Five years ago today Michael Jackson died. It feels like it was yesterday. His music still floods the airwaves and theaters and his popularity remains undiminished.
Here are five reasons we’ll never see the likes of his singular talent again:
1. He had time to develop: There’s no real development process anymore: whether it’s the immediacy of “American Idol,” “The Voice,” etc., or YouTube, wanna-be artists get exposure often way before they are ready—even though they think they are. Jackson and his brothers incubated in Gary, Ind., away from any spotlight. Though Michael became famous at a very, very early age, that was only after the Jackson 5 had worked their way up through local talent shows, regional tours and more before Motown signed them in 1969 (after initially rejecting them in 1967).
2. He was born a star: Jackson came alive on stage in a way that only a handful of artists since the advent of modern entertainment have: Elvis, Jackson, Springsteen. These aren’t artists who simply enjoyed/enjoy being on stage: They crave it and have to have it and feel more alive on stage than anywhere else. There is a magic that happens when the lights go down and they walk on the stage that can’t be taught, it can’t be learned. It can be nurtured, but you’re either born with it or you’re not and 99.999% of all performers aren’t. Jackson was.
3. He worked hard: Jackson had an unbelievable amount of talent bestowed upon him by the talent gods, but he then took those gifts and worked on them incessantly. He studied Gene Kelly’s dance moves, he practiced singing and worked to find different places his voice could go. He was constantly trying to improve and up his game. There never seemed to be a moment where he felt like he could rest on his laurels.
4. He didn’t play it safe: It’s easy to forget how adventurous he was musically because the risks he took have since cleared the path for other artists. When “Beat It” came out, the thought of having a rock solo by the likes of Eddie Van Halen on a pop/R&B track was unheard of…and he encountered plenty of push back. Just like pioneers always do. He transcended genres with a fearless abandon and commitment to pushing music forward.
5. He could sing: His stage presence and dance ability were so otherworldly, it’s easy to overlook what a great vocalist he was. Listen to those records: the tear in his voice on “She’s Out Of My Life,” the hopeful determination in “Man In The Mirror,” unbridled joy on “The Way You Make Me Feel,” the growl in “Dirty Diana.” He had range and strength, but he also had emotion. Not that many artists have that hat trick.