Music videos and choreography

Steve Huey of Allmusic observed how Jackson transformed the music video into an art form and a promotional tool through complex story lines, dance routines, special effects and famous cameo appearances; simultaneously breaking down racial barriers.[According to director Vincent Paterson, who collaborated with the singer on several music videos, Jackson conceptualized many of the darker, bleak themes in his filmography.

US patent 5255452, filed by Jackson, described the anti-gravity lean used in the music video for “Smooth Criminal“.

Before Thriller, Jackson struggled to receive coverage on MTV because he was African American. Pressure from CBS Records persuaded MTV to start showing “Billie Jean” and later “Beat It”, leading to a lengthy partnership with Jackson, also helping other black music artists gain recognition.  MTV employees deny any racism in their coverage, or pressure to change their stance. MTV maintains that they played rock music, regardless of race. The popularity of his videos on MTV helped to put the relatively young channel “on the map”; MTV’s focus shifted in favor of pop and R&B. Short films like Thriller largely remained unique to Jackson, while the group dance sequence in “Beat It” has frequently been imitated. The choreography in Thriller has become a part of global pop culture, replicated everywhere from Indian films to prisons in the Philippines.[175] The Thriller short film marked an increase in scale for music videos, and has been named the most successful music video ever by the Guinness World Records.

In the 19-minute music video for “Bad“—directed by Martin Scorsese—Jackson began using sexual imagery and choreography not previously seen in his work. He occasionally grabbed or touched his chest, torso and crotch. While he has described this as “choreography,” it garnered a mixed reception from both fans and critics; Time magazine described it as “infamous”. The video also featured Wesley Snipes; in the future Jackson’s videos would often feature famous cameo roles.For “Smooth Criminal“, Jackson experimented with an innovative “anti-gravity lean” in his performances, for which he was granted U.S. Patent No. 5,255,452. Although the music video for “Leave Me Alone” was not officially released in the US, in 1989, it was nominated for four Billboard Music Video Awards, winning three; the same year it won a Golden Lion Award for the quality of the special effects used in its production. In 1990, “Leave Me Alone” won a Grammy for Best Music Video, Short Form.

The MTV Video Vanguard Artist of the Decade Award was given to Jackson to celebrate his accomplishments in the art form in the 1980s; the following year the award was renamed in his honor.”Black or White” was accompanied by a controversial music video, which, on November 14, 1991, simultaneously premiered in 27 countries with an estimated audience of 500 million people, the largest viewing ever for a music video. It featured scenes construed as having a sexual nature as well as depictions of violence. The offending scenes in the final half of the 14-minute version were edited out to prevent the video from being banned, and Jackson apologized. Along with Jackson, it featured Macaulay Culkin, Peggy Lipton and George Wendt. It helped usher in morphing as an important technology in music videos.

Jackson and sister Janet angrily retaliate against the media for misrepresenting them to the public. The acclaimed video for “Scream” was shot primarily in black and white, and at a cost of $7 million.

Remember the Time” was an elaborate production, and became one of his longest videos at over nine minutes. Set in ancient Egypt, it featured groundbreaking visual effects and appearances by Eddie Murphy, Iman and Magic Johnson, along with a distinct complex dance routine.The video for “In the Closet” was Jackson’s most sexually provocative piece. It featured supermodel Naomi Campbell in a courtship dance with Jackson. The video was banned in South Africa because of its imagery

The music video for “Scream“, directed by Mark Romanek and production designer Tom Foden, is one of Jackson’s most critically acclaimed. In 1995, it gained 11 MTV Video Music Award Nominations—more than any other music video—and won “Best Dance Video”, “Best Choreography”, and “Best Art Direction”. The song and its accompanying video are a response to the backlash Jackson received from the media after being accused of child molestation in 1993.A year later, it won a Grammy for Best Music Video, Short Form; shortly afterwards Guinness World Records listed it as the most expensive music video ever made at a cost of $7 million

Earth Song” was accompanied by an expensive and well-received music video that gained a Grammy nomination for Best Music Video, Short Form in 1997. The video had an environmental theme, showing images of animal cruelty, deforestation, pollution and war. Using special effects, time is reversed so that life returns, wars ends, and the forests re-grow.Released in 1997 and premiering at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival, Ghosts was a short film written by Jackson and Stephen King and directed by Stan Winston. The video for Ghosts is over 38 minutes long and holds the Guinness World Record as the world’s longest music video

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Vocal style of Michael Jackson

 

Jackson sang from childhood, and over time his voice and vocal style changed noticeably, either through puberty or a personal preference to align his vocal interpretation to the themes and genres he chose to express. Between 1971 and 1975, Jackson’s voice descended from boy soprano to androgynous high tenor.] In early 1973, the singer adopted a “vocal hiccup”, first heard in the song “It’s Too Late to Change the Time” from the Jackson 5‘s G.I.T.: Get It Together album.  Jackson did not employ the hiccup fully until the recording of Off the Wall; its usage can be seen in full force in the “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)” promotional video. The purpose of the hiccup—somewhat like a gulping for air or gasping—was to help promote a certain emotion, be it excitement, sadness or fear. With the arrival of Off the Wall in the late 1970s, Jackson’s abilities as a vocalist were well regarded; Allmusic described him as a “blindingly gifted vocalist”.  At the time, Rolling Stone compared his vocals to the “breathless, dreamy stutter” of Stevie Wonder. Their analysis was also that “Jackson’s feathery-timbred tenor is extraordinarily beautiful. It slides smoothly into a startling falsetto that’s used very daringly”. 1982 saw the release of Thriller, and Rolling Stone were of the opinion that Jackson was then singing in a “fully adult voice” that was “tinged by sadness”.

