Michael Jackson (1958–2009)

Michael Jackson

My favorite Michael Jackson era was the era after the Jackson Five and before Thriller — the era when it looked like he was going to make it, and become a man. We used to worry about that when he first started out. Post-pubescent but pre-adolescent, we were cynics even then, and I remember people saying, ‘Yeah, but what’s going to happen to him when his voice changes?’ Well, it never really did. But there was a time when the child star re-emerged as just another teenager on the make — when Michael Jackson was not an icon but simply a performer trying to keep up with the times and make his own adjustment to the death of soul music and the rise of disco. There was a time when Michael Jackson was just a really good-looking black guy, who could really dance and could really sing. And when you see him in that period, right before Off the Wall, there’s an ease that he never had before, and never recaptured. It’s startling to see him, not freakily precocious or precociously freaky, but simplyof his time, nothing more and nothing less. In the videos he made for Off the Wall, he looks princely, the way that JFK Jr. did, an American royal gliding through the obligations of his own royalty.

Tom Junod


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