Went through a bit of nostalgia reading this article about Michael Jackson’s release of ‘HIStory’ 20 years ago – an album that ultimately went on to sell 30 million copies. There are so many directions we can take in discussing the obstacles he faced in changing not just music, but the world itself. To keep it short, one of the biggest surprises for me in reviewing this album release was how much backlash “They Don’t Care About Us” received. It’s incredible to think that MJ’s cry against racism immediately led to the world pointing the finger AT HIM, deeming him the racist.
My quick take: when the world doesn’t want to speak about the truth, it’s easy to turn the truth on its head, and make up a defensive lie. One would like to think that MJ was able to overcome it all, but alas, ‘HIStory’ wound up being one of his last great works – perhaps speaking to the detrimental power that opinions, hurtful words, and crowd mentality can have on one’s psyche. In defense of “They Don’t Care About Us,” Michael stated the below in a NY Times interview…somehow, it feels like he could say it today and it would still ring true:
“The idea that these lyrics could be deemed objectionable is extremely hurtful to me, and misleading. The song in fact is about the pain of prejudice and hate and is a way to draw attention to social and political problems. I am the voice of the accused and the attacked. I am the voice of everyone. I am the skinhead, I am the Jew, I am the black man, I am the white man. I am not the one who was attacking. It is about the injustices to young people and how the system can wrongfully accuse them. I am angry and outraged that I could be so misinterpreted.”
In 1995, Michael Jackson was the biggest celebrity in the world, but not in the same way he was in 1985, or 1975. Mainly, because of this:
Michael had always been engaged in battles with the press, but when the accusation emerged that he had sexually abused a child, public perception shifted from him being eccentric to something far more sinister. The 1990s also brought the scrutiny of the 24-hour news cycle, intensifying the scrutiny of a megastar like Jackson tenfold.
Combining this with his codependency on painkillers, the Michael Jackson that most knew and loved almost became a memory. Knowing that his next album could make or break his entire career and livelihood, he decided to create the biggest album he possibly could. These are the origins of his ninth studio album, HIStory, released 20 years ago this week.
The first, and perhaps smartest, move he made was…
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