But the former king’s influence is still felt all across the pop-music landscape. Below, read just 13 ways Michael Jackson‘s legacy is still with fans today.
1. He Made R&B the Sound of Pop
Rhythm and blues certainly wasn’t too far from the mainstream when MJ came on the scene, but with the help of super producer Quincy Jones, Jackson’s music blended R&B so seamlessly into the sound of pop that, by the late ’80s, the two terms were nearly synonymous. Though hip-hop and EDM influences have since seeped into the sound of the mainstream, today’s radio hits (think: Bruno Mars) still bang with the sound that Jackson helped create.
2. He Made Music Videos an “Event”
In the early ’80s, music videos were widely considered a secondary piece of promotion. MTV changed that, and Jackson was one of the first artists to realize the artistic powers of the medium, creating million-dollar mini-movies for each of his biggest singles. The music video has been declared dead at various times since the TRL era, but as artists as varied as Katy Perry, Psy and Robin Thicke have learned, an iconic video still has the power to make a song a hit.
3. He Showed a Prepubescent Pop Star Could Make It in the Modern Music Industry
(Credit: Hy Michael Jackson)
Shirley Temple set the mold, and young Michael Jackson broke it. In his time with the Jackson 5, Michael’s preternatural polish and poise stunned audiences, who found themselves in the unlikely position of looking up to someone who was four feet tall. The model still works today, with singers like Justin Bieber and Greyson Chance seeing their first singles drop before their voices did.
4. He Set the Bar that Every Subsequent Pop Album Measures Itself Against
The music industry has changed so much in the past 32 years that it’s likely there will never be another Thriller. But that hasn’t stopped artists from trying. A decade into the iTunes era, the idea of a landmark album still matters, whether it’s Beyoncé’s surprise self-titled record, or Katy Perry’s quest to eclipse Jackson’s record for the most no. 1 singles from one album.
5. He Made Dancing a Prerequisite
Sure, pop stars danced before MJ – Exhibit A right here – but with his air-tight routines, Jackson took dancing from an elective to a required course. For later stars like ‘N Sync and Britney Spears, having an instantly recognizable dance move was just as important as a vocal hook. These days, One Direction may disagree, but we see their argument and raise them one “Gangnam Style.”
6. He Invented the High-Profile Soda Ad
7. He Was Instrumental in Developing the Celebrity Charitable-Industrial Complex
Bob Geldof and Band-Aid may have gotten there first, but Jackson and Lionel Richie took the notion of a celebrity supergroup to new heights, recruiting dozens of music superstars for their charity single “We Are the World.” The idea took off – from Songs for Japan to Dark Was the Night – the release of a new charity compilation is a near monthly occurrence.
8. He Put On the First Modern Super Bowl Halftime Show
For the first few decades of its existence, the Super Bowl Halftime Show was primarily an opportunity for college marching bands and Up with People to strut their stuff. That trend started to wane by the early ’90s, but it was Jackson’s spectacular (in all senses of the word) performance at Super Bowl XXVII in 1993 that started the tradition we still see today: One megastar, tons of hits and gallons and gallons of confetti.
9. His Legion of Imitators Keep the Image Alive
Only Elvis Presley has more recognizable impersonators than Michael Jackson, but as tastes change, you can expect the King of Pop’s costumed admirers to overtake the King’s by the end of the decade. Today, a solid moonwalk is a dance-loving teen’s best chance for winning his high-school talent show.
10. His “Thriller” Video Kickstarted a Flash-Mob Trend
The inmates at the Philippines’ Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center were the very definition of a captive audience when their mass rendition of “Thriller” went viral in 2007, but the thousands of musical flash mobs that followed in their wake had no such excuse. Now, the power of choreographed group dance performances is such that they can even catapult a song to the top of the charts.
11. His Son Plans to Join the Family Business
Jackson’s eldest son, Prince Michael I, dreams of one day becoming an artist like his dad. In a recent interview with The Daily News, Prince Michael expressed his desire to enter the world of show business. “I don’t expect to walk onto jobs or roles because of who I am,” he explained. “I want to learn my craft and work at being an actor.”
12. His New Posthumous Album Shows His Skills Were Timeless
For the recent Xscape, a group of producers led by Timbaland revamped eight previously unreleased Jackson demos, adding modern production to the decades-old recordings. The result is an album that recalls a beguiling mix of eras and genres. As AllMusic wrote, “the demos reveal how strong Jackson’s songwriting is – the songs could withstand any number of arrangements.”
13. He’s Still Giving Us Delightful Internet Ephemera
Do you need to see this video of Michael Jackson dancing to R. Kelly’s “Ignition (Remix)” alongside director Brett Ratner? Probably not. But trust us – once you do, you’ll be glad you did.