The release of “Bad” in 1987 displayed gritty lead vocals on the verse and lighter tones employed on the chorus. A distinctive deliberate mispronunciation of “come on”, used frequently by Jackson, occasionally spelt “cha’mone” or “shamone”, is also a staple in impressions and caricatures of him.  The turn of the 1990s saw the release of the introspective album Dangerous; here Jackson used his vocals to intensify the split themes and genres described earlier. The New York Times noted that on some tracks, “he gulps for breath, his voice quivers with anxiety or drops to a desperate whisper, hissing through clenched teeth” and he had a “wretched tone”. When singing of brotherhood or self-esteem the musician would return to “smooth” vocals. “In the Closet” contained heavy breathing and a loop of five scat-sung syllables, whereas in the album’s title track, Jackson performs a spoken rap. When commenting on Invincible, Rolling Stone were of the opinion that—at the age of 43—Jackson still performed “exquisitely voiced rhythm tracks and vibrating vocal harmonies”. Nelson George summed up Jackson’s vocals by stating “The grace, the aggression, the growling, the natural boyishness, the falsetto, the smoothness—that combination of elements mark him as a major vocalist”.

 

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Themes and genres

 

Steve Huey of Allmusic said that, throughout his solo career, Jackson’s versatility allowed him to experiment with various themes and genres.As a musician, he ranged from Motown’s dance fare and ballads to techno-edged new jack swing to work that incorporates both funk rhythms and hard rock guitar. Michael, himself, stated at his pre-release party for his Off The Wall album that Little Richard had a “huge influence” on him.

Unlike many artists, Jackson did not write his songs on paper. Instead he would dictate into a sound recorder; when recording he would sing from memory.  Several critics observed Off the Wall was crafted from funk, disco-pop, soul, soft rock, jazz and pop ballads.Prominent examples include the ballad “She’s out of My Life“, and the two disco tunes “Workin’ Day and Night” and “Get on the Floor”.

According to Huey, Thriller refined the strengths of Off the Wall; the dance and rock tracks were more aggressive, while the pop tunes and ballads were softer and more soulful.  Notable tracks included the ballads “The Lady in My Life”, “Human Nature” and “The Girl Is Mine“; the funk pieces “Billie Jean” and “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’“; and the disco set “Baby Be Mine” and “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)“. With Thriller, Christopher Connelly of Rolling Stone commented that Jackson developed his long association with the subliminal theme of paranoia and darker imagery.   Allmusic’s Stephen Thomas Erlewine noted this is evident on the songs “Billie Jean” and “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'”.[153] In “Billie Jean”, Jackson sings about an obsessive fan who alleges he has fathered a child of hers. In “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” he argues against gossip and the media. The anti-gang violence rock song “Beat It” became a homage to West Side Story, and was Jackson’s first successful rock cross-over piece, according to Huey.  He also observed that the title track “Thriller” began Jackson’s interest with the theme of the supernatural, a topic he revisited in subsequent years.  In 1985, Jackson co-wrote the charity anthem “We Are the World“; humanitarian themes later became a recurring theme in his lyrics and public persona.

In Bad, Jackson’s concept of the predatory lover can be seen on the rock song “Dirty Diana“.  The lead single “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” is a traditional love ballad, while “Man in the Mirror“, an anthemic ballad of confession and resolution, improves on his earlier “We Are the World”.[49]Smooth Criminal” was an evocation of bloody assault, rape and likely murder. Allmusic’s Stephen Thomas Erlewine states that Dangerous presents Jackson as a stark paradoxical individual.  He comments the album is more diverse than his previous Bad, as it appeals to an urban audience while also attracting the middle class with anthems like “Heal the World“.  The first half of the record is dedicated to new jack swing, including songs like “Jam” and “Remember the Time“.  The album is Jackson’s first where social ills become a primary theme; “Why You Wanna Trip on Me”, for example, protests against world hunger, AIDS, homelessness and drugs.  Dangerous contains sexually charged efforts like “In the Closet“, a love song about desire and denial, risk and repression, solitude and connection, privacy and revelation.  The title track continues the theme of the predatory lover and compulsive desire. The second half includes introspective, pop-gospel anthems such as “Will You Be There“, “Heal the World” and “Keep the Faith”; these songs show Jackson finally opening up about various personal struggles and worries. In the ballad “Gone Too Soon“, Jackson gives tribute to his friend Ryan White and the plight of those with AIDS.

HIStory creates an atmosphere of paranoia.[160] Its content focuses on the hardships and public struggles Jackson went through just prior to its production. In the new jack swing-funk-rock efforts “Scream” and “Tabloid Junkie”, along with the R&B ballad “You Are Not Alone“, Jackson retaliates against the injustice and isolation he feels, and directs much of his anger at the media. In the introspective ballad “Stranger in Moscow“, Jackson laments over his “fall from grace”, while songs like “Earth Song“, “Childhood“, “Little Susie” and “Smile” are all operatic pop pieces. In the track “D.S.“, Jackson launched a verbal attack against Tom Sneddon. He describes Sneddon as an antisocial, white supremacist who wanted to “get my ass, dead or alive”. Of the song, Sneddon said, “I have not — shall we say — done him the honor of listening to it, but I’ve been told that it ends with the sound of a gunshot”. Invincible found Jackson working heavily with producer Rodney Jerkins. It is a record made up of urban soul like “Cry” and “The Lost Children”, ballads such as “Speechless”, “Break of Dawn” and “Butterflies” and mixes hip hop, pop and rap in “2000 Watts”, “Heartbreaker” and “Invincible”.

 

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Copyright © 2009, Michael Jackson Mania  Information Network. All rights reserved.