Michael Jackson died yesterday in Los Angeles at 50, too young. His career has been marred by personal controversy, but as a singer he wrote the blueprint for contemporary R&B and pop music, influencing artists from Madonna to Beyoncé and Justin Timberlake. As a performer he broke the racial barriers of American pop music, becoming the first black musician to appear on MTV, and the first singer to blatantly question our expectations of race, gender and sexuality.
Jackson’s later career was plagued by personal conflicts, but his influence on popular culture was, and is, undeniable. Using the medium of music videos in an unprecedented way, Jackson became a symbol of American taste and style. From his glittery outfit in “Rock With You,” to his dapper tuxedo in “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” and to the influential zombie inspired street dance scenes in “Thriller,” Jackson has formed and reshaped the world’s approach to fashion and music, making androgyny sexy and earning Jackson the unrivaled title “King of Pop.”
In recent years, Jackson has been dethroned from this position by a series of frightening, and often absurd, personal conflicts. His death comes suddenly, putting a halt to his extensive fifty night stint at London’s famed O2 Theatre, which was scheduled to begin this July.
But no matter how dark his personal life has become, Jackson is impossible to ignore. With his unique dance style, fedora hat and single diamond-speckled white glove, Jackson continuously shocked and inspired fashion, while always making cutting-edge music. The loss of Jackson’s talent is made even more heartbreaking by his lost opportunity to redeem himself, for the King of Pop to finally reclaim his throne.