers. Contrary to most mainstream visuals, which pedestalize fair skin, Michael’s love interest is gorgeously dark-skinned supermodel Iman. We are even treated to cameo appearances from legendary comedian Eddie Murphy and basketball star Magic Johnson. This is one you’ll want to remember.
James Brown Rendition
At a 1983 James Brown concert, the soul legend spotted Michael in the audience and invited him to come onstage. The King thanked his musical mentor before performing a brief, electric tribute to him—easily stealing the show. Peering out into the crowd, he whispered in Brown’s ear that he should also invite Prince onstage. Obviously unfamiliar with the “Purple Rain” singer, Brown obliged. Doing the most, as we’ve come to expect and love, Prince showboated and ripped his shirt in front of a very confused audience. As many of us know, icons Prince and Michael had a competitive feud through the duration of their careers. Seeing that his rival had already made a fool of himself, Michael smiled and clapped for him. Destroying his enemies with subtleness and a genuine smile? Only the King.
As a word of confidence to all my fellow introverts out there, you should know that the greatest entertainer of all-time was one of us as well. A quiet kid who befriended animals and seemed to always be lost in thought, Michael initially wanted no parts of being a part of the Jackson 5. Once his father Joe Jackson caught wind of us undeniable talent, he no longer had a choice. Taking the helm as lead singer at age 7, Michael led the group to an early peak. Jackson 5 became the first act in history to have its first four singles (“I Want You Back,” “ABC,” “The Love You Save,” and “I’ll Be There”) top the Billboard 100. The childhood phenom was lauded as a “man child” for his flawless dancing and ability to convey adult emotions through his vocals. Many would argue Michael peaked as a vocalist around age 10.
“We Are the World”
As part of his humanitarianism, Michael devised the idea to create a unifying single to support USA For Africa. He and Lionel Richie composed the track, which went on to become the fastest selling pop single in history. Only the King of Pop could recruit an all-star cast that included Ray Charles, Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross, Cyndi Lauper, and Billy Joel to hop on the track with him. The promotion and sales from “We Are the World” netted over $65 million ($140 million today) for USA For Africa’s efforts to end famine in underserved African countries.