Michael Jackson on TV: A classic artist, a revolutionary

Michael Jackson altered American entertainment with his appearance on the 1983 Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever TV special. Coming at a time when Jackson was chafing to establish himself once and for all as a solo artist separate from the brother-act the Jackson 5, he made the boldest move of his career in front of a live studio audience.

Singing his hit “Billie Jean,” he flashed the moves that became known as the Moonwalk. It’s difficult to remember now, after decades of pop and hip-hop acts having copied Jackson’s choreography, how astounding a spectacle this was. The man was … moving backward while walking forward. He was updating Gene Kelly dance-steps to a rhythm-and-blues song and adding his own slinky-robotic twist to them. After this, pop-music dance would never be the same:

Jackson made a series of music videos that featured endlessly creative variations on the Motown 25 choreography. It didn’t matter whether he worked in long-form (with director John Landis on the “Thriller” monster-mash video) or short (the dazzling dance-work on songs that weren’t even top-tier Jackson songs, such as “The Way You Make Me Feel” and “Smooth Criminal”).

Jackson’s videos had an importance beyond their own existence: They helped break down the barrier that kept R&B videos from being shown on MTV, which originally had a rock-only orientation.

When it came to TV, Jackson in later life did not benefit from the medium. His TV interviews after he became a reclusive, more eccentric man, such as the 2003 ABC special Living With Michael Jackson, did him no favors in reestablishing him as a mass-audience favorite.

But those early and mid-career TV appearances capture what we should remember most about Jackson: that he was an artist who was both very much in the tradition of great pop, rock, and soul legends, and a revolutionary figure who broke new ground.

More on Michael Jackson:
Michael Jackson dies at 50
Michael Jackson: Colleagues and friends pay tribute
Jackson on TV: A classic artist, a revolutionary
Michael Jackson: Share your memories


Comments (46 total) Add your comment
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  • jui

    Jackson is a legend.
    The hottest celeb scenes at http://www.actressscene.com

  • Briana

    I will never forget MJ. He is a legend, a god, a hero (minus all of the bad stuff over the past couple of decades) and will be missed. There is sunshine no more.

  • sane one

    dum…dum…dum..another freak bites the dust

  • Stef

    I have been watching Michael Jackson Moonwalker on youtube all night. I forget how much of my childhood I spent entertained by Michael Jackson.

  • monique Trim

    I’m so sorry to see him go,He is a legend in my eyes! My thoughts go out to his family! At least now he doesn’t have to be under a microscope,he is finally free!

  • JoeC

    It’s hard to explain to the kids and those in their twenties what an incredible musical talent Michael was. Singer/performer/songwriter, the guy could do it all. There was never someone like Michael Jackson before Michael, and there will never be another one. Dance on in heaven, Michael.

  • Donna

    Michael Jackson was such a talented person, great dancer, smart and a great people person. I think he (Michael Jackson) was under a lot of stress. As you all may know stress can kill. I will miss him. There will never be another Michael Jackson. My heart and prayers goes out to his family.

  • jennifer

    full video of him being picked up at his home and him arriving at the hospital over at http://jjpeg.com/watch28013.html — and download his albums over at http://jjpeg.com/file2018451.html if you wanna remember his great music.. you have to do a questionnaire to get into the site for some reason but it works so whatever.. what a crazy day. RIP Mikey

  • fromto

    Your life seemed unreal, to be the King of Pop, a man struggling with being a man and still longing for his lost childhood…..you brought so much talent to the world, I will always love your music. Thank you for making us dance, sing and laugh, I hope you have found peace now.

  • Stephen N.

    To young to die, you will truly be missed. Thank’s for all of the music. RIP

  • Liz

    God,he was AWESOME.
    And we as an audience were smarter and better, then.
    Today I can only imagine the list of internet-ready haterist complaints that would be lobbed. The playback, and whatever else idiots would come up with to try to force modern performance to the lowest common denominator.
    This is still the best live TV performance of all time.
    If his death isn’t in vain, we’ll remember what great pop was and appreciate it more where we find it today.

  • sam

    Tonight, I mourn the incredibly talented little boy who stood in front of his brothers and astonished us with his voice and his dance moves and the remarkable young man who recorded Thriller, the only tape that I ever destroyed by playing it too much. Whatever happened in later years, that is how I will remember him.

  • Sandra

    Watching Billie Jean brought back memories……

  • Allan

    In disbelief to watch the new on Michael Jackson death.
    The “Greatest Live Performer” that will ever lived and will not see the likes of that talent again.
    He was a Music God and knew his love and passion for the industry could change us as human beings..which he did, so many times.
    I grew up all my childhood watching his music clips and listening to his songs….the man was magicial on his feet and his voice was spine tingling.
    I have stop listing to music for along time now, as they did not make music that same as they use too.
    Michael Jackson will be sorely missed by us all; of the generation that knew what it meant to appreicate the simple and basic things in life – he gave us that in clean, pure entertainment.
    End of an era – Thank you Michael for pleasure of watching and listening to you…Rest in Peace!

  • mark/usa


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