Forget for a moment the debate over whether Michael Jackson will be best remembered as a musical genius or world’s biggest perv. The question at hand is, was he in fact The King of Pop as the front page of the Kansas City Star today decreed.
“You can have the debate,” says KC Confidential entertainment writer Brian McTavish. “But I mean, it’s self-serving. He invented the title for himself and he certainly promoted it’s use.”
Kief’s Downtown Music in Lawrence main man Steve Wilson concurs.
“As great a career as Michael Jackson had, that was a tribute he gave himself,” Wilson says. “You know, he wanted very much to be in that Pantheon with Elvis and the Beatles. And what could be bigger than the king of pop? This is how the myopic and self-involved that are isolated by their own little Mafias think. They kind of have to be continually reminded and reinforced that they’re something special – and in many respects Michael Jackson was something special.”
But after more than a decade of musical irrelevance, did Jackson still lord over the pop kingdom?
“He petered out years ago,” McTavish concedes. “Elvis also fell, but when it’s all said and done, they were geniuses at what they did. And if you look around we’re still taking applications for the next pop music genius. I ask you, who else since then qualifies?”
Has there been a successor to that fictional throne since jackson ceased to matter musically?
“No, no there hasn’t,” Wilson says. “But that’s more a function of what’s happening in the music business. The reason no one has sold 28 million records like ‘Thriller’ is because records just don’t sell that much anymore. And I think that was going to be part of Michael Jackson’s problem if he got back into it; he could put out a great record and it wouldn’t sell 28 million because what does? So what if he was the king of pop, he was the king of an era that’s gone. The last (new) record he had that sold in excess of 3 million copies was probably ‘Bad’ and that came out in – what? – 1987.”
Other mega pop stars have come, peaked and in some cases gone in recent years, Wilson says – Mariah Carey, Justin Timberlake, Michael Bolton, Britney Spears…
That said, here’s one thing that sets Jackson apart:
“I can walk over to our $2.99 to 99 cents CD section and I promise you I will find Mariah Carey and Britney Spears,” Wilson says. “But you won’t ever find Michael Jackson in there. I will say this, his stuff did hold value. So maybe he was the king of pop. I just don’t know if that’s a title that holds value anymore.”
One problem with Jackson’s legacy is – unlike even Elvis – he dropped so far out of sight musically in his later years, Wilson says.
“I think artists are about building and sustaining careers and relationships with their audience and Michael Jackson hasn’t done that the last 15 years,” Wilson says. “When’s the last time you heard a new Michael Jackson track? You know, Michael Jackson got frozen in that little prison of fame and he ceased to matter.”
If Michael Jackson was indeed still the king of pop at his death “it was by default,” Wilson says. “No one else came along to take the crown.”
McTavish has a kinder, gentler take on whether Jackson continued to sit on that self-made throne:
“He can now – he’s dead now – he’ll live on in gloriousness forever. He doesn’t have to mount the comeback now.”