Michael Jackson would have been 55 today. His immense talent and his impact on pop music aside, Jackson mostly dressed like a character from a 19th century British fantasy mixed with Peter Pan and his style on- and off-stage often veered to that of the stereotype of the stereotype of a third world dictator — complete with shiny medals (like a showbiz Muammar Gaddafi). That said, Jackson, despite his attempts to disfigure his “African” features, had a complicated relationship with the continent. Yes, he loved being photographed with African dictators (like Omar Bongo) and children in “African” garb and he was forced to pay Manu Dibango for willfully borrowing from Dibangu’s hit “Soul Makossa,” but his first forays there (like a 1974 trip to perform in Senegal; the subject of a new documentary) suggested something else. Wherever he went, crowds adored him (even Mandela liked hanging out with him), packed stadiums, or made songs about him. Even Dibango, described him as “un artiste exceptionnel, le plus talentueux et ingénieux.” But it’s in his music videos that we see the contradictions and tensions more clearly. The video for”Remember the Time” (below) is a case in point. Though it resembled too much Eddie Murphy’s “Coming to America“-like vision of Africa (the video actually starred Murphy) mixed with mild Orientalism, you could not look away and marvel at his creativity:
Same for “Liberian Girl” with its Indiana Jones mock-up:
Happy birthday Michael.