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Michael Jackson: The Legend Lives On

Published: 6/25/2014
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Michael Jackson (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau, file)

In 2007, Michael Jackson told an Ebony magazine writer that "Music has been my outlet, my gift to all of the lovers in this world,” author Katherine E. Krohn wrote in her 2010 book, Michael Jackson: Ultimate Music Legend. “Through it … I know I will live forever.”

This week, five years after Jackson's death at age 50, he remains one of the world's most popular singers.

His second posthumous album, Xscape, immediately vaulted to the top of the charts in the U.S. and the U.K, debuting at No. 2 in the U.S., after its release last month. A Jackson hologram performed the album's "Slave to the Rhythm" during the 2014 Billboard Music Awards.

Forbes magazine noted that Jackson's music "still resonates with his fans, and his legacy is reflected in the vastness of his social following." As of May 2014, the magazine noted that following included 74 million page "likes" on Facebook and a Twitter fan base of 1.4 million and growing by the tens of thousands each month. Additionally, Forbes pointed out that Jackson's official YouTube channel saw the video for Xscape’s first single garner 10 million views and 11,000 comments in six days. Last year, a Huffington Post article noted that Jackson was the biggest-selling artist on iTunes and "a new generation of Jackson fans … have made him the most influential deceased artist of the 21st century.”

Legacy.com reflects on the impact of the man BET described as "quite simply the greatest entertainer of all time:"

1. The Jackson 5 influenced generations of boy bands to come.

Michael, the youngest Jackson brother, took the stage with his four brothers when he was 7. Four years later, the band was opening for the Supremes with Michael handling most of the lead vocals. In 1969 and 1970, the Jackson 5 released four singles – “I Want You Back," "ABC," "The Love You Save" and "I'll Be There." Each reached No. 1 on the Billboard music charts, making the band Motown's best-selling group, surpassing the Supremes.

2. Jackson's solo works were often critical and commercial successes, including the albums Off the Wall, Thriller and Bad. Off the Wall, released in 1979, was Jackson's fifth solo album, but his first with Epic Records, the label that represented him until his death. The record produced multiple hit singles, including "Rock With You" and "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough." The record "introduced Jackson as a dashing, charismatic solo performer," noted mtv.com in a retrospective written after Jackson's death. "The exuberant set established Jackson as one of the premier talents in music and positioned him as the sexiest entertainer since Elvis Presley first gyrated his hips on national television."

Thriller, released in 1982, was often called Jackson's best album, the one that showed the world he was no longer confined to Motown stylings. "Instead, MJ defied categorization. ‘Beat It’ featured Eddie Van Halen on guitar, and the pulsating 'Billie Jean' showcased Jackson as few had seen him before, dangerous and in-your-face," mtv.com said. Thriller is the best-selling album of all time.

Bad was a good – if not great – album. It was released in 1987, meaning it was always overshadowed by Thriller. Still, the record included hits like "Smooth Criminal" and "Man in the Mirror."

3. Jackson borrowed from multiple genres to become "unquestionably one of the most transcendent performers in popular music," The Washington Post wrote in 2009. He was "a singular talent, even if he was sometimes derivative," the newspaper said.

4. Jackson inspired countless contemporary artists including Beyonce, Justin Timberlake, Usher and Kanye West. "Trying to trace Michael Jackson's influence on the pop stars that followed him is like trying to trace the influence of oxygen and gravity," Rolling Stone magazine wrote in 2009.

In a 2013 article in USA Today, Quadron musician-producer Robin Hannibal said Jackson, "has meant a lot to us in our music. He is always present in the back of our heads when we create, and we often ask ourselves, 'What would MJ do?' His work ethic, talent and pursuit for perfecting his art is a huge inspiration. … He was a perfectionist, but he also added a lot of emotion and honesty … He put himself on the line. … His belief in what he did is also extremely inspiring."

5. Jackson's influence extended beyond music.

People still remember where they were when they saw Jackson moonwalk across the stage during a televised Motown special in 1983. That dance step had been around since the 1950s, but Jackson made it his own "sharpening it up with a snappier heel and a slicker glide. In this and many other ways, he changed the face of dance," noted U.K.'s The Guardian in 2009.

“With ‘Bad,’ he introduced his infamous crotch-grab and in ‘Smooth Criminal’ he executed the gravity-defying lean. The moves became iconic."

Jackson made iconic fashion choices, including a single sequined glove, military-inspired jackets and an angled fedora. As UK Vogue noted, "the influence that Michael Jackson has had over the collective fashion conscious … is undeniable."

He embraced the relatively new concept of the "music video." The extended version of "Thriller" was a 15-minute minimovie, promoted as a premiere event on MTV and was the most expensive video made at that time.

"Jackson turned the low-budget, promotional clips record companies would make to promote a hit single into high art, a whole new genre that combined every form of 20th century mass media: the music video," noted The Atlantic magazine in 2010. "The oft-repeated conventional wisdom – that Jackson's videos made MTV and so 'changed the music industry' is only half true.

“It's more like the music industry ballooned to encompass Jackson's talent and shrunk down again without him."

Natalie Pompilio is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia. Her lifelong love of obituaries raised eyebrows when she was younger, but she's now able to explain that this interest goes beyond morbid curiosity. Says Pompilio, "Obituaries are mini life stories, allowing a glimpse into someone's world that we're often denied. I just wish we could share them with each other when we're alive."

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