by | Jun 25, 1995 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

If I declared myself “The King Of Newspapers,” would you want to read this column?

If I made a commercial in which thousands of fans worshiped my giant image as I blew kisses and a child actor yelled “We love you, Mitch!” — would you read my work more often?

Or would you think me disgusting?

Don’t worry. We have no such plans. But then, we are not Michael Jackson, who not only made the above commercial, and demands the press call him “King Of Pop,” but also arranged an interview on ABC to reveal “secrets” about himself and his new bride — just in time for the release of his new album.

Here’s my question: Don’t you feel a little manipulated by all this?

Then why on Earth would you give this person your money?

Which is what Jackson and his corporate parents, Sony, expect you to do. Sony has invested $30 million in the promotion of Jackson’s new CD, “HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I” — a self-bloated title if there ever was one. If Napoleon were a singer, he’d call his album that.

Thirty million dollars? Just for videos and ads and cardboard displays? You could produce a dozen “Sgt. Pepper” albums, or about 100 “Temptation’s Greatest Hits” with that money. Thirty million for promotion?

Yes. Because this is about business, and Sony has invested a fortune in Michael Jackson staying a star. It is critical to them that Jackson’s very presence makes you rush out and spend your dollars. If he loses that, they blow their investment. And suddenly, amidst charges of child molestation, a staged marriage, skin lightening, and other general kookiness, their jewel is losing its luster.

So they — with Jackson’s complete consent — are whipping up a hurricane of promotion. But somewhere in the image-making, rumor-spreading and lawsuit-fighting, the music, which used to be what made Michael Jackson special, has been lost.

Their question is, can they get you to buy the record without noticing? No thrillers this time

Now, before you think me some Michael Jackson hater, let me say I bought every one of his CDs — up till this one. When I was a full-time musician, I studied the production on “Off The Wall” and “Thriller,” which employed state-of-the-art techniques by the innovative producer Quincy Jones.

Those were wonderful recordings, with the latest in sound. When the tune
“Rock With You” first came across your radio, you stopped and said, “Wow, who is that ?” You didn’t ask if the artist slept in an oxygen chamber or had a pet monkey. Who cared? The sound, a rhythmic, pipe-woofing line over a cake of layered voices, was unlike any other.

This is what made Jackson special. His plaintive whispers on “She’s Out of My Life” or infectious voice-hitching on “Billie Jean.” These were cutting-edge records, the way Beatles songs were once cutting edge. That should be what buying music is about.

Instead, with “HIStory” you get this: two discs, a thick little booklet listing Jackson’s awards, with celebrities such as (surprise!) Elizabeth Taylor telling you what a national treasure Jackson is, and a pamphlet showing how you can order Jackson souvenirs. It’s like a Disneyland gift pack.

As for the music, let me sum it up for you.

Disc One: Greatest Hits.

Disc Two: Song about media pressuring Michael, song about people judging Michael, song about people misunderstanding Michael, song about people not caring about Michael. . .

Do the words “self-indulgent” ring a bell? It’s as if Jackson’s therapist put on a drum machine and let the tapes roll. The king of marketing

Now this is fine. Jackson can record whatever he wants. But why buy it? If someone you never heard of made an album complaining about being a star,

would you say “Gimme one”?

Music is what records should be about. Jackson may be pitied for cloistering himself in a Neverland of toys and animals and store-bought fantasy. But there is no feeling sorry for his boardroom meetings with executives who are packaging him.

Besides, he appears so wrapped up in marketing himself he missed the fact that lyrics such as “jew me/kike me” are offensive. Now he is apologizing. Here’s a guy so detail-crazy he spent $7 million making a video — yet overlooked such anti-Semitic lyrics?

When ABC’s Diane Sawyer interviewed Jackson, she asked about criticism over the promotion of “HIStory.”

“That’s what I want,” he said, gleefully. “They’re falling into my trap.”

Personally, I don’t want to be trapped by a record, especially if I have to shell out $25. Jackson would like you to believe he is all about children and healing the world, but he is also about money and staying on top. To do that, you have to make music that is special — not just commercials.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

Subscribe for bonus content and giveaways!