The Michael Jackson they didn’t want.
The HIStory album by Michael Jackson is one of his most criticized albums in his career, deemed as vainglorious and racist among other things, it proved the world in the mid 90s that the world wasn’t ready for such a masterpiece.
The album is a reflection of Michaels’ own life but also a post-modern reflection of the world and his black roots. The MTV generation which he partly created when doing short-films such as Thriller and Billie Jean, couldn’t comprehend such a radical change from the man who had started it all. In 1987 during the hey-days of MTV many philosophers were worried about the MTV generation since the channel mostly provided a schizophrenic state in which the images shown in the videos were a mixture of past and present and a generation that didn’t understand it. MTV also represented consumerism and was popularized during Reagan’s America admist a world in which racism,sexism and materialism hadn’t been dealt with. So if Michael Jackson with the Thriller album represented consumerism and a pastiche of different cultural images within his videos, HIStory does the contrary. This of course becomes problematic not only for Michael, but rather for those that thought that Michael supported the system that was created during the 80s. The famous singer-songwriter-dancer who had revolutionized the very consumerist media (MTV) had now changed his mind and completely broken down the rules of conventional videos. He sings with more attitude and anger and subsequently his videos are more political and he is not longer part of the establishment he had once been embraced by in his early days. Environmental issues, racial issues, alienation, social issues and the media are topics which Michael gives his point of view on during the HIStory era through imagery and music. As many things with Michael Jacksons life, most of his post-thriller work became ridiculed but HIStory is not ridiculous in any way or form, but rather a statement on post-modern black music. It’s quite clear that Michael feels betrayed by his country and feels falsely accused by many things written about him and in response to these accusations, he creates a much darker sound than he ever did in his career, to which he also mirrors the struggles and alienation of many minorities in America but also around the world. His videos during the HIStory era also reflect this kinship with the world through stronger imagery placed no longer in the ghettos of America, but among the people of the world. Michael no longer embraces the vision he had partly supported during the early 80’s but is rather distrustful of people and society. Although many would argue that the Dangerous album also echoes this darker vision of society, he often has uplifting anthems in his 1991 album, which no longer exist in his darker world view in HIStory.
The fact that a song like “They Don’t Care About Us” has become an anthem of post-modern injustice struggle and ”Earth Song” an anthem among environmentalists proves that Michael was ahead of the curve. Often people who are ahead of their time are ridiculed and misunderstood but Michael Jackson clearly understood his time although he might not have been part of it, as often happens with people who create timeless art. He was crucified in the north western world but remained loved around other parts of the world because his album represented the voices of the voiceless. The HIStory album is the rawest and angriest of Michael’s albums and reflects his feelings on his own generation and himself. A classic album that will surely be celebrated in the future for its darker themes that reflected his understanding of mid 90s society.
( I wanted to write something about Michael’s HIStory album because its one of my favorite Michael albums and contains some of the most powerful songs of his career. I’m a musicology student among other things lol)