One of my fondest memories from my ninth-grade excursion from school is dancing in the bus to Michael Jackson’s music along with my friends.
Though I had heard his music growing up, I was never a big fan, and almost whatever I had read about him from the media was negative, so I wasn’t moved when I heard about his untimely death in 2009.
Over the past few months, I’ve been exploring some of his music from the late 60s to the 80s, and I found lots of great songs that I had never heard before, and it got me curious to know more about him.
Here are five lessons we can learn from the life of one of the most controversial and misunderstood geniuses of the 20th century.
Don’t underestimate the power of your mind
“You can’t do your best when you’re doubting yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself, who will?” ― Michael Jackson
Given below are some excerpts from Jackson’s autobiography, Moonwalk (1988),
“I believe we are powerful, but we don’t use our minds to full capacity. Your mind is powerful enough to help you attain whatever you want.”
“Ever since I was a little boy, I had dreamed of creating the biggest-selling record of all time. I remember going swimming as a child and making a wish before I jumped into the pool. I’d stretch my arms out, as if I were sending my thoughts right up into space.
I’d make my wish, then I’d dive into the water. I’d say to myself, ‘This is my dream. This is my wish’, every time before I’d dive into the water.
I remember being in the studio once with (producer) Quincy Jones and (songwriter) Rod Temperton, (while working on the album Thriller).
One of them asked me, If this album doesn’t do as well as Off the Wall (his previous album), will you be disappointed? I remember feeling upset—hurt that the question was even raised.
I told them Thriller had to do better than Off the Wall. I admitted that I wanted this album to be the biggest-selling album all time. They started laughing. It was a seemingly unrealistic thing to want.”
After the release of Thriller in 1982, journalist Randy Taraborrelli remarked, “At some point, Thriller stopped selling like a leisure item—like a magazine, a toy, tickets to a hit movie—and started selling like a household staple.”
By the end of 1983, it became the best-selling album of all time with over 32 million copies sold worldwide. Even today, almost forty years later, it remains the best-selling album in music history, with over 70 million copies sold!
Seek to understand people before judging them
Michael Jackson when he was 11 years old
Michael Jackson lived almost his whole life under the public spotlight. By the time he was five, he would perform to large crowds alongside his four brothers in the hugely successful band The Jackson 5.
However, he grew up extremely insecure about his appearance. His father would make fun of his appearance throughout his childhood by telling him that he was ugly and had a big nose.
The words of his father left Michael deeply scarred, and he would later reveal in an interview,
“I had pimples so badly it used to make me so shy. I used not to look at myself. I’d hide my face in the dark, I wouldn’t want to look in the mirror, and my father teased me, and I just hated it, and I cried every day.”
After undergoing plastic surgery in the 80s, many accused Jackson of altering his appearance to become white because he didn’t want to be a black man.
But the truth was that he was suffering from a skin disorder called vitiligo which was later confirmed by his autopsy. Vitiligo causes depigmentation of parts of the skin, which results in white spots on a person’s body.
His mother Katherine revealed that he first turned to plastic surgery because he didn’t want the skin condition Vitiligo to leave him “like a spotted cow”. However, she believes that her son later became addicted to plastic surgery.
Even after turning white in appearance he continued identifying himself as a black man and said,
“I’m a black American, I am proud of my race. I am proud of who I am. I have a lot of pride and dignity. I don’t understand why the press is so interested in speculating about my appearance, anyway. What does my face have to do with my music or my dancing?”
Fame is not all it’s cracked up to be
Michael Jackson was one of the most famous people on the planet during the 80s and 90s. Here is what he had to say about fame and success,
“Success definitely brings on loneliness. People think that you are lucky, that you have everything. They think you can go anywhere and do anything, but that’s not the point. One hungers for the basic stuff.”
People think they know me, but they don’t. Not really. Actually, I am one of the loneliest people on this earth. I cry sometimes, because it hurts. It does. To be honest, I guess you could say that it hurts to be me.”
Even at home I am lonely, I sit in my room sometimes and cry, it’s so hard to make friends…..I used to walk the streets looking for people to talk to.
I’m talking about the height of one’s(my) career. I would walk up to strangers, and say ‘Will you be my friend?’ They’d go ‘Oh my God, it’s Michael Jackson!’ That’s not what I wanted. I wanted somebody to love you or be my friend for me and not for the external me.”
