From Off the Wall to Dangerous: Never Underestimate the Importance of Michael Jackson and His Influence on Popular Culture

Michael Joseph Jackson was known to his legions of fans worldwide as the ‘King of Pop’ and has been widely cited as one of the most significant cultural figures of the twentieth century. From his debut at just six years old with his older brothers as the youngest member of the Jackson 5, he was a star and remained in the public eye, creating innovative records and spectacular music videos until his premature death in 2009 at the age of fifty.

Despite the controversies surrounding his later years and the media focus on his changing appearance and personal relationships, Michael Jackson has had a profound and enduring influence on popular culture. Echoes of his legacy can be discerned in the work of the major artists active today, in popular stock music, and in the design of music videos. Here are some ways that the ‘King of Pop’ lives on.

The Music Video

Before Michael Jackson, music videos tended to be relatively low-budget affairs designed simply to promote a track. They’d typically feature little more than the band playing their song, with minimal storytelling or other elements present. The video was little more than an ‘add-on’ largely regarded as an optional promotional tool.

Jackson changed all this, forever altering the music video landscape with his epic, SFX-rich productions that were mini-movies in their own right. A new Michael Jackson music video was highly anticipated: families or groups of friends would gather around a television, ready to view the spectacle and – in the case of Thriller – to cower behind a cushion!

Michael Jackson turned music videos into big-budget art forms and, as a form of media, they’ve never looked back. As a direct consequence, MTV rose exponentially in popularity, becoming a powerful force to rival radio and eventually becoming a central hub of pop culture.

Introducing the Mega Tour

The Jacksons’ Victory tour of 1984 took touring to a level that had never been seen before and is credited as the advent of the mega tours now widely undertaken by successful artists.

Victory was on a totally different scale compared to what had gone before it. Compromised of forty-two stadium shows and with advanced orders totaling over $1 billion, touring – and its revenue-generating potential – would never be the same again. Gone were the days of affordable ticket prices, as the big bands’ agents saw dollar signs and began upping admission prices in the wake of the mega tour bandwagon.

The Influence of Thriller

Jackson’s 1982 album, Thriller, was a worldwide phenomenon and continues to influence musicians today. The Thriller sound was a new direction for the superstar, who had previously been defined by his disco and Motown roots. There was a dangerous, edgy nature to the album that defied categorization, and it was this record that cemented Jackson’s status as a global icon.

Jackson’s sound has heavily influenced Justin Timberlake, Jay-Z, and many other artists making music today. It remains a blueprint for even the most newly emerging musicians and bands.

Reimagining Dance

Michael Jackson’s dance moves were – arguably – as famous as his music. He performed the Moonwalk for the first time in 1983, and the world collectively watched in awe. While it instantly became the star’s signature move, the Moonwalk was only the beginning. Jackson’s choreography and precision snaps, pivots, and spins soon became the stuff of legend and much emulated by teenagers worldwide. Since Fred Astaire, no dancer has had such an influence on dance or popularized dance to such an extent.

Jackson’s inimitable dancing style has been credited with reshaping the choreography scene in Japan and significantly influencing the world of Bollywood. Today, it remains standard for dancers (of the wannabe or established variety) to point to Michael Jackson’s moves as the inspiration behind their journey.

A Blend of Sounds

Jackson’s music was, in general, impossible to pigeonhole. He drew from a range of stylistic backgrounds and traditions, incorporating and experimenting with various genres, from rock to soul to country to jazz: sometimes all in the same song!

This willingness to diversify, both within and across albums, had a significant influence on performers, inspiring many musicians to take the same risks with their trademark sound and try something new.

Today, artists, including Beyonce, Ne-Yo, Snoop Dogg, Lady Gaga, and Pharrell Williams, credit Michael Jackson as a formative and ongoing influence on their work. In each of these musicians’ repertoire can be discerned a similar trailblazing, genre-mashing approach as that deployed by the King of Pop.

Influencing Future Artists

Michael Jackson’s legacy and influence will undoubtedly live on: the mark he made on the landscape of music, media, and entertainment is simply too vast for it to be otherwise. As well as his songs, dance moves, and music videos, he also popularized advocating for humanitarian causes, which set the stage for other musicians and celebrities to get involved, too.

Jackson’s influence was truly global, extending even to countries or communities that were relatively untouched by Western cultural influences, and its echoes will likely continue for perpetuity.