The sudden passing of Michael Jackson this week has stirred up emotions and retrospectives around the world. There is no question that the impact of his music has been profound on young and old, of all races, globally. Arguably, that impact can’t be matched by any other entertainer during the last 40 years. A truly global icon has left us—Princess Diana, John Lennon, Elvis Presley would be the other individuals with similar impact in my life-time. A clear demonstration on the type of legacy great music can leave and how music gets permanently embedded in our minds. While life seems to move by so quickly these days, the remembrance of Thriller, Beat It and Bad makes it feel like yesterday. While the coverage has been widespread in the media and focuses on both the good and the bad associated with Michael Jackson, I’m struck by some specific aspects of Michael’s passing—the involvement of social media in the remembrance of Michael Jackson and his global appeal.
Contrary to the passing of Princess Diana, John Lennon, and Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson has died during the era of the internet and the proliferation of social networks and media. I found these developments over the past few days to be noteworthy.
- Many people found about Michael Jackson’s passing through Twitter, Facebook, or through text messages. As traditional news outlets often wait for confirmation before reporting the news, the lack of journalistic protocols and integrity of social networks lets individuals and some organizations publish the news more quickly than traditional media.
- Sites like Facebook and Twitter propagate the remembrances of an icon— status messages, links to videos and news sites push the emotion and remembrances to a wide audience much more quickly than in the past. And the pushing is being done by people we know, making the feeling of loss even more magnified. As most people, in the US, were at work during the day when the news broke, the internet becomes the media to find out about the event rather than television. But the key difference to previous icon deaths to me, is how social media can push the remembrances into a viral, global event.
- There were a lot of media reports about how the Internet almost went with the news of his death— many sites could not handle the traffic generated from the ground swell of emotion felt and remembered online.
- The preponderance of remembrance online meant that traditional media often went to the online communities to get stories of how the public is feeling. Scanning the status messages on Facebook, searching Michael Jackson tweets, looking at online groups are all quick ways for traditional media to get enough data for a story, such as this CNN story.
- Social Media was used as a very efficient organizing tool for public remembrances outside of the cyber world, but rather in public places in London, San Francisco, and around the world. Impromptu meetings to do Thriller and Beat It dances and rehash the lyrics of Wanna Be Starting Something and Billie Jean could happen quickly with large numbers.
One thing that I recall vividly about Michael Jackson is his global appeal in the 80’s. Going on family trips to India in the 80’s, relatives there would often talk about Michael Jackson—I don’t recall as much fervor for any other western musician—the Police, Prince, Madonna, Ray Charles, Grateful Dead—none of the other 70’s and 80’s music stars can compare. I also remember seeing television reports of crying fans in Malaysia, Japan, and other places like the Philippines. This was the 80’s before the advent of true globalization and new media and distribution channels like the Internet. Again with the advent of social media, remembrances are being offered from all around the world— I’m seeing remembrances from Kenya, Europe, US, Asia—everywhere, both in television stories as well as online. A true aspect of his globalization are the imitations of his dance stylings and inclusion of his music around the world—you see Michael Jackson moves all across Bollywood, dance clubs around the world, and sampling of his songs in many hit songs of today (Rihanna’s hit song Don’t Stop the Music for example).
Some imitation viral videos of Jackson songs from around the world demonstrate the global appeal of Jackson —Saudi Arabian men dancing to Smooth Criminal, Philippines prison inmates reenacting the Thriller dance, and a British Indian Michael Jackson imitator combining Michael Jackson’s moonwalk with Punjabi bhangra on the British show, Britain’s Got Talent.
Of course, I can’t finish a discussion about Michael Jackson without some commentary on his music. My top 5 songs by Michael are:
- Wanna Be Starting Something
- Beat It
- Can’t Stop ‘til You Get Enough
- Smooth Criminal
And of course can’t forget the collaboration that Michael was prominently involved in—We are the World.
RIP Michael Jackson.