Generosity and compassion
“I tried to teach Michael about the world through documentaries. One day, Michael and I watched a film about the less fortunate children in Africa. The state of their lives brought us to tears. Michael, sympathetic at the age of 14, turned to me and said, ‘One day, mom, I’m going to do something about it”. – Katherine Jackson
Jackson would engage in philanthropic and humanitarian efforts even when he was a teenager and part of the Jackson Five.
He was extremely sensitive to people’s pain and suffering according to many who knew him personally. It deeply hurt him to see other people, especially children suffer. To put it in his words,
“Being a world traveler, I’m touched and moved by everything that happens, especially to children. It gets me emotionally sick and I go through a lot of pain when I see that type of pain. I can’t pretend as if I don’t see it. It affects me very much.”
I do as many hospitals and orphanages as I do concerts. But, of course, it’s not covered (by the press). That’s not why I do it, for coverage. I do it because it’s from my heart.
And there are so many children in the city who haven’t seen the mountains, who haven’t been on a carousel, who haven’t pet a horse ……., so if I can open my gates(to his home) and see that bliss, an explosion of screaming laughter from the children and they run on the rides, I say “Thank you, God.” I feel I’ve won God’s smile of approval, because I’m doing something that brings joy and happiness to other people.”
Commenting on Jackson’s humanitarian efforts, journalist Frederic Taddei would remark,
During the peak of his career, Michael did more for people and the world than any other super star, his contributions so great that they would have put many governments in big industrial countries to shame.”
The media can go to any extent to tarnish people’s reputation
The biggest controversy surrounding Michael Jackson was his alleged sexual abuse of young boys.
Jackson had a child-like demeanour and preferred the company of kids. He would also openly acknowledge that he would often have sleepovers with other kids in his house.
This made him an easy target for the tabloids who write all sorts of sensationalist stories about him.
Some media even approached these kids or their parents and others who knew him and offered them large sums of money in exchange for claiming that Michael Jackson had touched them inappropriately.
Bobby Newt and his twin brother Ronald Newt Jr. were young aspiring performers who spent two weeks as guests in Jackson’s family home.
The National Enquirer offered their father (Ronald Newt Sr) $200,000 to say Michael abused his children.
Bobby Newt said that a man from The National Enquirer wanted Bobby to lie, “He said, ‘Say he grabbed you on the butt. Say he grabbed you and touched you in any kind of way. All you have to do is say it. And we’ll give you money,’”
In 1993, Jackson’s cousin, Tim Whitehead revealed that he was offered $100,000 by a tabloid to say Jackson was gay. Television show actor Alfonso Ribeiro, told that his father was offered $100,000 by a tabloid to say anything negative about Michael Jackson.
But there were people who accepted the money and made accusations against him. Jackson’s former maid took the $20,000 offered to her by the tabloid television show, Hard Copy and claimed that she had witnessed Jackson showering nude with a boy.
A 2019 documentary contained accusations by two individuals who were suing Michael Jackson estate for billions of dollars, several years after his death, saying that Jackson had sexually abused them as children.
Interestingly, before making allegations, this is what one of the accusers had to say about Jackson when he passed away in 2009,
Michael Jackson changed the world and, more personally, my life forever. He is the reason I dance, the reason I make music, and one of the main reasons I believe in the pure goodness of human kind. He was a close friend of mine for 20 years. His music, his movement, his personal words of inspiration and encouragement and his unconditional love will live inside of me forever.
A deeper look at some of the claims and statements made by the individuals in the documentary reveals plenty of discrepancies. They have also changed their stories and contradicted themselves on numerous occasions.
Between 1993 and 2005, The FBI “made several investigations” into Jackson due to allegations of child abuse and found no evidence against him.
Moreover, sufficient evidence has emerged that indicates Jackson was the victim of several well-conceived plots to extract money from him by people who filed lawsuits against him claiming he had sexually abused them.
Unfortunately, from the late 80s to his untimely death, the media focused on brutally attacking him and spreading plenty of baseless stories about him. As author Joe Vogal wrote,
“Michael was so different and unique as both an artist and a person, that many people couldn’t wrap their minds around him. He didn’t fit into the boxes we like people to fit into. So instead they reduced him, caricatured him, exploited him, and denied him of his complexity, depth, humanity, and artistry.”