POP MUSIC REVIEWS : Michael’s Back, and He’s Big . . . R E A L L Y B I G : Jackson’s self-aggrandizing video promotes a lot of audience hisses along with his upcoming album, '<i> HIS</i> tory.’
The hysteria over Michael Jackson’s re-emergence is incalculable: Throngs of grown women and men screaming at even the hint of his nearby advance, holding up homemade “King of Pop” placards. Mass fainting spells. Such agitation as to require the full resources of the riot police. And, of course, his suffering the little children to come unto him so that they too might cry out, “I love you, Michael!”
All this adulation is happening not in the known universe, of course, but on screen, in Jackson’s self-produced promotional film for his upcoming album, an epic-scale commercial that has been estimated to cost a staggering $4 million or more.
The full 4-minute version of this promo began running on local Mann theater screens during the weekend, following an edited version that was already shown on MTV.
By suggesting to the masses just how convulsive their reaction to the soon-to-arrive “ HIS tory Past, Present and Future Book I” should be, Jackson’s camp rather seems to be issuing the laugh track before the comedy, as it were.
The clip doesn’t just stop at representing previously known levels of Michael mania, but it goes well beyond the bounds of self-congratulation to become perhaps the most baldly vainglorious self-deification a pop singer has yet deigned to share with his public, at least with a straight face.
Through the miracle of special effects, and also the miracle of glasnost that allowed Jackson to borrow the resources of Budapest’s loitering troops, the King is actually seen commanding an army of thousands (millions?) in rigid lock step through the streets of, apparently, Eastern Europe.
Just what victory they’re celebrating (the defeat of communism? of lawyers?) is unexplained, although the giant rendering of a huge, mascara-ed eye on a nearby wall makes clear whose triumph it is. But the excitement is just beginning.
Next, it’s nighttime, and helicopters with searchlights are buzzing around a veiled statue that appears to be thrice the size of the Statue of Liberty. Suddenly explosives loosen the ropes, and the tarps drop to reveal the largest monument to self ever erected. A copter veers between his 10-story-or-more legs. The choral music rises to a final “hallelujah” as we freeze-frame on a close-up of the icon’s massive face, complete with a stone lock of curly hair drooped over the right eye that must weigh about 5 tons itself.
And the crowd goes wild . . . with hissing, at least among the real audiences we saw the promo with in three separate theaters during the weekend.
The second question that comes to mind is, how many “yes” people is Jackson surrounded with who could have possibly assented to this being a good idea?
The first question is, why would Jackson even want to imagine himself the hallowed leader of a massive militia of jackbooted thugs, to borrow a popular phrase?
When Pink Floyd used a key section of the album and movie “The Wall” to imagine a rock singer as leader of a fascistic, goose-stepping army, the idea was an obviously self-mocking, sick joke about the corruption of fame. When Jackson does pretty much the same gambit here, you keep waiting for the punch line, for a humble Michael to step out from a tiny door at the base of the statue and announce, “Pay no attention to the man behind the Iron Curtain,” or some such kicker.
What’s going on here, of course, is desperate over-positioning, trying to cover every conceivable reimaging angle before “ HIS tory” hits stores. The real hysteria, it would seem, must be behind the scenes.
Would you like your Jackson as defenseless, emotionally crippled, gravely misunderstood child-abuse victim? Then “Childhood,” his string-laden, Streisand-style new single B-side, a pitiable personal plea for compassion, is for you.
Or would you prefer your Jackson as wounded warrior, the erstwhile magnet for slings and arrows who’s mad as hell and isn’t gonna take it anymore, who’s ready to stand up for himself--and perhaps African Americans in general--with masculine grunts and confrontational four-letter words? Then “Scream” is aimed right at you.
(And indeed, the feistiness of this new single is so savvy that, if it were Jackson’s exclusive pre-release salvo, sans any other hype, insiders might be talking about how brilliantly his comeback was being maneuvered.)
Or , would you like your Jackson as a 10,000-foot-tall icon, the greatest story ever told, venerated leader of armies and unchallenged front-person for the New World Order? Well, not many folks over age 12 will--and in fact it’s a turnoff to most everyone else--but far be it from that to keep the Jackson camp from covering all the bases, when so much is seen as being at stake.