Saturday, July 11, 2009

Remember The Time (Part 6)

So the hoopla is almost over...MJ had his memorial service on Tuesday and it was watched by 31 million Americans on TV and many millions more around the globe, either on TV or streaming online. My guess is that more people watched the live streaming on the Internet.

Especially in Singapore, where Channel 5's decision to broadcast the memorial service as a delayed telecast by half an hour probably caused it to lose a substantial audience. Perhaps sensing so, they decided to air the memorial twice the next day, at 5pm - 7:30pm, followed by another session at 10:30pm - 1am.

But what's the point of airing it twice within the same night? Most of all, why even bother airing it at 5pm, when most people haven't even knocked off from work yet?

Wednesday night was quite unprecedented in the sense that Channel 5 rejigged their whole programming grid for MJ. Besides the aforementioned two telecasts of the memorial service, they also slotted in a 48 Hours Special from 8:30pm - 9:30pm. So essentially, it was MJ coverage all night.

The memorial service was an event to remember. Everyone talked about it the day after. It became a part of pop culture. Even people who didn't like MJ or didn't really care about him couldn't help but watch it and be part of the conversation or discussion surrounding it.

There were many talking points from the memorial. The most stirring speeches came from Reverend Al Sharpton and brother Marlon Jackson.

Rev. Al Sharpton's speech was forceful and full of determination. He didn't read from a prompter or paper, he spoke like a politician delivering his campaign message. It was powerful in a rousing way, though I sometimes felt it was a little over-the-top. But he did deliver the best line of the night, when he spoke directly to MJ's three children, saying "Wasn't nothing strange about your daddy. It was strange what your daddy had to deal with."

But for me, the most moving speech came from Marlon Jackson. It was the one that had me reaching for the tissues so many times. I think it's because it's not often we hear about MJ's family speaking up for him in public, and here is a brother who grew up with him and loved him as a person, as a brother. And even though they haven't remained close for many years now, he is still family. So I felt especially moved by his speech.

One such instance was when Marlon recalled how he could spot MJ in a CD store even though he was decked in makeup and disguise. Michael asked, "Marlon, how did you know it was me?" And Marlon simply said "I'm your brother."

Another line that moved me was when Marlon said "We would never, never understand what he endured, not being able to walk across the street without a crowd around him, being judged, being ridiculed. How much pain can one take? Maybe now, Michael, they will leave you alone."

And as he said this, I saw Janet standing beside Marlon nodding in agreement, and my heart just melted.

But of course, no one was prepared for Paris' speech. While Marlon was speaking, she stood by the side, fumbling with her clutchbag, looking quite composed and normal. After Marlon was done, they seemed to want Janet to speak, but instead, Paris was pushed to the front. I'm not sure whether Paris really did want to say something on her own accord, or whether her family pushed her to do it. I shall assume it's the former.

But when she spoke, you couldn't help but be moved. Here was a girl who meant so much to MJ, who dedicated his life to ensuring that his own children lived their lives as best as they could, and she was remembering him as a daddy, a human being. And it was the first time the world ever heard from any of MJ's children. So it was very moving indeed.

After spending almost all their lives being covered by veils and masks whenever they were in public, the world saw the kids as they were for the first time (not counting the papparazzi shots). They looked perfectly normal and well-groomed and well-behaved (except maybe for the incessant bubblegum chewing by Blanket. But then, he's only 6 and probably didn't have a clue of what was happening).

A part of me wishes that the children will continue MJ's legacy by striking out as a performer in future. Apparently Blanket can really dance. But another part of me hopes that they will grow up out of the spotlight and live normal lives that their father never had. But being a Jackson, it's not easy being "normal". I think we should hope for "well-adjusted" instead.

While the television audience figures didn't smash records, MJ continues his dominance in the charts, just like before.

In the US, he ruled the Billboard Top Pop Catalog charts, where the entire Top 10 were his. All in all, MJ's solo albums sold a whopping 800,000 units last week:

Billboard Top Pop Catalog Albums
1. Number Ones
2. Thriller
3. Essential Michael Jackson
4. Off The Wall
5. Dangerous
6. Bad
7. Ultimate Collection (Jackson 5)
8. Ultimate Collection
9. Invincible
10. HIStory - Greatest Hits Vol. 1

Remember, MJ hasn't released any new material since 2001's Invincible (save for the one track One More Chance that appeared on 2003's Number Ones), and these are albums that have already sold more than 50 million copies combined in the US, yet people are still buying them. This proves that the people who bought the albums this week are a new generation of music lovers, who might have just discovered MJ's music for the first time.

On the Digital Songs chart, MJ had five of the Top 10 songs:

2. Man In The Mirror
4. Billie Jean
5. Thriller
7. The Way You Make Me Feel
10. Beat It
13. Black Or White
14. Smooth Criminal
16. Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough
18. P.Y.T.

He sold 2.2 million songs this week, and including the 2.6 million last week, that's a total of 4.8 million in 2 weeks!

In the UK, it is a similar story. MJ had the #2 single last week with Man In The Mirror, a song that only peaked at #21 in its initial release but has since struck a chord with music listeners today. He owned 13 of the Top 40, which is "the most total domination of the chart by one act in history and on a scale you cannot ever imagine being repeated."

I've been re-listening to the albums and to my surprise, I found myself sitting through the entire HIStory album without skipping any of the tracks. I used to think that it wasn't a very good album, but I found that it is pretty good upon closer inspection.

Sure, it is a little over-pompous on tracks like HIStory (trying too hard) and Little Susie (its intro is too long), but the melodies in these two songs are beautiful. And MJ's voice sounds really good in Little Susie. And then the album closes with Smile, a Charlie Chaplin cover which Brooke Shields revealed was MJ's favourite song of all time. So listening to it now adds an extra dimension to it.

I have often wondered what are my Top 10 favourite MJ songs and it's really hard to pick just 10. I know that the Top 2 are fixed, but I can't seem to decide on the remaining 8 positions. Let me try.

1. Man In The Mirror
2. Will You Be There
(The rest of the Top 10 in no particular order):
- Scream
- Beat It
- Billie Jean
- Smooth Criminal
- Black Or White
- The Way You Make Me Feel
- Thriller
- Remember The Time

Coincidentally, most of these songs have got great videos, perhaps with the exception of Man In The Mirror, which shows how much the video has become part of the song.

Man In The Mirror is #1 because one of my earliest memories of watching MJ in performance was contained in the Moonwalker film, which was one of the first LaserDiscs I ever owned, and it opened with a powerful live performance of the song. That stayed with me forever. I can never figure out how he doesn't hurt his knees after doing a 3 rounds of quick spins and dropping to the ground on his knees.

Will You Be There is just a very moving song with a great poem at the end. And combined with the angel descending at the end and wrapping its wings around MJ, that sealed it.

Scream will always be one of my faves because it has two of my favourite singers together. The video was out of this world. It's the coolest video ever. My only regret is that the two of them did not perform this song together live.

The rest of the songs are classics that really sound different from each other. The instrumentation, the voice, the beats, they all sound nothing alike. And that's what makes them great.

MJ will live on forever. Like Madonna said, Long Live The King!



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