Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Michael Jackson RIP: "ABC"

The End of Pop, looking at the story and legacy of Michael Jackson one song and video clip at a time.

1.2: The Wicked Witch of Motown

The songwriting collective that bequeathed MJ and The Jackson 5 four #1 singles was called "The Corporation", and they remind me of the wicked witch in fairy tales who shows up when The Prince or Princess is born and gives some sparkly gift that's also a terrible curse only realized over time. Like a diamond ring that allows the wearer to turn any piece of doodoo they touch into gold, but then every ten years, on your birthday, one of your fingers fall off.

That character in fairy tales is usually mean, and I wouldn't want to ascribe the karmic sin of "evil intent" to The Corporation -- songwriting collectives, after all, have the noblest of goals; championing Art over Artists -- but in the narrative of MJ King of Pop, these guys are playing that oft-forgotten role that sets our hero on his predestined journey. The gift-curse of the gold-doodoo ring, or somesuch.

"ABC" is the second #1 single, but the first that showcases a little of this weird yin-yang golden-doodoo relationship.

So on one hand it's a song that's the epitome of "bubblegum soul"; this is what a songwriting collective should produce: Fun, bouncy, danceable hits. On a musical-enjoyment level, it's brilliant.

But then, on the other hand, from a distance you might think: hey, wait a minute. did that 12-year-old befroed boy just tell the girl (presumably older) "to git up and show him what she can do?" And how "t-t-t-teacher's gonna show her how to get an 'a'?" Huh? What in tarnation is this fresh befroed boy talking about? What does he know enough about to t-t-t-teach anyone?

This is a definite theme from the early Jackson 5 era. There's an empty soulless precociousness that conjures images of Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageants and child labor laws.
It's obvious when a kid is sewing fabric or something, but as any American Idol will tell you, being a pop star is hard grueling work. And what does a kid know about the "ABC's"? I've got a 3 at the start of my double-digit age bracket (sigh), and I'm still in the "LMNOP" section. Let me not even front, I'm still on "B".

With this as backdrop I think we have a clear red flag warning against the union of child/teen-bands and songwriting collectives (keep your kids from those songwriting collectives!). The best songs come from a place of genuine human emotion, not calculated formulaic manipulation. The best songs are pieces of art, and also a piece of the artist. Suppressing egos is good on a project, but not when it's teaching a child to suppress his nascent individuality. The boy's jsut growing pubes, now he's gotta act like some premature Rico Suave or something?

MJ's narrative as a whole casts a huge shadow over our conception of art and artists. Producer and product. In the end it strikes as a lesson about goodness over greatness; Michael clearly lost some of his own goodness in the pursuit of greatness. He achieved it. Was it worth it?

And he learned this at a young age via The Corporation. The witch who showed him how to make hit songs without necessarily being connected with the content of the song. As adults we can enjoy "ABC" as airy confection, we can enjoy The Corporation's golden-doodoo rings; but maybe as a kid it plants an unfortunate seed that life can follow a formula, when obviously it does not.

"ABC" fun notes:
OPP sample

1.1 "I Want You Back"

(next up, 1.3: Young Michael's "slow down, hoe!" song, "The Love You Save")


  1. Anonymous7/14/2009

    'b' is good for a man in his thirties, and admitting you're at 'b' is even better. yeah i said it, don't wince. the time will come when you'll yearn for thirty.
    i'm 57 i think i made it to 'v' somewhere in my mid-forties but i've long since regressed.

  2. dude, you can write yo ass off.

  3. Anonymous7/15/2009

    I've watched the video several times now and you're right -- there is something dead or robotic about his eyes. And everything about him is doing things a child shouldn't be doing. He's too disciplined, too much of a showman. Think about what people like Kurt Cobain or something who had trouble with the public persona/adoration felt at the height of their fame having to go out on stage & fake it when they're not feeling it, and what it did to them. Then remember that this is just a little kid. And who knows what was going on in that family at the time.

  4. It just a shame that that such fun songs came from such a soulless place. But you can't truly knock them for it. They knew what they were doing at the time. Its just the long term behind the action that wasn't expected.

  5. Anonymous7/15/2009

    The Mad Dame: I feel you. How can you knock them for it? How could they know the long term action?

    And if your kid can sing and dance like MIchael how could you ignore that?Maybe it's more Joe Jackson and not "The Corporation" responsible for the soulless aspect. Even if some kid has to sing weird songs, the parents at the end of the day can make it better.

  6. Anonymous7/15/2009

    if michael's parents had been protective of their child, if they had refused to let him perform yet he was still an artist yearning to communicate through song, would stifling his gift led to the same effect?
    if you are an outlier are you destined for a life of misery?

  7. Anonymous11/27/2009

    I don't like the title of your site. It's an oxymoron. American culture begans and ends with Blqack America. 'Assimilation' isn't possible. Without Black culture, America has no character. There was no America until slavery thrived, and America would never have reached it's heights of power without it. Therefore, 'assimilated' negro. Assimilated to what?..himself? Since there's no example before him, and since he reigned the pop world unchallenged from the minute he started....it follows that he's the leader. Everyone else falls in line AFTERWARDS. That defies the definition of 'assimilation'.

  8. For the last three days, my brain has been playing an original medley of "Aiesha" and "Cool it Now," I don't know why. I can't get these songs out of my head. And the thing I keep thinking is, did these preteen boys even know what they were talking about? I mean, "all I keep thinking about is her, in my arms"? You're like ten. All you keep thinking about is Nintendo and cereal!


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