It’s like musical witchcraft, only not the cool Wiccan kind.
On May 18th, Michael Jackson performed his new single “Slave 2 The Rhythm” at the Billboard Music Awards. The only minor issue here is that he’s been dead for almost five years, so the performance was done by a pasty, pixelated version of what he looked like during his Dangerous tour in 1993.
Peoples’ general reaction to this was, “Sorry, what?” And audience members
kept looking back at the cameras to make sure this was indeed real life.
Here’s the thing: I’m a ride-or-die Michael Jackson fan. As a child, I used to dress up in a robe and a top hat and perform deep cuts from his HIStory album for my mom in the living room while she looked on questioningly. I sang “The Way You Make Me Feel” for my senior song with my all-female a cappella group (only God can judge me) and just can’t stop loving him. But regenerating the dead for our entertainment just feels gross.
It’s not the first time this has happened. Newsweek got flack a few years ago for putting digitally-aged images of Princess Diana, including one where she has liver spots and is holding an iPhone with Kate Middleton, to commemorate her 50th birthday. Then in 2012 Tupac’s likeness performed at Coachella. So what’s pop culture’s deal with trying to play Frankenstein?
Naturally, the posthumous release of the album Xscape is mostly about money memories and in that vein, L.A. Reid is promoting an upcoming duet with MJ and Justin Bieber. The album is a compilation of previously unheard tracks from the cutting room floor of albums like Dangerous and Bad, executive produced by Timbaland, LA Reid, and Rodney Jerkins. The tracks aren’t terrible, but they’re far from his best, and as reviewer Nekesa Mumbi Moody notes, “Putting out music that falls below Jackson’s standards — even if overly high — detracts from the carefully constructed catalog the King of Pop spent decades creating and protecting.”
So while the hologram at the Billboard Music Awards may have gotten some of his mannerisms down (the pelvic thrusts, the rhythmic head jerking, the moonwalking) it can’t come close to his virtuosic glory. Why not remember MJ as he was, instead of as some whack-ass light-show whose mouth doesn’t match up to the words it’s singing?
Watch the video below: