Under the Covers

Joie:  You know, Willa, I’ve been thinking a lot about the different covers of Michael Jackson’s albums. I love album cover art in general, I think a lot of times the artwork really captures either the attitude of the band or the particular mood that the band or artist is trying to convey with the record. For example, (and I’m really about to show my age here) the Ohio Players were known just as much for their provocative, erotic album covers as they were for their classic ’70s funk music. It’s a good example of the album art reflecting the attitude of the band.



And likewise, rock group Aerosmith has had many different types of album covers over the years and each one, I think, nicely reflects the particular mood the band is trying to convey with the record itself. Like the cover for their 1989 album, Pump. The image is of two old pickup trucks stacked on top of one another. But if you just glance at that image, the intended message is very clear as the album’s lyrical content is full of lots of sex and drug references.


Willa:  That’s funny! You know, I saw a fender bender ages ago where one VW Beetle went up on the back of another VW Beetle, and it was just like that – so suggestive you almost felt like you should avert your eyes. It looked like two hippos mating. I was riding into high school with some friends, and we almost rear-ended another car laughing about it. It was too funny.

Joie:  It is funny, isn’t it? So Aerosmith! Anyway, as you know, I have all of Michael’s albums in album frames and they hang on one of the walls in my house. I have them grouped all together so, they make a big impression when you see them, it’s actually pretty cool. But in looking at them, I am always struck by how different they each are. I think he’s one of those artists who used the cover art to convey a certain message according to the content of the album itself – almost like an extension of the music itself. You look at the covers and you get a pretty good idea of what you are about to hear.

Willa:  That’s really interesting, Joie. I think you’re right – he did use the cover art to give an indication of what was inside – but I think he also used the cover art to convey an idea about himself and where he was at as an artist. For example, he’s wearing a suit in the cover photos for Off the Wall and Thriller, and of course those were the two albums where he was trying to establish himself as a solo artist. Through the cover art he’s sending us subtle cues that he has matured as an artist and is now ready to stand on his own, and wearing a suit helps convey that.

But as you say, the cover art also tells us something about how he wants us to approach the music inside. To me, the suit says he wants us to take this music seriously. Generally, when we see someone wearing a suit on an album cover, it’s an orchestra conductor, not a rock star. So he’s sending a very different message than he would if he were wearing blue jeans or a glittery jumpsuit.

Joie:   You’re right, nothing says ‘take me seriously, I’m a grown up’ better than a suit and tie.

Willa:  Exactly. And he wants us to take his music seriously too, like an orchestral recording. At the same time, we don’t generally see an orchestra conductor lounging on the floor, gazing at us with sultry bedroom eyes, like Michael Jackson does on the Thriller cover!  And on Off the Wall, he’s smiling, his hands are positioned in a fun playful way, and he’s got that jaunty bowtie. So it seems to me there’s this interesting double message on both album covers. He wants us to take this music seriously, but also relax with it and enjoy it and have fun with it at the same time.

Joie:  Willa, I couldn’t agree with you more. Especially with the Off the Wall cover. It’s as if he’s saying “Yes, I’m a grown up now so this music is a little different than what you’re used to hearing from me, but it’s okay because we’re going to have some fun with it.” The way his hands are positioned, it’s almost like he’s telling us “Don’t panic! It’s still me, I promise.” That’s the feeling I get when I look at that album cover and I can’t help but smile.

And with Thriller, it’s like he’s got on the suit so that we recognize that it’s still him. But this time, he’s not wearing the tie, he’s wearing a sexy, stylish shirt with his suit and he’s lying on the floor with that ‘come hither’ expression on his face. It’s like he wants us to know that it’s still just him (don’t panic), but this album is a little bit more grown up, and a little bit darker in theme, than the last one.

Willa:  I see what you’re saying, Joie, and I agree he’s a little more grown up, but I wouldn’t say the Thriller cover feels darker to me. It’s definitely more serious though, and more sensual too. But then you open it up and there he is smiling with the tiger cub, so we get that playful feeling again as soon as we open the album.

And you know, while the Off the Wall cover has a fun feeling to it, there are interesting details that add visual complexity, giving it some somber undertones as well as exuberant highlights. His hands are partly restricted by his pockets, but it’s like they’re breaking loose of that restriction in this playful, excited way. He has his back against a brick wall, but with his name and the album title superimposed on the bricks in fun graffiti-style writing, so again suggesting a restriction as well as subtly defying that restriction. And there’s the edge of a poster showing – not much, just enough to give us a glimpse of blue sky and clouds juxtaposed against the brick background. So there are these repeated suggestions of restriction and escape.

Joie:  Hmm? I never thought about restriction and escape before when I look at this cover but, I see where you’re coming from. And personally, I have always wondered what the rest of that poster looks like, haven’t you?

Willa:  I have! But that’s such a classic Michael Jackson touch to give us just a glimpse of it – a bit of a teaser to get us wondering what it’s about and thinking beyond the cover itself. To me the clouds suggest fantasy – an escape into daydreams – especially against that brick background. It’s kind of like the scene in Bad that we’ve talked about a couple times already this fall – you know, the big dance sequence where Daryl escapes his bleak inner city life into the full-color fantasy world of dance and art. To me they have a very similar feeling.

That brings us to the Bad album cover – and wow, talk about restriction! He’s just covered in buckles and zippers and snaps, and what looks like some sort of medieval chastity belt hanging from his waist, or maybe miniature handcuffs. What is that thing?

Joie:  I don’t know but, it looks uncomfortable.

Willa:  It does, doesn’t it? But his jacket is undone and both shirts are open at the neck, so again there’s a suggestion of both confinement and liberation. And we see that spelled out in the two videos that evoke that costume:  Bad and Speed Demon. In both, his character is feeling trapped by the circumstances of his life – one by poverty and violence, and the other by celebrity and the obsessive media and fans – but both characters find a way to escape those restrictions, at least in their imagination.

Joie:  Huh, I never thought about it that way, Willa. That’s very interesting. And you’re right, he is wearing that outfit in both short films.

You know, I have a confession to make. I never liked the Bad cover. In fact, of all of his album covers, this is my least favorite. I just hate all those buckles and zippers and belts. He looks so confined and contained. So uncomfortable, and I just want to get him out of all that.

Willa:  I bet you do …

Joie:  Very funny. But you know what I mean. I want to free him so he can breathe! He just looks so uncomfortable all the time in that get up!

Willa:  Apparently, he was uncomfortable. I read a review of Spike Lee’s documentary that quoted Michael Jackson saying of that outfit, “I wish I could [move]. I feel so limited. This stuff is so tight on me.” (btw, wasn’t the documentary fabulous? I loved it! I wish ABC had shown the entire thing, though. I kept waiting to hear that line and never did.)

Joie:  Well, I think his discomfort showed on that cover. And I’m assuming that the look was meant to make him appear tough – or “bad,” if you will. But to me, that cover picture just has the opposite effect. I hate the stark white background and the bright red of the album title in the graffiti lettering.

To me, this cover was so unimaginative, and I think sometimes about the different pictures that have long been rumored to have been considered for the cover of Bad. Like the pic where his face is covered by the black lace. I love that picture but, I understand why they nixed the idea of using it for the cover if the goal was to make him appear tough.

MJLace Bad album

Willa:  Well, to be honest, I prefer the black lace photo also, and wish they’d gone with it – and apparently that was his first choice too. But I think the Bad cover is still pretty interesting, precisely because it implies he’s “bad” while at the same time having “the opposite effect,” as you say. It’s such an interesting mix of masculine and feminine, tough and delicate, macho man and pretty boy. And as we talked about a few weeks ago, he’s really challenging what it means to be a man in the Bad short film. So in that sense, it’s a great example of what you said earlier about artists using “cover art to convey a certain message according to the content of the album itself – almost like an extension of the music itself.”

Joie:  Hmm. Well, when you put it that way, I suppose it does make sense. Doesn’t make me like it any more, though. So, do you have a favorite MJ album cover, Willa?

Willa:  No, not really. I love Off the Wall and Thriller, in part because I have such strong memories of listening to them over and over again as a teenager and young adult. So there’s a lot of nostalgia there. But I really like the Invincible cover too, especially in connection with the Dangerous cover and the other covers and how they all interact with one another. In fact, I think it’s that interaction that I like best.

Joie:  For me, and you might find this strange, but my favorite MJ album cover is HIStory. I’m not sure why, exactly, since Michael isn’t even on the cover – it’s just the statue of him. But I think it has something to do with the colors of the clouds in the background and I love that large MJ symbol that’s just barely visible, behind the words. And I love the way the camera has shot the statue from below, as if we’re looking up at it. It gives the statue a very regal, imposing quality. And again, it gives a real sense of what we are about to hear on the record itself.

Willa:  It really does. To me, that statue is such a symbol of defiance, with its clenched fists and square shoulders and determined expression, and so is the MJ symbol behind the lettering – subtle, as you say, but in-your-face defiant – and that’s a pretty good description of the album as well. Just think about the new songs from that album: “Scream,” “They Don’t Care about Us,” “Stranger in Moscow,” “This Time Around,” “Earth Song,” … Disk Two really kicks off with one defiant track after another, but beautifully so. I love the progression of “Stranger in Moscow” to “This Time Around” to “Earth Song.” I play that triad a lot.

Joie:  I like the way you put that, Willa. The statue is a symbol of defiance and maybe that’s why I love that album cover so much. It is so Michael!

But I want to get back to something else you said earlier. You said that you love the way all of the covers interact with one another. Can we talk about your take on how the covers interact?

Willa:  Well, as you know, I think Michael Jackson’s face was his greatest, most important work of art. I think the way he orchestrated our shifting perceptions of his face challenged our ideas about race and gender, sexuality and subjectivity, at such a deep, fundamental level. So it’s fascinating to me to look at his album covers in progression and see how he represents his face in each one. They’re like snapshots of a work in progress.

As we talked about already, in Off the Wall he’s showing us a new mature face – he’s no longer the kid he was on Got To Be There or even Forever, Michael. Then with Thriller he’s taking it a bit farther and giving us the face of a sex symbol – a sex symbol who appeals to girls of all races, which was pretty radical in the 1980s.

And then Bad seems like a big leap to me, artistically. He’s beginning to manipulate how we interpret his face – specifically, how his face registers signifiers of race, gender, and sexuality. His face appears much lighter on Bad, and more feminine, but at the same time he still identifies himself as black and he’s still a very sexy man, as millions of fans can attest. So he’s playing with those signifiers in a way that makes us question how we use them to designate identity.

And then Dangerous seems like another huge leap. Now he seems to be suggesting that identity – at least, his identity as a celebrity – is a social construct. All we see of his face are his eyes, so there’s the suggestion of a real person in there somewhere, behind the show business facade. But when we look beyond that facade in the center of the album cover image, what we see is a gray steaming factory of pipes and boilers. The implication is that there’s an industry at work constructing and maintaining his public identity, and we can only catch a glimpse of the real person hidden behind all that.

Joie:  I like the way you put that, Willa. ‘An industry at work constructing and maintaining his public identity.’ I agree with you completely. And I also believe that we could probably spend an entire post talking solely about the Dangerous album cover; there is just so much going on in that one. I love to just sit and look at it sometimes. It’s one of those pictures where you’re almost certain to see something new every time you look at it.

Willa:  It really is. Like I was reading P.T. Barnum’s autobiography a few years ago, and suddenly the portrait of P.T. Barnum with Tom Thumb standing on his head just jumped out at me from the Dangerous cover. I’d never paid much attention to it before, but suddenly that seemed very significant. You know, many people consider P.T. Barnum the greatest showman in American history, and according to Randy Taraborrelli’s biography, Michael Jackson really admired that – even going so far as to give Frank DeLio and John Branca a copy of Barnum’s book back in 1984, telling them,

“This is going to be my Bible and I want it to be yours. I want my whole career to be the greatest show on earth.” 

We see a lot of that showmanship on display on the Dangerous album – it’s very reminiscent of the Leave Me Alone video that way.

Joie:  That’s true, it is. And I love that quote you just used. Michael’s fascination with P.T. Barnum is really on display in the Dangerous album cover.

Willa:  It really is. But at the same time, in the very center of the Dangerous cover he pulls back the curtain and shows us the industry at work creating that show business illusion, in a way that P.T. Barnum never would, I don’t think. And that disruption of the illusion is something we see frequently in Michael Jackson’s work, like at the end of the Beat It video where the camera pulls back and shows us the gang members have been dancing on a stage, not really rumbling on the streets. So he breaks the illusion at the end and shows us the drama we’ve just witnessed was all an artistic performance. he does something similar in Black or White, where he frequently breaks the illusion of reality by showing us the backstage props and rigging, or by having the director step into the frame. Or Liberian Girl, where he appears from behind the camera at the end and shows us it was all just a grand illusion – but in a sense, that rupturing of the illusion is just another illusion. He wasn’t really the cameraman for Liberian Girl (though he certainly controlled what we saw to a large extent) and that shot of him behind the camera was just as staged as the rest of the video.

I get that same loop-de-loop sense of “this is an illusion; no, this is the illusion; no really, this the illusion” when I look at the Dangerous cover, especially that peek into the behind-the-scenes factory at the center of the cover art. And what’s especially interesting to me is that the title, “Dangerous,” arches over the gateway into this grey mechanized space. So it’s like he’s telling us that entering this space is what’s “dangerous,” and we can interpret that many different ways: that it’s dangerous to become part of the Hollywood machinery, that it’s dangerous to try to see behind the illusion, that it’s dangerous to negotiate that space in search of some unmediated reality because we can never really get there.

Joie:  That is really fascinating, Willa. Honestly, I just get lost in that cover whenever I sit and really look at it because there’s so much going on in it. I have the same sort of reaction to the Blood on the Dance Floor cover as well. There is just so much to look at in that one! I love the checkered dance floor he’s standing on, and I love the way the blood red color of his suit stands out against the rest of the cover. And the city skyline in the background fascinates me because the clouds behind it sort of mirrors what the skyline is doing.

Willa:  Wow, that is really interesting, Joie! I hadn’t noticed that before but you’re right – the clouds on the sides, especially, echo the building shapes and create something of a fantasy cityscape made of clouds. And that ties in with what we were just saying about the Dangerous cover. I can see why you react in similar ways to both of them, because they’re really similar in some ways – like they both play with the idea of what’s real and what isn’t. For example, have you noticed how the checkered dance floor is kind of transparent, like water? You can see through it to the skyscrapers and city streets below. So what’s real, in this scene? the dance floor? the cityscape beneath it? the cloudscape above it? all of them? none of them?

To me, this album cover has kind of an Alice in Wonderland feeling, maybe because of the way it blends fantasy and reality, but it also evokes the idea of repression and escape that we talked about earlier. He has bracelets on both wrists that look like chains, but they aren’t able to hold him down – his hands are clenched in fists, and he’s dancing up above the city skyline. He’s also huge, like the statue in HIStory – much bigger than the skyscrapers he’s dancing above. And then there are those incredible clouds. We don’t just see a sliver of clouds, like on the Off the Wall cover. Now clouds are dominating the scene, and they’re in the shape of city buildings, as you mentioned, Joie, so they aren’t just natural clouds. They’re a mix of nature and imagination. A city of clouds is forming above the city below. I’m so intrigued by that now.

Joie:   You know, I’ve heard several different people throw an Illuminati spin on this cover – the same way they do with the Dangerous cover.

Willa:  Really? What do they say? You know, I’d never even heard of the Illuminati until you told me about them.

Joie:  Well, according to the theories, there are all sorts of Illuminati symbols – as well as clues about 9/11 – hidden in plain sight on this cover. For instance, the black and white checkered dance floor is representative of the floors used in the secret lodges of the Free Masons, who are supposedly behind the Illuminati. The blood red color of his suit is supposed to be representative of actual blood, so that whole picture of him in the red suit on the checkered floor is a sort of code for the ritual blood sacrifices of the Free Masons.

Also, you mentioned the transparency of the floor. Well, that is supposedly symbolic of the phrase “as above, so below.” It’s apparently a belief system of the Illuminati, and also Satanic worship as well. But beneath the transparent floor, to the right, you can see the pyramid image that is supposed to be really prominent in all Illuminati symbolism.

Now, for the 9/11 connection. And, you have to keep in mind that this album was released a few years before 9/11 happened, but the theory is that the Illuminati are fond of showing the rest of us what’s going to happen, long before it actually does. So, if you look at the position of his arms, if the cover were the face of a clock, his left arm is in the 9 position while his right arm is pointing to the 11. Also, the skyline is supposed to be representative of New York, but the Twin Towers are not there. And the clouds that you and I love so much that are mirroring that skyline? Well, interspersed with the buildings, if you look closely, are the shapes of bodies. Some of those tall buildings actually look more like bodies and they’re supposed to be representative of the souls that were taken when those buildings collapsed.

There’s a lot more but, those are just some of the more obvious ones. It’s all extremely interesting when you begin researching it but, it can quickly become obsessive and even quite scary if you let yourself believe it. I’m not saying that I do, and I’m not discounting it either. But I do agree that the Blood on the Dance Floor cover is truly fascinating and captivating to look at and study.

Willa:  Wow, Joie, that is wild!  But I’m confused – they aren’t saying Michael Jackson was somehow involved in the attack on the World Trade Center, are they? I mean, that’s crazy. Or are they saying that someone snuck symbols onto his album covers without his knowledge? I’m completely confused.

Joie:  No, they’re not saying he was involved. I guess I should have begun by explaining the Illuminati. In the simplest of terms, they are a supposed secret society whose main objective is to bring about a New World Order, and they recruit various members of pop culture to assist them in their task. If you believe the theories, the Illuminati basically run Hollywood and have a huge presence in the music industry, and there are various Illuminati/Free Mason/occult symbols that EVERY artist is obligated to incorporate into things like videos and album covers, whether they want to or not, because the Illuminati can make you or break you. The only reason anyone becomes a celebrity is because the Illuminati “allows” them to.

The theory where Michael Jackson is concerned, is that he refused to be one of their recruits and even began speaking out against the Illuminati in the later years of his life, in different songs and interviews, and was subsequently murdered by them as a result. Tupac Shakur was supposedly murdered by the Illuminati for the exact same reason.

It’s really interesting to research, Willa. Just do a quick Google search sometime, or better yet, go to YouTube and punch in ‘Illuminati Music Industry,’ or even ‘Michael Jackson Tupac Illuminati,’ and see what comes up.

Willa:  Hmmm, sounds like The da Vinci Code. I’ll look into it if you want me to, Joie, but I have to say, I am extremely skeptical – especially if they’re suggesting that Hollywood decisionmakers were in cahoots with al Qaeda. That makes no sense to me at all. There could hardly be two groups with more divergent world views. I can’t believe they’d see eye to eye on much of anything, much less work together to bring about a shared vision of a new world. That just doesn’t make sense to me.

And you know, coincidences happen all the time. Like when we went to Las Vegas last year to see Immortal, we stayed at the Luxor, which is shaped like a pyramid and has a laser beam shooting out the top, “illuminating” the desert sky. But that doesn’t mean we belong to a secret group of Illuminati. It was just a coincidence.

Joie:  Well, I think you’re missing the point a little bit, Willa. No one is saying that Hollywood decisionmakers were in cahoots with al Qaeda at all. In fact – if you believe the Illuminati theories – the whole al Qaeda story is simply what “they” want you to believe because the threat of outside terrorism draws attention away from what’s actually going on. But you’re right, on one level it does sound very much like The da Vinci Code.

Willa:  Hmmm. Well, I need to just hush up til I’ve done a little research because I know absolutely nothing about any of this, but I have to say, I’m skeptical – extremely skeptical. So what do you think of the Invincible album cover? I like it a lot. What do you think?

Joie:  Well, for the longest time, I wasn’t fond of the Invincible cover at all, even though it is probably my favorite MJ album. But then, once I read M Poetica, I started to look at that cover in an entirely different light.

Willa:  You know, I started writing M Poetica not too long after he died, and I was just in a state of grief, as so many of us were. And I was really overwhelmed by this idea that, even though he had just died, he’d actually been disappearing for a long time. His persona was everywhere you looked, but he himself – meaning the real person, the real Michael Jackson, the artist behind the public persona – was disappearing from view, and had been for a long time – you know, like we just talked about with the Dangerous cover. It’s like that line in the rap part of “Unbreakable” where he talks about “disappearing acts … Copperfield material.” And it seemed to me that we could see that idea represented in the cover art. On the front cover, his face is completely whited out, and even his features are fading. Only his right eye and eyebrow are inked in. Then on the back cover, all we see are that right eye and eyebrow, but now they’re pale and pixelated, and they’re fading away also. So it’s like we’re watching him disappear right before our eyes.

But then I read a post on MJJ-777 that has me thinking about the Invincible cover again, and considering other ways to interpret it. According to the MJJ-777 post, he wanted his face on the cover art to be golden, like the child in this Albert Watson portrait:


Joie:  That is so interesting, Willa. I had never read that post before.

Willa:  I hadn’t either, but I’m so intrigued by it, and I love the Watson photo. It’s so beautiful, and the child’s face all in gold looks like a work of art – like the King Tut mask, or the sarcophagus that Michael Jackson loved so much in the Bashir documentary. And it has me thinking once again about his face as a work of art.I haven’t abandoned my previous interpretation – I see it both ways. In fact, I think they fit together pretty well. As public representations of his face and image became more and more of a work of art, he himself disappeared.

This interpretation of the Invincible cover as representing his face as a work of art is reinforced by the fact that five versions of the cover were released – four with a different background color, as well as the white one – and that’s reminiscent of the four Andy Warhol portraits of Michael Jackson, each with a different background color. So in that way, the Invincible cover evokes the Warhol portraits, where his face, his image, unquestionably became a work of art, by one of the most influential artists of the last century.

Joie:  That’s true, Willa, they do evoke Warhol. And you know, there are a few rare Invincible CDs floating around out there where the cover contains an image of all four background colors, so it really does look like a Warhol portrait. If you can find them, they go for a pretty penny.

Willa:  Really? I didn’t know that. You know, one of the Warhol portraits of Michael Jackson – the one on the yellow background – is in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. If you get a chance, you should go see it. It’s really cool seeing it in person.

Joie:  Well, this is probably going to sound funny but, I just can’t believe that we managed to talk about all of the album covers in one post. I mean … there are so many fascinating things to talk about with each one of them and I am just amazed that we managed to do it without breaking it up into two posts because, we really could go on forever with a couple of them. I’m sort of proud of our restraint, aren’t you?

Willa:  That’s funny, Joie!  Especially since we were just speaking of restriction and escape. … But you’re right – each of these album covers could fill a blog post on its own. So now that we’ve finished reining ourselves in, maybe we should treat ourselves with a little escapism and go look at clouds. What do you think?

Joie:  Oh! That one looks like a bunny!


About Dancing with the Elephant contributors

Joie Collins is a founding member of the Michael Jackson Fan Club (MJFC). She has written extensively for MJFC, helping to create the original website back in 1999 and overseeing both the News and History sections of the website. Over the years she conducted numerous interviews on behalf of MJFC and also directed correspondence for the club. She also had the great fortune to be a guest at Neverland. She has been a Michael Jackson fan since she was three years old. Lisha McDuff is a classically trained professional musician who for 30 years made her living as a flutist, performing in orchestras and for major theatrical touring productions. Her passion for popular musicology led her to temporarily leave the orchestra pit and in June 2013 she received a Master’s degree in Popular Music Studies from the University of Liverpool. She’s continuing her studies at McMaster University, where she is working on a major research project about Michael Jackson, with Susan Fast as her director. Willa Stillwater is the author of M Poetica: Michael Jackson's Art of Connection and Defiance and "Rereading Michael Jackson," an article that summarizes some of the central ideas of M Poetica. She has a Ph.D. in English literature, and her doctoral research focused on the ways in which cultural narratives (such as racism) are made real for us by being "written" on our bodies. She sees this concept as an important element of Michael Jackson's work, part of what he called social conditioning. She has been a Michael Jackson fan since she was nine years old.

Posted on December 27, 2012, in Michael Jackson and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 91 Comments.

  1. Hi Willa and Joie,

    What a wonderful and interesting post. I don’t have the albums — downloaded MJ’s music from the internet — so have missed out on all this wealth of visual pleasure and information. This post really brings home to me the extent and passion of Michael Jackson’s creativity! So amazing.

    I am familiar with the covers, but don’t have them in my possession to study. I am going to search all his album covers on the internet. Will get back to you. What fun. All these clues to the mystery and miracle of MJ. The fact that he was so lonely in his personal life, I think, was part of what drove him to communicate, through his art, in every way possible, his truth.

    I love the discussion of the covers as a key to the progression of his art and how he saw himself. Thanks so much.

  2. aldebaranredstar

    Thanks for this interesting discussion of the album covers. Just to respond quickly about the ‘Bad’ and ‘Invincible’ covers. Michael did not want either one of those, so maybe that’s why they are not so convincingly Michael. For Bad, he wanted the cover with the black lace over the camera lens, but Yetnikoff of Sony nixxed it; this is also explained in Spike Lee’s documentary, where Yetnikoff says he nixxed it and said ‘No way!’ and where Michael was reluctant to pose for a different cover, and only allowed a few seconds for the photographer who had been waiting on the set every day.

    For Invincible, Michael wanted the cover photo by French photographer Arno Bani, who auctioned off the photos after Michael’s death. The one Michel wanted on the coiver is the first one shown on this video–the gold one. You can see how the covers that Michael selected were very unusual and avante-garde, and can understand the resistence he encountered from the more staid, profit-oriented world of SONY music.

    Here are the Bani photos.

    • Hi Aldebaranredstar. Thanks for the Bani video. Aren’t those photos incredible? I’d seen some of them before, but didn’t realize they were taken for the Invincible album. That really does support the idea that he was representing his face on his album covers as art. (For some reason, the photo with the blue circle on his left eye makes me think of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye.)

      It’s also very interesting how history repeated itself, with the black lace photo of his face rejected for Bad, and the Bani photos of his face rejected for Invincible. I don’t think the record company execs were quite ready for him!

      • I have the MJ blue eye photo here on my desk with one of those Turkish glass blue eye talismans hanging above it that a friend gave me as a gift. I just love that kind of legend, myth and folklore and how MJ tapped into these symbols. Uri Geller drew the art work inside the Invincible cover and he says that the eye symbol is “known in many different cultures around the world to be the invincible evil protector.” The invincible protective eye appears on the Dangerous cover (above the doorway below the bird queen) and on a banner in the HIStory teaser as well. It seems to me to be one of those Jungian symbols that resonates deeply in the collective universal psyche. Vogel has said Jung was MJ’s analyst of choice and I would love to know more about how MJ understood this!

        Here’s another MJJ-777 article where Karen Faye talks about the Arno Bani shoot http://www.mj-777.com/?p=5805 She says MJ did not like the finished product from these sessions, did not want to use them, even wanted the negatives destroyed! I still find them interesting though, and I like how KF explained “Michael referenced other art to incorporate with his own ideas, often…hence his massive book collection.”

        I had a dream many years ago about going out in the country and seeing this golden young man who lived in a tree. When I woke up from this dream, I felt I had been engulfed in the universal mythology that Jung talks about, it was such a deep sleep. The golden man in my dream looked just like those Albert Watson photos, not kidding, even though I know I am risking everyone will think I’ve been to one too many yoga classes or something by admitting to that. Oh how I wish Sony would not have interfered with MJ on that one. I feel like it is another one of those powerful symbols!

        • aldebaranredstar


          Some more info on the Arno Bani shoot. According to this source, the make-up artist was Topolino and the make-up applications took hours. Another MJ mystery? One thing for sure, the Invincible cover selected was so different from the Arno Bani photos.

        • aldebaranredstar

          Hi, Ultravioletrae, I went to the mj-777 site for the discussion of the Bani photos, and there was anger that Bani was putting them up for auction (in 2010) and accusing him of betraying Michael’s wishes since Karen Faye said Michael did not like them. There were also claims that he had no right to sell them since they ‘belonged to Michael.’

          I checked a bit and came up with this info:

          “The photographer signed over the rights to Sony for 10 years but the pictures were never used by the record label.”

          More Information: http://www.artdaily.org/index.asp?int_sec=2&int_new=43392#.UN6qoUL3DJw%5B/url%5D
          Copyright © artdaily.org

          It would make sense that SONY paid for the photoshoot, which was expensive by all accounts, and that they put this clause in the contract. So by 2010, Bani did have the rights back (that SONY never exercised).

          Whether Michael liked the photos and wanted them for the cover is unclear to me now that Karen Faye (and Michael Bush) say Michael didn’t like them, but the general tone that Bani betrayed Michael seems pretty inappropriate.

          Interesting that you like the “Blue Eye” photo so much. I will check out the ‘invinclible eye’ on the other covers you mention–thanks for that info.

          • Hi Aldebaranredstar,

            Great information, thanks! It’s really interesting to see how this album cover evolved, isn’t it? I am intrigued that the invincible eye symbol and the golden boy symbol remained, even if Sony went with the b/w image instead of using gold and one blue eye.

            I keep thinking about the golden boy, we know King Tut is called the golden boy king, a very important image to MJ, but I felt like there must be other incarnations of golden boy too. I just discovered that there is currently a revival of a Broadway play called the Golden Boy, and a 1939 movie of the same, a story about a musician/boxer. Kind of interesting given those boxing images in YRMW I’ve been so curious about.

          • Thank you for this bit of info. Sometimes there is such anger in the fan community, I guess out of a need to ‘protect’ Michael, but sometimes there is a lack of understanding about the “business” that is show business. Another example would be The Estate’s decision to partner with Sony. Although I respect Karen Faye’s working relationship with Michael (remember, she is hired help and their relationship is unbalanced and not a mutual friendship), she is a make-up artist and not an entertainment or corporate lawyer and she should be careful before she is sued for slander.

        • I am sorry to read all this furore about these photos, as I think they are really great, and different, and have thought so long before I read all this comment about them. Never knew why they weren’t used or even that Michael didn’t like them, and that dislike certainly doesn’t come across in the book. I for one am glad that they have hit the day light, and will go on enjoying them as works of art of a great artistic genius.

          • I know how you feel, Caro. I really like the Invincible cover, and sometimes I think I’m the only one who does. But that’s ok – it means something to me, so I intend to go on liking it!

            I can understand how someone wanting a photo that evokes a nostalgic feeling would be disappointed in the Bani photos. That isn’t what they do. But I think they’re fascinating because they allow us to see Michael Jackson in a different way and – more importantly, to me – because they give us a hint about what he was thinking at the time. This idea of representing himself as golden, metallic, an art object seems to have been very important to him at that time, and the Bani photos give us another clue about how to interpret that.

      • I have the Pierre Berge book The Auction Michael Jackson, and the photos are just a wonder. For a long time I just had a copy of Blue Eye which I just love, and which is still my favorite photo of Michael, but now with the book I have the other 3, and I have copies of them in a frame which I rotate on the 25th of each month. What a beautiful man he was. It always saddens me when I read that he thought he was ugly and didn’t like to look at himself, when I think he has one of the most stunning faces, and those eyes.

    • I really have hard time understanding that the executives could somehow outvote MJ and make him agree to a cover he didn’t want. I mean when he didn’t think Thriller was ready, he put his foot down and refused to release the album untill he was satisfied with it. Michael resented not having the creative freedom at Motown, so wouldn’t he make sure that his contract allowed him to get his way? He would work on some songs for years, but let some tired photo appear on his album cover?

      Sometimes I think it would so much more liberating for Michael, if he wasn’t so damn popular. Except the fact that everybody loved his music at one point, he really wasn’t mainstream at all. Artists like Bjork and Marilyn Manson have gone way weirder with their art and their labels are obviously ok with it…

  3. WOW! Thanks so much for this post ladies. What an interesting topic. I love cover art and some of us are old enough to have purchased actual albums . Joie, you bring back such fond memories with those Ohio Players albums. Another fave is LaBelle. It’s a picture of the women on the front and when you turn it over it is a picture of them from the back. One of my favorites as a child was The Jackson’s Destiny album. It reminded my of my favorite Saturday morning show at the time – Land of the Lost.

    I mentioned to a friend not too long ago that in this digital age, the art of the album cover (and liner notes) are a thing of the past.

    • Hey Destiny! I remember that LaBelle cover well as it was one of my mom’s favorites at the time! You’re right, the art of album cover art is, unfortunately, a thing of the past and it is such a shame. Everyone just downloads music these days – and it is convenient, I do it too – but there is nothing like holing an actual album cover (and its liner notes) in your hands and pouring over every inch of it. What fond memories indeed!

  4. Hello Willa + Joie,I found the photo of Michael photographed for "Invincible" for you. Here’s the link: http://www.mj-777.com/?p=8707. You have to scroll down a little bit. He is so beautiful !!!!

    Love, Heike

  5. I gotta “defend” the BAD cover, you guys! I don’t think he looks uncomfortable at all. The belts, zippers and buckles was his whole look in that era – he loved that shiny over the top bling 😉

    As for “tough” look, I think this was misunderstood completely by most people who spoke on this. Tarraborelli wrote something like “is that what Michael Jackson thinks ghetto looks like, looking out of his limo window”. Well, Tarraborelli is genious when it comes to misunderstanding MJ art – he always gets it wrong! I think it’s obvious that the bad outfit is an IRONIC take on the tough ghetto thing. It’s like MJ’s superhero costume, which only appears in the dream part on the short film. It really made me laugh hearing all these people who worked on the film talking about getting MJ to be ‘down with the homies’ while Michael is running around with his eyeliner, belts and buckles and pretty hair. lol

    Back to the cover, the only thing that makes a bit odd to me is that they lightened his skin and made him wear contacts to make his eyes light brown (he talks about that in Glenda tapes), which makes him look too airbrushed.

    • “Well, Tarraborelli is genious when it comes to misunderstanding MJ art – he always gets it wrong!” I’ve lost track now of how many times you have made me laugh out loud! Great comments!

  6. It’s funny. I absolutly love Bad’s cover. The way he stares to us, is so sexy. He looks so macho to me in this cover, hahaha. Sorry, but I just love it. In fact, I have this photo as a enormous post in my wall, I go to slep looking at it. And I love see him in tights. Lol. In the short film,when he turn his back to the camera… God help me !!!!

  7. When OTW was re-released as a ”special edition”, a new cover was used. It only showed MJ’s feet. Take a look here: http://www.joevogel.net/man-in-the-music/mj-studies

    @Willa and Joie/everybody else, what are your thoughts on this?

    MOJO Music Magazine (British), who made a special MJ issue in 2002 or so, indirectly alleged that the new OTW cover was chosen in order to hide MJ’s pre-surgery face. (So that fans, when viewing all the MJ covers lined up, would think that the nose he had on ”Thriller” was unaltered.) Hm… :-/

    • Hi Bjorn,

      I find it interesting that on both the Joe Vogel page you posted, and on the album cover blog site Willa posted, the cover for Blood On The Dance Floor seems to be omitted. I say that because I have caught myself skipping over that album before too, even though I love it. The art work to me looks like a big chess game, like MJ is a pawn in that big game.

      I thought that the reason for the image on the reissue of OTW, speaking strictly from an intuitive level, I don’t have any solid information, was that the hair style and clothing looks really dated, so they used the MJ glittery socks logo in an OTW style to update the image. Another theory I read a while back was that part of the idea of the tux was that it was typical of men’s wedding attire at that time, kind of subtly suggesting the dream of Michael as marriage material. It really does look like a 70s wedding tux to me, so maybe for the reissue they just wanted to give it a more current look.

      But what you said about not wanting to use MJ’s face really made me realize something at a much deeper level that is just blowing my mind. As Willa so convincingly outlines: “Michael Jackson’s face was his greatest, most important work…the way he orchestrated our shifting perceptions of his face challenged our ideas about race and gender, sexuality and subjectivity, at such a deep, fundamental level.”

      Here is what I’m beginning to realize that I hadn’t fully appreciated before: “he seems to be suggesting that identity – at least, his identity as a celebrity – is a social construct.”

      Even though I read that before and thought I understood it, it just suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks. Michael Jackson IS socially constructed! Not just his face, his sex appeal or supposed freakishness, his guilt or innocence, but the whole concept of Michael Jackson is something that WE INVENT! (with a lot of help of course.) It’s going to take me a while to fully grasp that.

      • “Even though I read that before and thought I understood it, it just suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks. Michael Jackson IS socially constructed! Not just his face, his sex appeal or supposed freakishness, his guilt or innocence, but the whole concept of Michael Jackson is something that WE INVENT! (with a lot of help of course.) It’s going to take me a while to fully grasp that.”

        I recently had similar thoughts, wow! It does seem like the Michael Jackson is a character/alter ego that Michael had created. It would sure explain different Michaels that different people have experienced and have trouble integrating into one person.

        Also, maybe creating an alter ego could have been a mechanism to protect real Michael. As long as people/media were hating on the character, the real MJ was safe as they didn’t really know him and therefore couldn’t critisize something real about him. Too farfetched?

        I recently read on raven’s blog about similarities between MJ and Marilyn Monroe – she also seemed to have an alter ego – sex kitten.

        Hmm.. 😉

        • Gennie,

          Isn’t that fascinating?

          And it seems to coincide with shifts in the music industry. As Destiny lamented earlier, we don’t really have albums and album art anymore, which is really sad to me personally. I used to love buying a record and enjoying the art, the story of the record and listening to the album as a whole. Now people download individual tracks and put it all together themselves. The record industry is in trouble now, in part, because they didn’t understand quickly enough how consumers wanted to be in control of the product.

          I guess MJ understood that early on and decided “I am going to be exactly what you want to see.” We are in control of Michael Jackson, the trade marked product, it’s something we put together ourselves.

          • Ultravioletrae,

            I agree. But I think the industry may also be in trouble because its too focused on making a mass product to sell. (Just like they worried about selling Michael with a veil over his face *gasp*) and mass products are forgettable. But on the other hand, artists can actually put their work out there without having a big label behind them. I just really don’t like the idea of business people telling creative people what to do lol

            But I think I might have understood a little better what Willa meant by Michael’s face being his greatest art – I was kinda irked by this at first since he suffered so much because of things he couldn’t control (vitiligo, lupus) and the public perception that it was his own choice. But maybe if I think of it in terms of a character instead of his actual face, it makes sense how he could have created that.

          • It’s like the old saying – when life gives you lemons, make lemonade! MJ could make art out of anything.

        • This is very similar to what LMP said of Michael in her post-passing Michael interview. That he created a persona (what I call “MJJ, Inc.”) as a way to protect himself and that very few people knew the ‘real’ Michael Jackson.

          I’ve also thought that Michael was probably not comfortable to share his whole self with people, and that that is why people have such different personal accounts of him.

          • Destiny I think you are right are, and that there was very much the private and the public Michael, and that he wanted it that way. Remember in the early blogs when Willa wrote about ‘my baby’ and that ‘my baby’ was Michaels personal and private side that he wanted to protect. That remark has very much stuck with me, and makes sense of the many personas of Michael. He said himself that he – his body and face – were as much a work of art as his music, lyrics and short films, which would again lead towards at least 2 sides of him. Many people who have been interviewed describe him as 2 people even as a child – the quiet, shy, humble private person and the completely different dynamo that he became once he hit the stage.

            His vitaligo was of course very real, and as Ultravioletrae says, he simply made lemonade out of those lemons, and that is one of the things about Michael that inspires me daily to make the best out of life, even when it is difficult. Not many people would have survived what happened to him throughout his life, especially the trial, but he did survive, and he taught us how to do so.

          • @Destiny. I thought of Lisa too in relation to this. I was always kinda intrigued with how quickly let her know that MJJ Inc was a facade. A lot of his friends say stuff like Michael didn’t drink and never cursed, because he didn’t in their presence. But suddenly when he is interested in a girl, he doesn’t want to play this squicky clean character anymore 😉

          • The comedian Eddie Griffin become friends with Michael at some point and he said (loosely quoting here) “instead of worrying about Michael and kids, you need to be worried about Michael and your wife.”

            Many people who personally knew Michael used him, but I believe many more felt very protective of him as Spike Lee says of the many people who agreed to be interviewed for BAD25. I think Michael probably had more relationships with women than we will ever know, and those women will never tell because the want to protect him (and Michael them by never letting the press know).

      • Hi Ultravioletrae,

        your idea of MJ as a social construction is truly FASCINATING! 🙂

        I’ve also been pondering this a lot, especially after reading Willa’s book, which was a real eye-opener…

        I can’t tell whether MOJO Magazine’s idea of Sony wanting to hide young MJ’s (pre-surgery) face from the cover of the OTW reissue–in order to brand MJ’s Thriller era face as ”authentic MJ”–has any merit.

        But I do think that MJ’s changing public appearance creates some extra problems for editors. In addition to the general
        Problem 1: How do you represent a person who’s no longer alive?
        there comes a
        Problem 2: Which MJ – black, white, curly hair, straight hair etc. etc. – would fit our idea of him in the best way?

        When papers write articles about Elvis, the choice is usually easy (unless the text focuses on his depressive last years) – they pick a picture of him as a young man, at the height of his fame. (The iconic Elvis.) When they write about Einstein, they almost universally choose a photo of him as an old man, at the peak of _his_ game (just think about the iconic photo of Einstein showing his tongue).

        Whoever writes or creates something about MJ in general (and not from a specific period, like Spike Lee’s Bad 25 documentary), faces Problem 2.
        A positive article about MJ might show a still from the Motown special where he first moonwalked in public. If you’re a writer who thinks MJ was a freak, I bet you’d rather go for the photo of him holding Blanket across the railings of a Berlin balcony.
        One example: The US foundation Dance Heritage, which belongs at the ”classy” (highbrow or non-pop) end of the cultural spectrum, opted for ”Thriller Michael” on their website, plus newer photos of his (artistically acceptable) dancing body where his (in this case, socially unacceptable) face cannot be seen clearly.
        Another example: After his death, a US tv mag (don’t remember which), solved the issue by having two alternative covers, one with tiny MJ singing, the other with Dangerous era ”iconic MJ”.

        What, indeed, does ”iconic MJ” look like?
        Is it (brown-skinned) Thriller MJ, at his commercial apex?
        Or is it (light-skinned) Bad MJ, at the height of his global fame (touring the entire world)?

        How is ”MJ” (as an icon or even idea) to an Indian? An African-American? A Chinese?

        This would be material for an entire doctoral thesis, I think! 🙂

        I guess it is in this play with different people’s different ideas of him that MJ’s real genius lies hidden, and where it will one day be universally recognized and admired.

        • Oops, forgot the link to Dance Heritage:


          Notice how only Thriller MJ’s face can be seen! 🙂

          • aldebaranredstar

            Hi, Bjorn, I am replying to your last post about the transitions from nature (photos) to art in the covers and in posthumous presentations of Michael. Another interesting approach was the TII cover–a sillouette with photos incorporated as a collage inside the sillouette.

            I see your point re the painterly presentations still have to have a ‘real’ MJ core, but when it is handled so abstractly, it seems more an effort to capture a larger energy that spans his career, rather than a specific moment in time.

            I went back and looked at the Memorial photo treatment. They did a great job I think. Yes, it is from the Black or White film, but because Michael’s head is down so that you can’t really see his face, the image captures his whole energy, and the stance is so powerful and focuses more on his body as a whole.

            I think it is good if images of Michael go beyond his face, a focus exploited by the tabloids in a such a negative way, and focus more on his body and total effect, as we see in the sillouettes, which are taken from dance poses for the most part.

            The Michael on the ‘Michael” cover I think is later than Thriller. Raven Woods has a whole discussion on her blog Allforlove on Michael’s hair. It is very interesting. The jheri curls that are shown on the Michael cover are later than Thriller. Thriller hair wasn’t jheri curls; it looked like a pinned back afro. Michael used the jheri curl look for a long time.

            Anyway, if you check out Raven’s blog, you’ll see all the different hair styles and their dates. It seems the hair treatments for the jheri curls and also the lupus, vitiligo, and Pepsi burn took a toll on Michael’s hair and he eventually went to weaves and wigs. Tina Turner also had her hair ruined by chemicals used in hair treatments and went to wigs with great success.

          • thanks for posting this link Bjorn – it is interesting and I love the tribute video below

            However, I really go with Aldebarans remark –

            I think it is good if images of Michael go beyond his face, a focus exploited by the tabloids in a such a negative way, and focus more on his body and total effect, as we see in the sillouettes, which are taken from dance poses for the most part.

            I love the whole Michael package, and now when discussing him with people who go straight for the ‘nose’ so to speak, I reply, he was so much more than his nose you know, and go on to explain why.

            Raven’s blog about the hair is very interesting indeed, as is the follow up about Michael’s beautiful eyes. She must spend hours researching all this information and her photos are always stunning – my Michael screensaver now has over 300 photos on it thanks to her.

            I remember reading in the early days that someone was writing about Michael’s children not looking like him, and saying but why would they when he no longer looks like him!! I found it a very telling remark, but do find so much of interest and comfort in Willa’s book and all the reasons she puts forward for his changing looks. No matter what, to me he is absolutely beautiful inside and out.

          • @aldebaranredstar

            Thanks for the tip! (Raven’s blog.)

            I agree that is important to focus on the whole body and not only the face, especially when it comes to an exceptional dancer like Michael.

            (But I also think that there is no reason to hide his face.)

          • But then again, that spread was all about dance, so the pictures of him dancing are more appropriate than of him posing for the Thriller album.

          • aldebaranredstar

            Caro, I had to laugh out loud at your comment that people ‘go straight for the nose’ when discussing Michael’s face, and that you have to tell them ‘he was so much more than his nose’!!! I am just wondering if this obsessive, negative focus on his face, esp. nose and skin color, led the album covers to shift from photos (as in the Q. Jones albums) to art, as in Dangerous, HIStory, Blood on the Dance Floor covers. Invincible is technically a photo but more like a kind of negative image.

            Re the hair issue, I read on Raven’s blog about ‘front lace wigs,’ which I never heard of before. Turns out they are the kind of wig that you wear for weeks or even months. You don’t take them on and off like regular wigs. They are laced in somehow to your hair so they look more real. Well, guess who wears so many of these–Beyonce! And here I though those glorious locks were her own. Michael took to wearing these after his hair got so damaged from the chemical treatments (relaxers and activators that change the shape and texture of the hair of Blacks) and the lupus, vitiligo, burn treatments. I even started to think about the Obamas, and how Barack goes for the short, natural hair, but Michelle and daughters prefer the relaxer look.

            Last comment, on the Black or White film, I realized when he says I’m not going to spend my life being a color, that he shows all the races or colors of homo sapiens in this film in the dance sequences as well as in the morphing sequence. The African, Native American, Asian (Thailand or Cambodia), Indian, Russian dancers.

            BTW, Billy Jean was released as a single 30 years ago on Jan 3, 1983. It went platinum in USA in 1989.

          • Aldebaranredstar: ”Caro, I had to laugh out loud at your comment that people ‘go straight for the nose’ when discussing Michael’s face, and that you have to tell them ‘he was so much more than his nose’!!! I am just wondering if this obsessive, negative focus on his face, esp. nose and skin color, led the album covers to shift from photos….”

            Okay, the cat’s out of the bag, so let’s get straight to the NOSE! :o)

            Don’t shoot me, but I’ve always wished that MJ never had plastic surgery.
            I love his music, his singing, his dancing, but sometimes when I look at newer photos of him, then compare with older photos, I can’t help but feeling sad.

            Like my sister once said, ”he had vitiligo so his skin colour would have changed any way, why would he alter his nose?”
            Even if he broke his nose after a dance rehearsal, as Taraborelli says, he could easily have reconstructed its original shape. But no. MJ apparently didn’t like the nose Nature gave him.

            ”So What?” many fans say. ”If MJ wanted a nosejob, it was his choice and right. Get over it!” And they’re right. But I still feel pity for Michael – that he loathed his own nose to such an extent that he let a surgeon alter it at least once. Even if he perhaps had other goals (like creating a post-racial character people all over the world could identify with), that initial pain is etched into every post-OTW photo–if you want to see it.

            Once again, don’t shoot me, those are just my feelings. And I like to think of myself as a fan. Now imagine, if you can, a person who does not like MJ’s music, who isn’t into dance and can’t see what it’s all about. (And trust me, there are many such persons out there!) Okay, if neither MJ’s music nor his dance nor his videos touches you in any way (just try to imagine this!), then, what do you see?
            You see a man whose appearance changed dramatically during his lifetime.
            And you don’t understand it. That’s not normal. (It isn’t!) So, you go looking for explanations.

            I agree with you and Caro that there is too much negative focus on MJ’s face, and especially his nose. Still, we have to understand the reactions of people who are not fans – if we ever want MJ to be globally acknowledged as a great artist.
            One day people may realize that he did not abuse children, but his changing face will always be there, and people will be craving explanations, no matter how much WE try to focus on his art! 🙂

            I remember a Danish review of Spike Lee’s ”Bad 25”. The reviewer more or less said ”pretty nice film. But why didn’t Spike Lee ask the essential questions? What makes a man want to change his skin, nose and chin?”

            So, sad as it may sound, this is occupying the minds of many people! 😉
            (Not ”haters”, just people who don’t know a lot about MJ.)

            Re album covers shifting from photos to art, I think you’re very much right, Aldebaranredstar!
            Sony wanted to take away the focus from MJ’s face.

            My own theory is that Sony has two ”Michaels” that they try to make iconic (so that people shouldn’t spend too much time thinking about his early nose, late hair etc.):
            – ”Black MJ” (dark skin but altered nose, like the painting on the album ”Michael”)
            – ”White MJ” (basically Bad era MJ, with a few inputs from later periods, like the ”Immortal” painting)

            Well, I think I should stop here… I’ve got to spend less time discussing online…
            And you’re right, Caro, there are more important things to discuss than a nose! 🙂

          • Bjorn, your points are very valid. I sometimes find that people in the fan community don’t want to admit that Michael had issues with plastic surgery (and drugs). I personally think Michael was somewhere between having body dysmorphic disorder, self-mutilating and even a bit of what Willa describes (using his face/body as a work of art). The fact that most all of The Jacksons have went under the knife tells me that Michael’s issues were not to correct nature.

        • Hi Bjorn, I didn’t mean to imply it was my idea that Michael Jackson is socially constructed–that was Willa! Forgive me for not making myself clear. It was just one of those things that you read, and it’s such a huge concept, at first it just doesn’t sink in. After reading your comment, it really hit me that was exactly what is going on…the value of a good discussion! Anyway, I wish I were as brilliant as Willa Stillwater and could take credit for that–but actually that was her quote!

          Very astute observation about the use of pictures. I’ve noticed that one way news outlets cue readers to think of MJ as a freak is they might run a fairly positive or factual piece, but then run a picture with it of MJ shopping with the bandages on his face, a scarf draped over his head, a funny green jacket, kids in masks, obviously not wishing to be photographed (or maybe not?). Point being that they have 100s of file photos of beautiful, promotional MJ pics, but they deliberately don’t use them.

          • Hi ultravioletrae, no problem! 🙂 At least you added to the discussion of Willa’s idea. It’s a collaborative endeavor we’ve embarked on here, very much in MJ’s spirit! Good point about the media trying to depict MJ as a freak, even in ”serious” pieces…

          • aldebaranredstar

            Hi, Bjorn, I will email the photo to Willa and Joie to see if they can upload it. Another person who refused to alter their nose was Barbra Streisand, and people accepted it. Gerard does have a huge nose, I agree.

        • aldebaranredstar

          Personally, I am tired of the ‘iconic Michael’ and the photos I like now are the ones where he is not heavily made up. There is one where he is leaving a hotel and it’s a close-up and he looks very simple in terms of make-up, hair, costume, etc. If I can find it in a link, I’ll post it. I think for this reason, I like the Thriller cover best–yes, I know the cover is ‘iconic’ but it is also simple in terms of costume, hair, make-up.

          Your point about how to present him now that he is gone is good one. It seems we are going in the direction of a more painterly presentation, rather than a real photo, as in the ‘Michael” cover, the sillouette poses, as in the on-the-toes-stance, and I like the photo treatment done for the Memorial, where a photo taken from the Black or White film, became very painterly as an image.

          • aldebaranredstar

            At about the 2:09 point, there is the photo of Michael I like, not sure when it was taken. I realize there are some ‘iconic photos’ in there too, as well as Warhol’s painting.

            Happy New Year, Willa, Joie, and everyone!!!

          • Hi aldebaranredstar,
            interesting point about ”painterly presentation” of MJ!
            But still, even with a painting, you have to pick ”your MJ”. (The main painting on the ”Michael” album showed Thriller Michael, not Bad Michael or This Is It Michael.)

            I have always wondered about the transition of MJ’s image on the covers:
            1. Photo (OTW, T and B), with a transition from MJ’s ”natural” face (OTW) to a heavily made up face with altered nose and chin (Bad).
            2. Painting (D), with only MJ’s eyes visible.
            3. Statue (H).

            Then of course you’ve got BOTDF with another painting, and Invincible with its computerized face shot.

            But still, you’ve somehow got an evolution from ”nature” to ”art” (real face > painting > statue), and I don’t think it’s random…

            BTW, what could be more different from a dancer than a … statue?
            (Is the Inv. cover a rare example of MJ being ironic?)

        • aldebaranredstar

          Hey, Bjorn–thanks for your comments about the NOSE and I am NOT going to shoot you, don’t worry. I agree that nonfans have had issues with his changing looks, but I think the main emphasis was on skin color, at least that is what I was hearing (he didn’t want to be Black). That got answered with the vitiligo that was confirmed in the autopsy (for all those who doubted that he told Oprah the truth in 93).

          As far as the NOSE, Dr. Strick (court-appointed dermatologist who reviewed his medical records in 93 case) said that b/c of his discoid lupus, the skin around the site of the surgeries did not heal, and so he had to have reconstructive surgeries to repair the dead skin. Strick concluded that after the original surgeries, the rest were ‘reconstructive.’ In fact, a person with discoid lupus should not have plastic surgery b/c of the healing problem, but apparently they did not know that when Michael first had the nose redone.

          He could have left it the same nose but he chose not to (his father called him ‘big nose’ so it was a sensitive issue. Adolescents are very sensitive about their looks. I used to HATE my own nose, also ‘big,’ myself and would have changed it if I could).

          About his changing looks, I have been lucky to purchase an original, unpublished photo of Michael when he was on the Japan tour in 1972-73. He was 14-15. If you see the photo there is no doubt it’s Michael, and people have instantly identified it, so how much did he really change if you can recognize him from a photo when he was 14? How many of us can be recognized from a photo when we were 14? Finally, check out the ‘older Mike’ youtube videos. Some people prefer his look when he was older and still very beautiful.

          • Hi aldebaranredstar,
            glad you’re not going to shoot me! 😉
            You write

            ”In fact, a person with discoid lupus should not have plastic surgery b/c of the healing problem, but apparently they did not know that when Michael first had the nose redone.

            He could have left it the same nose but he chose not to (his father called him ‘big nose’ so it was a sensitive issue. Adolescents are very sensitive about their looks. I used to HATE my own nose, also ‘big,’ myself and would have changed it if I could).”

            That just makes me feel even more sorry for MJ! Too bad nobody could step in to ”save” him from his first surgery! As an insecure adolescent, he was clearly not in a position to make such a ”mature” decision, that would influence him for the rest of his life. Too bad he had the money, but not the company of loving people (parents?) that could’ve prevented his fateful visit to the surgeon. 😦

            I’m sure the fans would’ve loved him just as much had he ”kept” his original nose. I’m thinking of French actor Gerard Depardieu, who’s got a huge nose, much bigger than Michael’s. In an interview he said that a lot of people had been trying to make him get a nosejob, but no way! He was proud of his big nose; it was a part of him.

            I also imagine that if MJ had kept his big nose, and told the world ”hey, I’ve got this disease called vitiligo” early on, a lot of nonfans would have respected him much more than they do now. I’m aware that some people, sadly enough, can’t enjoy MJ’s art as such because they keep thinking about plastic surgeons with knives, etc.

            I’d like to see that photo from Japan!
            Would it be possible for you to upload it somehow, maybe for a short period?

          • @Bjørn
            Your comment just made me think of a line from Lisa Presley’s song “Was it that I wanted to save you and you never wanted me to?” Have you considered that MJ didn’t want to be saved from himself?

            I think it’s quite condescending to assume a person needs “saving”. Yeah, the public might have not like Michael’s nose, but what if he actually did? It was his face, his decision and he took the consequences for it. We can talk about how this decision affected people opinion of MJ, but we cannot ultimately say whether it was right or wrong for him.

            This is not about the fans loving MJ with his old nose or not. This was never about the fans, but something between Michael and what he saw when he looked at himself. The thing is, we don’t have to like it, we don’t have to approve of it, we were not the ones who had to live with it, so why can’t we just let it go?

            Why would you respect someone based on their surgeries or lack of those? And if someone can’t enjoy Michael’s music because they don’t like his nosejob, well it’s their loss really 🙂 And it says more about that person anyway.

            Frank Cascio said it so well in his book:
            “Michael’s skin disease, along with his difficult childhood and the molestation allegations, were conditions or circumstances that he did his best to survive, and the plastic surgeries he had on his nose were, like many of his eccentricities, attempts to exert some kind of control over his own destiny and happiness. Those surgeries didn’t make him normal. And, in many people’s eyes, they didn’t make him beautiful. What they did do was make him Michael.”

            “No one should judge what I’ve done with my life, not unless they’ve been in my shoes every horrible day and every sleepless night.” Michael Jackson

    • Hi Bjørn. When I see the cover on the rereleased Off the Wall album, I think of the first time we see Michael Jackson in the We are the World video, where all we see are his socks. It’s about a minute in:

      Apparently, he explicitly asked to be filmed that way, beginning with the socks, and I heard an interview a long time ago that talked about that. I can’t remember where it was now, or even who said it, but the idea was that he wanted his white socks to be iconic, like his white glove was, and this was one of the ways he made them iconic.

      He was very skilled at that, at creating visual metaphors for himself – the fedora, the white glove, the taped fingers, the armband, the black loafers, the white socks – and each carries different meanings. For me, the glowing white socks say something about him as a dancer, “light” on his feet, so it makes perfect sense to me that he would focus on them on Off the Wall, which in many ways is his dance album. (For example, the white glove or the armband wouldn’t make sense here, but the glowing white socks do.)

      btw, that’s interesting, Ultravioletrae, about Blood on the Dance Floor being excluded. I notice those lists don’t include the compilation albums (Number Ones, The Ultimate Collection, The Essential Michael Jackson) and I wonder if they consider it a compilation album, even though it has some new songs? Just a thought …

      • Hi Willa,

        thanks for your explanation of the ”feet-only” cover, and the video (which YouTube unfortunately doesn’t let me see here in Scandinavia).
        I think you’re right that the cover’s purpose is to show MJ’s feet rather than hiding his pre-surgery face. (Though that may have come in as a secondary ”gain” for Sony in their process of creating ”MJJ, inc.”, as someone else labelled his show persona,
        who knows…)

        I’d also like to add sunglasses and long curls to your catalogue of visual MJ metaphors. Who else in the world has his own smiley:


  8. Love this blog and thank you. I have the cover version of OTW with only MJ’s feet, and the red Invincible cover, twice – was hoping when I bought the second copy to get a different colour, but no luck.. My favorite is Blood on the Dance Floor, but gosh, all that symbolism, Illuminati etc etc – rather scary stuff and those clouds on the sides do look like people I must say – and you have made me look at it with new eyes yet again. I like it because I actually like the older looking Michael and his music, and one doesn’t often see him (if ever) all ‘blinged’ up with so much jewellery, and we won’t even go with the skin tight red pants – well not for long anyway!!

    Even though it was obviously released after his death, I also very much like the cover to Michael because it has so many shots of him throughout his career, and I love the fittingness of the crown being held over his head by black and white cherubs.

    I like Joie’s idea of having the covers framed, and am thinking of making a colour collage of them all inside one frame – woudl be stunning – thanks for the idea.

    Yet again I have learned so much about Michael from this particular blog, and would be very happy if the two of you would please carry on and go deeper into it.

    Thanks again for the help getting into the blog another way – I was very upset at not being able to access it as I know I would be missing something great.

  9. aldebaranredstar

    The Arno Bani photoshoot has me thinking about the SONY blowup over Invincible: Michael’s press conference accusing Motola of being ‘devilish,’ SONY’s refusal to further promote Invincible, including to release another short film beyond ‘You Rock My World,’ and Michael’s breaking his contract.

    Here is what Bani is quoted as saying about the expense account for the shoot:

    “I had no spending limits,” the photographer said. “If the inseam of Michael Jackson’s pants cost 10,000 euros, no problem. At one point, the Sony people told me they had never spent that much on a suit and even brought Michael’s stage costumes out of storage to show me what they usually did. There was an awful jacket with round mirror sequins that were just glued on. It only worked at 100 meters distance with tons of spotlights pointed at it.” (from the artinfo piece I cited above)

    Bani brought in star stylists, took 700 photos, used costly designer clothes, took 3 days for the shoot, and Michael did not show up for the first day, so that was added to the tab. Then Michael had his own staff there as well (for example, Karen Faye). In other words, SONY paid a bundle for this and then none of the photos were used, so it was all cash out and none in. Did this contribute to the breakup? SONY obviously trusted Michael’s judgment enough to pay for a photoshoot with an unknown photographer, so they were willing to experiment.

    I think that this big ticket photoshoot may have added to the tensions that erupted later. What’s sad is that the album suffered from the feud and lack of promotion, and it is truly a wonderful album, although uniformly dismissed, even now, by critics.

    Whether the decision not to use the photos was due to SONY execs or to MJ is unclear to me. Michael may not have liked the photos but, being polite, did not tell Bani. When Bani says that these were taken for the cover and SONY rejected them, maybe that’s what he was told. (It’s sad that a few now see Bani as a scammer betraying Michael as the photos really are amazing and I would like to see all 700 of them.)

    Or maybe Michael DID like them and SONY didn’t (?). If Michael was the one who nixxed them and wanted the negatives destroyed (as mj-777 blog says), remember, too, that at one point he wanted the short film of Thriller destroyed b/c the JWitnesses were opposed to the occult theme. Branca/Landis salvaged this by suggesting the disclaimer at the beginning, so Thriller was ‘saved.’

  10. aldebaranredstar

    @Ultravioletrae, about the ‘golden boy’ theme, Michael told Oprah that he was his father’s ‘golden boy’–interesting. I downloaded Invincible so have not seen the inside/back cover art. What was Michael’s fascination with King Tut?

    @Destiny, I agree re some people need to watch what they say. It stirs up the fires and adds to misinformation. It’s easy to get confused about Michael as there are so many different ‘sources’ out there.

    • @Alebaranredstar, I got to thinking about the whole Sony/Invincible thing again too. Not sure whether or not Sony was “paying” for the Bani shoot against Michael’s income from future sales of the album or not. Would be interesting to know.

      Here is some info on the art work inside the Invincible cover by Uri Geller http://www.uri-geller.com/articles/invincible.htm Scroll down to see the drawing. The back of the Invincible album is just a close up of the one “blue” eye.

      I thought that was interesting about MJ saying he was his father’s golden boy. That 1939 movie “Golden Boy” is really about this young musician/boxer and his relationship with his father/fame/fortune/music. http://youtu.be/ue-b4-WJUMA Wonder if MJ knew of this or had it in mind.

      Randall Sullivan wrote about MJ wanting to do a movie project based on King Tut with Peter Jackson (The Hobbit). I sort of thought that might possibly be true since I’ve read before about MJ’s fascination for all things Egyptian and King Tut (not that I find Sullivan’s book reliable), but I don’t remember specifically, I just remember reading/hearing about it several times.

      • aldebaranredstar

        Ultravioletrae, thanks for the Uri Geller reference–‘Michael Jackson’s best friend’ (until he unfortunately set him up with Martin Bashir), and for the info re King Tut. I did not know Michael was so interested in all things Egyptian, either. He certainly had wide ranging interests and tastes. I read recently that his favorite piece of music was Debussy “Apres Midi d’une Faun.” Wow.

        As far as the arrangements re who was paying for what, I would imagine they had a standard contract as per previous albums, and I doubt that Michael would have to repay the costs of producing or promoting the album. In reading Joe Vogel’s Man in the Music, and how the engineers talk about the liberal budgets they had, I never got the impression that this money had to be repaid, did you? I would think that the percentages of sales that would go to SONY and Michael’s royalties were workied out in contract as usual. O’Malley at Forbes is writing a book on Michael’s finances (should be a huge undertaking) that will enlighten us. AEG had a contract where Michael would pay them back for production costs for the tour, and if Michael decided to produce or invest in a project, then he would put $ in.

        Wikipedia says that Invincible cost SONY $30 million to make, and they had $25 million set aside for promotion, which didn’t happen due to the feud and contract dispute. I looked at Joe’s book, and he says that Invincible was supposed to be released in Nov, 99 (same year as the Bani shoot), but got delayed til 2001–and ended up getting released a month after 9/11 in October, 2001.

        “While Tommy Mottola’s motives for canceling promotion for Invincible have been the subject of immense speculation, the truth remins somewhat clouded. Some felt the primary motive was payback for the enormous sum of money Jackson had spent making Invincible; others claimed Mottola was after the famed Beatles catalogue.” (232)

        Joe says that SONY canceled all promotion after a few months, including a video for Unbreakable and a planned Grammy performance of Whatever Happens (which is a song I just love). So sad that such a wonderful album had to cope with all that and Michael’s hopes for a resurgence of his career and recognition of his art weren’t met.

        Thanks for your response–I am fascinated with the Invincible album, Michael’s last.

        • It’s hard to say what the agreement with Sony was, without looking at the contracts. Because the budgets were so liberal, that tells me Sony was probably not ultimately responsible for those costs. Just like with the AEG contract, the exact arrangement would have been specified and more than likely both parties would assume some risk.

          The music industry itself was in deep crisis by the time of Invincible and the reason MJ (or anyone else) never come close to the sales record of Thriller had to do with the record industry losing control of their delivery system, not any artistic failure, imo. Consumers were copying, downloading, and sharing music, not purchasing physical albums. The phenomenal costs of MJ production and video – something that MJ led the way on – weren’t making sense in an environment where consumers weren’t paying for CDs anymore. This crisis is still on-going and no one really knows how it is going to resolve. Except, of course, MJ had a brilliant business plan with the TII concert series. Always a step ahead.

          • aldebaranredstar

            Not sure that Michael had such a good plan with TII. For one thing, he only wanted and agreed to 10 concerts, then it ballooned to 50. For another, his own song catalogue (not SONY/ATV) was put up as collateral if he did not fulfill the terms of the contract. The contract also involved other people getting huge salaries–Tohme was supposed to get $100,000 per month (plus a percentage of the total), and Murray wanted 150,000. There is a court case from Katherine jackson alleging that AEG was negligent in hiring and failing to supervise Murray. If that goes forward, we will no doubt learn a lot more about the AEG deal. Some people think AEG, as well as or even more than Murray, killed Michael by pressuring him too much.

            I agree that the music business is in crisis and that affected Michael’s sales, as well as the allegations. Joe Vogel makes that point too about all the downloading, legal and illegal. I lived in Mexico for 3 years and the bootlegging was just amazing and quite open, not only with music CDs but with film DVD’s.

          • Again, I learn a little more info when reading up on publishing and songwriting royalties that plays a parts in the downfall of the music business. Radio song plays used to pay $.03 cents a song play (then of course divided up among all the players involved). Seems online streaming services play even less that that (Spotify or Pandora like services). That add to low record sales (partially due to illegal downloads) and the merging of record companies all play a part.

            Here is an interesting article on EMI’s downfall.

            Even more interesting, although the actual record industry has gone to hell in a basket, Michael (well, his estate) will make out well. Sony/ATV is due to purchase the publishing arm of EMI which will make Sony/ATV the largest publishing company in the world. Of course part of that deal also means that MIJAC will be administered by Sony/ATV and not Warner.

        • I’m not an expert in this, but many years ago I sat down and tried to understand the financial relationship with Michael and Sony (pre 2003). I think it would be standard practice for Sony to recoup every dollar invested BEFORE Michael got his royalties as the musician/performer.

          It is my understanding (loosely) that royalties break down like this:
          Songwriting and Publishing 50% (or points as they are called)
          Musician and copyright master holder and record company 50%

          Now, I say loosely because everything can be negotiated and even more so now that accountants run record companies. But that being said, Michael would have got 25 points for songwriting and 25 points for publishing (since most of his songs are under MIJAC). I always got a kick out of knowing that Michael and Paul McCartney basically made the same amount off the publishing of Beatles songs.

          Michael had the largest royalty rate for any artist in history after his 1995 deal with Sony, the same deal that got him $100M in cash and the merging of ATV and Sony. That rate was 22 points. So for each unit sold, Michael was getting about 72 points with songwriter, publisher and performer combined. A 1978 bill passed by the US Congress now says that after 35 years, the copyright master to a song/album must revert back to the artist. That means that in 2014 the masters for OTW would have reverted back to Michael (well, his estate) although I think the estate renegotiated that with their new deal with Sony.

          Lastly, Sony or any record company may have given Michael an unlimited budget, and why not. He was the best selling artist in modern history (excluding The Beatles and Elvis). All of his albums have sold more the 20M worldwide. Even Invincible sold 13M prior to his death. But any money Sony put towards production, promotion, or break room toilet paper was most certainly recouped BEFORE Michael ever saw a dime of his 22 point royalties. And let’s not forget, Michael had personal loans from Sony.

          This is just my basic understanding of this AND I stress that accountants are slick and the music business has changed SO MUCH even since I researched this.

          • aldebaranredstar

            Thanks for this info, Destiny. It’s very helpful! So you are saying that SONY would have to recoup all their investment into an album, like Invincible, from sales before Michael would get any $$? It would seem if they put in 30 Million, as Wikipedia says, that it would take a long time for Michael to see any money if that is the case. (and if they had once planned to put another 25 million into promotion, the cost would be up to 55 million!!). If this is so, I can see why Michael was very upset about the lack of promotion, as that would delay him making any $ off the sales of the album.

            I found this NYTimes article about the contract Michael signed with Sony in 1991. It says the deal was for 6 albums to be released and one film (!). It doesn’t go into detail about points, etc, as you did. So 6 albums–that would be Dangerous, HIStory, Blood on the Dance Floor, Invincible, and then I guess b/c Michael decided to break his contract, they made a deal to complete it with compilation albums. Too bad the film never got made.


          • Seems like Michael renegotiated his contract several times.

            It would be my understanding that most of Sony’s money would be recouped before Michael would get paid, although keep in mind that part of the contract could have been that Sony would give Michael a set budget for each album. That would not be unusual for a high-powered star. AND those loans that we really don’t know much about might have played into it.

            From what I remember, Dangerous was not to be Dangerous – it was to be a Greatest Hits album called Decade. And History was not to have anything new either.

            A book on Michael’s contracts alone would be VERY interesting and a learning tool.

            As for movie, that would be the MidKnight project that Michael was to star in. The screenplay was by the same person who worked on Edward Scissorhands. Seems like Jon Peters was producing. Sadly the director committed suicide before the project got started, then 1993 happened.

          • aldebaranredstar

            Hi, Destiny– Well, this is my understanding so far: Michael signed a 15 year contract for 6 unreleased new music albums in 1991. He produced 4, as we know. It would seem he never fulfilled his contract with SONY. The compilation albums that were released by SONY were from music they owned b/c the rights had not yet reverted back to Michael. There were some new unreleased songs here and there in those compilation albums, but not enough to fulfull the contract.

            In a separate deal in 95 Michael merged his music catalogue (but not his own songs) with SONY to create SONY/ATV. Then there were different deals about the SONY/ATV catalogue. So there were 2 deals with SONY–one related to a new music contract, and then deals regarding a shared music catalogue

            In looking at this, I found a book by Lynton Guest called ‘The Trials of Michael Jackson’ that goes into the SONY-Michael relationship, and ordered it.

            Here’s something on the 1991 deal: “Jackson, 32, reportedly could receive more than $120 million per album if sales match the 40-million-plus level of his smash mid-’80s album “Thriller.” Two sources close to the talks said the reclusive singer is guaranteed an advance payment of $5 million per record plus a 25% royalty from each album based on retail sales.”

            This blog has a lot to say on SONY situation: muzikfactorytwo.blogspot.com

            Re sales, I read the posthumous Michael album sold about 800,000 albums, but Bad 25 did not sell well, under 200,000 albums in USA.

            The link I gave earlier from the NYT also talks about the film projects. Wish a film had been made. I can see we will be eager to read a new book on Michael’s business deals. I wonder if the contracts themselves are still confidential?

          • Hey aldebaranredstar,

            It’s so interesting, isn’t it? I think people forget that show business is really a BUSINESS.

            I will say that at the time I researched I was more interested in the ATV and MIJAC publishing than the actual performance royalty rates. I’ll also add that sometime after Thriller (and before Bad) there was another renegotiation. I think I read that info in a interview with John Branca from the 80’s and him discussion the purchasing of ATV.

            I’m off to do more research….

          • Here is the AEG contract on p. 43, if anyone is interested in reading about how the Net Pool Revenues were to be divided in this particular case, and how the artist advances would be subtracted from those figures. Of course every contract is different, but this gives a good idea of how those details are negotiated. http://www.scribd.com/doc/59105659/Notice-of-Motion-and-Motion-for-Leave-to-File-First-Amended-Complaint-FULL-AEG-CONTRACT-P43 I agree it would be so interesting to read the Sony contracts!

          • WOW. Thanks!!! Off to do more reading….

  11. It is very intriguing to me the idea that Michael was “invented” by us. As if he was a character. But that makes sense. Maybe that’s why he has been shown in so many different personas: the sensual man, the boy; sometimes so masculine, sometimes so feminine. Like he was just playing the role that each of us has created for him. And it’s funny how everyone has its own view about Michael and is fanatical about it. Some fans see Michael as the sexiest man in the world and spend their days to talk about it, posting pictures that make us realize his genitals (gold paints) and stuff like that. Another one sees Michael as a child and always portrays him like that, and when they speak about him, they speak as he was an angel, a cherub. And some see him as a pure man, chaste, and these people just not admit the idea that he had sex and prefer to believe that his marriages were fakes. It is pretty crazy. Imagine someone having to adapt himself into the individual fantasies of millions of people?

  12. A quote from an interesting article on star texts: “As a record buying public, we prefer to believe in stars who are their own and our constructions rather than a transparent offering designed explicitly to appeal to our blander tastebuds served up by a record company interested only in our wallets.” http://www.mediaknowall.com/as_alevel/Music/music.php?pageID=popstar

  13. What a fascinating discussion! I’ve also been thinking a lot lately about this idea that we, in some ways, “invented” Michael Jackson. I went to see Les Mis on Friday and still haven’t quite recovered my equilibrium – it’s so powerful, and they did such a good job with it, I think. But it also has me thinking about Michael Jackson’s cultural function.

    In Les Mis, Javert relentlessly pursues Valjean for years, not because of evidence that he committed a terrible crime – he didn’t – but because Javert sees him as an evil sort of person. He says a number of times, I know “your kind” and “your kind” never changes. So he pursues him because, for him, Valjean represents something intolerable that must be controlled, captured, imprisoned. It’s like Ahab pursuing Moby Dick all those years, not because he’s evil – he isn’t, he’s just a whale – but because he represents something evil to him. And I think it’s why Tom Sneddon pursued and persecuted Michael Jackson so relentlessly all those years, and why the media piled on – not because the evidence points to his guilt – it clearly doesn’t, it points to his innocence – but because he represents something to them that can’t be tolerated.

    What’s especially important about all this is that it really has nothing to do with the one pursued, but with the psychology of the pursuer. Some trivial signifier (Moby Dick’s unusually white skin, Michael Jackson’s unusually white skin?) is misinterpreted and comes to represent something evil to the pursuer, and so we end up with a psychological story of a policeman (Javert, Sneddon) or whaling captain or some other pursuer chasing demons of his own creation.

    That explains why the police and the media paid so little attention to the actual evidence. The evidence didn’t matter because it wasn’t about Michael Jackson, really, but what he represented to them. I honestly believe there are people who will continue to see him as guilty no matter what – even if it’s proven that Jordan Chandler agreed to the allegations while sedated, even if it’s proven that sodium Amytal was used, even if Jordan Chandler himself recants. They will continue to see Michael Jackson as guilty no matter what because it’s important to them psychologically to see him that way. (After all, when Javert is finally forced to question Valjean’s guilt and consider the possibility that he’s not evil, he commits suicide. He can’t live in that world – it’s intolerable to him.)

    I think, in another way, Michael Jackson came to represent other things to other people. Some fans are very committed to the idea that he was a helpless victim, and to suggest anything different makes them irrationally angry. (I agree he was victimized by the police and the press, but I also think he was brilliant and a trickster and far from helpless. Some fans can’t tolerate that view.) And as you mentioned, Daniela, some see him as very sexy, while some see him as childlike or as “a pure man, chaste,” as you say, or even “an angel, a cherub.” Again, they can sometimes get irrationally angry at those with different views because their image of him is so important to them, psychologically.

    I think people started imposing their projections onto him from a very young age – even as a child he was called “an old soul” and “a 42-year-old midget” – and I think over time he developed a pretty clear understanding of his multiple cultural functions: that he was playing the role of sex symbol, as “representative of his race,” as a “one-man rescue team” for the music industry. And then later he came to play a different role for a lot of people – that of the scary monster threatening Normal Valley. I think he understood that and played with it and explored it in his art (Thriller, “Threatened,” Ghosts, “Is It Scary,” “Monster,” …)

    I think there were a lot of different reasons, both personal and artistic, for why he responded the way he did. I agree with what you said, Gennie and Destiny, that “maybe creating an alter ego could have been a mechanism to protect real Michael. As long as people/media were hating on the character, the real MJ was safe.” I think that’s very astute, and I agree that was one reason.

    But I also think he was very aware of his cultural role as the Other, and he was trying to lead us to see and respond to the Other in a different, more positive way. That’s a huge task, but I think that was his goal in the final years of his life. We know he came to adopt the role of Other that was being forced onto him – he told us so in Ghosts, in “Is It Scary” in particular – and I think he planned to lead us to experience difference in a more welcoming way, just as the Maestro does for the villagers in Ghosts. That’s my feeling, anyway….

    • Absolutely brilliant. I hope you write a second book on this! That is absolutely “it.”

      I’ve noticed that news outlets absolutely refuse to publish MJ’s manner of death. Despite a very public trial, a conviction, a coroner’s report, extremely detailed medical information, they simply will not write that Michael Jackson’s death was a homicide. No, it was a garden variety, typical, rock star, just as we suspected, “drug overdose” and only a fanatic would claim otherwise. It’s obvious to me that there is a psychological need to create and believe this myth, I guess, as a part of a world view on who creates music and how they behave. Just one example of many on how we “create” Michael Jackson.

    • Wow, I think you are so on the money here, Willa!

      When you were talking about Les Miserables (haven’t seen it yet) I thought of my favourite by Victor Hugo, Notre dame de Paris. It has been turned into a love story by Disney and the musical, but the book is actually more about Frollo (the priest) and his struggle with himself.

      He desires Esmeralda, which to him is a sin and therefore she is a devil temptress who must be destroyed in order for him to regain his sanity and virtue. Most of the book is describing this struggle between loving her and hating her, while she is litterally anaware of him. Her mere exsitance is proof that he is not as holy as he wants to be, so in the end, she has to die.

      I never thought of Sneddon that way, I think to most fans he is just evil, no explaination needed. But it makes sense that in his head he was doing the right thing, maybe. I wouldn’t try to psychoanalyze this man, it could be anything that turned him against Michael. Even if there were no kids at Neverland, he probably would have found a reason to charge with something else. It also explains that Sneddon didn’t care that Arvizos were liers and frauds, that evidence weren’t and so on – he just needed to destroy Michael, whatever means necessary.

      Hope I didn’t babble off topic too much 🙂

  14. aldebaranredstar

    Hi, Willa, Thanks for these astute and interesting reflections. I agree that comparing Sneddon’s obsession (and others like Dimond, Grace, Orth, Victor Gutierrez and the media in general) bears a strong resemblance to Javert’s and Captain Ahab’s relentless pursuit. The obsessive pursuits of the latter are fictional, created by Hugo and Melville, whereas the obsessive pursuit of Michael was REAL. Also, both Ahab and Javert die, whereas in real life it was Michael who died. Michael’s story is more tragic than the fictional stories.

    He was indeed buried under endless perceptions and projections. It was a witch hunt in many ways. I agree he did play with these characterizations, as you point out, in “Ghosts,” and in songs like “Monster,” and this was an ongoing struggle–“Why You Wanna Trip on Me.” It must have been a tremendous burden, and he once said he was “bewildered” by the media’s need to portray him so negatively.

    The media colluded with, and can be seen as the instigating, Sneddon and the prosecutors in both LA and Santa Barbara to bring this witch hunt into the courtroom and to throw over $3 million taxpayer dollars into trying to convict Michael without a shred of credible evidence. It is one thing for the media to go mad, but why in God’s name did the courts and district attorneys aid and abet this? For 12 years? This is our national shame, in my opinion. The misuse of the public court system and its failure to protect an innocent person of false and malicious allegations.

    Michael filed extortion allegations against Evan Chandler and his lawyer Barry Rothman, but there were no search warrants issued to search their homes or offices (but look at the search warrants conducted on Michael’s properties–all the things that were taken away). Rothman and Evan also refused a police interview, but look at all the interviews the police did on all the children and families who were friends with Michael. The police, after zero investigation, declared that they would not file charges on the extortion allegations!

    The other injustice IMO was how the legal system in CA favored Jordan as a ‘child’ (at 13 is that really still a ‘child’?) whose allegations were given legal advantages of an expedited trial but who could not be required to testify in a criminal court, even as an adult! There seems to be no distinction in the CA law between a ‘child’ (anyone under 14) who had actually been abused, with evidence of it happening, and one who was fabricating an abuse.

    As far as Javert committing suicide, a number of peole around Michael have also committed suicide. I wonder to myself if there was just a coincidence or if there was a connection. Peter Lopez (Michael’s lawyer); Jack Wishna (the LA entrepreneur who got Michael to return to LA from Ireland); Evan Chandler (the first accuser’s father, who led the 93 case); Dr. Richard Gardener (who wrote a book on True and False Accusations of Child Sex Abuse, and who interviewed Jordan Chandler–his conclusions have never been released, although the interview was).

  15. Along the lines of Michael and art, I have just watched a t v programme about Jeff Koons, and he spoke about the life-size ceramic sculpture he did of Michael and Bubbles in 1988. This is the first I have heard about it and so went to Google to find out more. There are some pictures of it, and i too like the idea of it being shown at Versailles, but can anyone explain why Michael had 3 arms?? He is leaning on one, there is one around Bubbles and another under Bubbles, or am I seeing things? I can find no explanation for it, and not knowing anything about Koons, wonder if he just did wierd things like that with his art. I am sure one of you can thrown some light on it. I must say it is a rather kitch sculpture, but I like it none the less.

  16. Thank you, Aldebaranredstar and Caro, and everyone who has joined in the conversation here. I have learned so much over the past 18 months from the insights and information and links to additional resources that you all have shared. Warm wishes to all of you for a wonderful new year! Maybe this will be the year when the general public finally realizes he was innocent, and a truly amazing artist, and begins to see him in a new way. That’s my hope for the new year.

    btw, Aldebaranredstar, I agree that his face was beautiful – without makeup, without special lighting, without digital effects. It was beautiful to me. But the iconic images can be nice sometimes too. For example, I love these charcoal sketches way too much (and wish I knew the name of the artist who made them):

    Happy New Year!

  17. It’s off topic, but this was posted on MJJC recently. Who knew that Quentin Tarantino was a Jacksons fan? I like the fact he doesn’t just go “Thriller this and that or Billie Jean this and that” but he is actually into more the often overlooked gems. Even though he mixed up the albums a bit (Heartbreak Hotel is on Triumph, not Destiny) I find it cool how knowledgable he is about the Jacksons’ stuff.

  18. I just have to respond to Bjørn’s last comment about the nose 😉
    I am a person who had consider changing my own nose to the point of making an appointment with a plastic surgeon and be willing to loan the money for it! I didn’t do it but what changed my mind was reading about possible complications and just getting scared!

    So, I think I understand somewhat how it feels to hate a part of yourself enough to want to change it. And I don’t have people taking my pictures all the time wanting me to be “as cute as before” and my livelihood doesn’t depend on my looks. Not only most celebrities have done some plastic surgery but a lot of non-famous people do it as well. It’s really not that strange at all.

    What bugs me is that when it comes to Michael, the “strange” label comes on automatically, no matter what he does. We are all strange, if you think about it, but we don’t have people following us and taking pictures as well as everyone who has ever met us doesn’t run to the newspaper to report the experience.

    But if you really compare Michael’s face around 1985, like we are the world video, I honestly don’t see any changes in his face after that! Yeah, his skin got lighter over time and he wore different hairstyles and make up, but not his actual face!

    I just got this thought btw, this new generation that comes now, the kids who will be teenagers in this decade, will be the first ones who wouldn’t have experienced the tabloid witch hunt that was going on while MJ was alive. There are still crap article here and there, but nothing like back then. I wonder what their experience would be like. I don’t think it would be about the nose 🙂

    Ps. Are you from dk?

  19. @Destiny

    I don’t think its about the fan community not wanting to admit Michael’s issues, BUT the fact that that horse has been talked to death 10 years ago. It is not that we don’t want to talk about it, but that we have exhausted the subject by now and would like to talk about something else for a change.

    It’s like when T-Mez recently said that the fans don’t want to confront controvercial subjects of Michae’s life.. And as much as I endlessly respect him, we have faced those things and moved on already! Imagine a discussion about Mozart circling around who he dated and how he liked to do his hair!

    Btw as I learned from a friend who is a classical musician, Mozart also had the ability to hear each instrument’s part in his head while he composed 😉 like Michael : P

    • Hi Gennie,
      yes, I’m from dk! 🙂

      Had Mozart’s looks changed as much as MJ’s did, I’m sure people would have been talking about that too. Just sayin’.

      • Hey me too! 🙂

        But, MJs looks surgeries didn’t make the greatest artist nor did his other “controvercial” choices. His talent and hard work did. Without that he would just be another guy with a nosejob and skin decease that noone cared about!

        But like you said about that danish reviewer, and I think Roger Friedman said the same thing, a documentary about MJs art and creative process is “avoiding essential issues”. These are not essential nor are they issues for someone like Spike Lee, who is interested in the artist.

        So let the nose talk stay in the tabloids, if it must.

        • aldebaranredstar

          Gennie, I agree that the nose did not make him the artist he was, but on the other hand, there are a lot of nonessential issues (like nose, skin color, supposed spending sprees, baby ‘dangling,’ and the big one, child molestation allegations) that cloud Michael’s artistry and prevent people from acknowledging his legacy IMO. So if there is info that sheds light on these things, bring it to the light. I agree that it was not up to Spike Lee to do this, but accurate info as opposed rumors and innuendos will help clear Michael’s name and legacy, right?

          As far as the nose issue, I read he tripped over a cord during a rehersal and broke his nose, leading to the first surgery. Then he couldn’t breathe well after that, so it was redone. According to Dr. Strick, who reviewed his medical records for the prosecution and who was present at the infamous strip search, surgeries on his nose after that were ‘reconstructive’ to rebuild the skin around the surgery site b/c it was not healing. Strick’s opinion is not the last word, maybe, but it adds a lot to my understanding.

          When Michael had those early surgeries, he was in his twenties. I would probably have done it if I had had the money then.

          I agree trying to ‘save’ people is not a good idea, but sometimes helpful advice, even if it’s not taken, is worth giving.

          Michael was turned into a cultural scapegoat, with his every decision picked over and analyzed. The negative press was unbelievable and actually encouraged people to hate and revile him.

          • aldebaranredstar, I agree that correct information needs to be out there, absolutely! But I tend to think that Michael was turned into a poster boy for bullying because of his success and how many tables he turned and how many boundaries he blurred and so on. They make it about all these “eccentricities”, but its not. I think a lot of people felt (and still feel) the urge to knock him off his pedestal, belittle his achievements and turn the conversaion away from his art.

            They cannot do it by denying what Michael achieved since he has the hard facts on his side like record sales and guiness records. But if every time MJ is mentioned, conversation turns to plastic surgery, sleepovers and “he was so weird”, the art and philantropy gets overlooked.

            Some people say things like “why should I read this book, if the author was a drunk” or “why should I respect this musician if he was a drug-addict”. And this is so ridiculous, as if artists are supposed to be perfect people in order to create something meaningful.

            It is one the ugly sides of human nature I think, instead of feeling inspired by someone great to be better yourself, some feel the need to throw dirt at that great person and tear them down, to make themselves feel better. And no amount of fact will work against this need.

            Hope Willa and Joie don’t this derailing from the topic :))))

          • I soooo agree with everything you say Gennie – as Michael said “I’m only human”, but of course, as are we all, he was partly divine also. I also wish that people would rather concentrate on the good – ‘seeing that of God in everyone’ as Quakers say, but that unfortunately isn’t Human Nature!! However, we can all do our part to change people’s perceptions of Michael, and in time we will success – we just need to Keep The Faith.

      • Wow, really interesting conversation, you guys. I’m not sure it’s true, though, that “Had Mozart’s looks changed as much as MJ’s did, I’m sure people would have been talking about that too.” Andy Warhol was probably the most important artist of the mid-20th Century – he completely redefined what we mean by “art.” He also suffered from vitiligo-type symptoms that destroyed the pigment of his skin, leaving large white patches on his face and neck, and he sometimes wore very pale makeup to cover that. He also had plastic surgery to reduce the size of his nose, which he thought was too “bulbous.” And he wore these crazy wigs that completely altered the apparent color and texture of his hair. And the public commentary about that was … slight. There was very little reaction to it – in fact, most people don’t think about it at all when they think of Andy Warhol. And as several people have pointed out, nose reduction and reshaping surgery is pretty common, and it’s generally met with indifference.

        So why was Michael Jackson’s case so different? I think partly it’s because he became a celebrity at such a young age, so when his face changed, it was very visible. Importantly, most of those changes were simply part of the natural maturation process, not plastic surgery. Have you seen all those images floating around of celebrities’ high school pictures – taken “before they were famous”? Sometimes they’re almost unrecognizable, and most times that’s not plastic surgery – it’s just hair and makeup and maturity. Most people become famous after puberty so we aren’t used to seeing celebrity faces go through that process, but it’s perfectly natural. My son is 14 and it’s amazing how much his face and the faces of his classmates are changing right now. I mean, really amazing, like radically different from one year to the next.

        But I also think a lot of the hysteria about Michael Jackson’s face, at least in the U.S., is because of our national anxiety about race. When Warhol wore white makeup and altered his nose and changed the look of his hair, it was just treated as the harmless eccentricities of a major artist. But the color of your skin, the shape of your nose, and the color and texture of your hair have all been designated as racial signifiers, so when Michael Jackson – a black artist – did the exact same thing, it set off a firestorm of controversy.

        Importantly, it was also interpreted as a sign of self-loathing. Why? It isn’t assumed that Andy Warhol was filled with self-loathing, so why Michael Jackson? Why is it assumed that a black man would hate himself, and want to be white if he could? And what do those reactions tell us about our culture, and how race is signified and conceptualized?

  20. Hi Willa, I am very much a ‘live in the present’ kinda girl, or perhaps I just have poor impulse control ha ha, and so went onto Amazon after seeing your post about the 2nd edition coming out, and it being for free, and there it is – very exciting.

    Because I can’t wait (for whatever reason!!) and because I think you should be financially rewarded, i have bought a copy for my Kindle – it is less than R100 for heaven’s sake, and worth every cent!!. Today is the last day of my annual leave, before going back to work tomorrow, so guess what I am going to be doing for the rest of today, not to mention every spare moment until it is read through. thanks for a 2nd edition and I hope it does well for you. I will certainly spread the word amongst my friends.

    • “I am very much a ‘live in the present’ kinda girl, or perhaps I just have poor impulse control …”

      Caro, you are too funny! … and very kind, as always. Thank you, truly, for your encouragement. I appreciate it more than you know….

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