Classic Michael Jackson reigns supreme; High school tribute outshines, out-streams and out-charts hologram

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Portions of this week’s U.S. album and single charts have been revealed by Billboard.com a day ahead of being officially released, and there’s some surprising yet telling information to be derived from the data regarding what the public wants in relation to Michael Jackson.

The official American chart week was kicked off by an Estate-funded hologram-style performance of the King of Pop’s previously-unreleased ‘Dangerous’ sessions outtake “Slave to the Rhythm” constructed from top-secret, high-definition, multi-angle footage of a Michael Jackson impersonator prancing around in an attempted to execute Jackson’s movements, gestures and likeness. The only problem was that, to many hardcore MJ fans the hologram looked, moved and felt nothing like the artist they knew, loved and had hoped to see. The performance was staged at the 2014 Billboard Music Awards in promotion of the ‘XSCAPE’ album and was later uploaded to the official Michael Jackson VEVO account.

“Our other goal is to use new and innovative ways to create entertainment on a grand scale that allows the world to experience Michael’s magic,” said the Estate in one of four statements issued to fans this past week, adding: “After all, [this] is what we all want – for the rest of the world to see and love Michael the way that we all do. The efforts of the last few weeks, and especially, the performance on the Billboard Awards is working… The illusion has put Michael back in the forefront of the entertainment world and helped promote Xscape… No one will ever replace Michael Jackson, the King of Pop.  And certainly no one can dance like the greatest entertainer who ever lived – not even an illusion.”

As a result of the Billboard Awards hologram performance “Slave the the Rhythm” debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 at #45 with 75% of its chart ranking credited to 3.9 million online streams in the U.S. – 2.2 million of which come from views of the the VEVO upload. This marks the 50th time a Michael Jackson song has charted on the prestigious Hot 100.

However, something far more impressive also happened this week in the world of Michael Jackson and the Billboard charts.

Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”, which was originally released as a single in 1983 and topped the charts for seven weeks that year, has re-entered the Billboard Hot 100 at the astonishing position of #14!

Seventeen-year-old Pitman High student Brett Nichols busted out an impressive dance tribute to the King of Pop’s historic Motown 25 “Billie Jean” performance during his school’s talent show in Turlock, California recently. A video of the performance was uploaded to YouTube and went completely viral online. The video has since been downloaded and re-uploaded dozens of times, featured on the website homepage and Twitter accounts of some of the world’s biggest online publications, and has been viewed tens of millions of times around the globe.

The video, which features the original audio sampled from Jackson’s 1982 ‘Thriller’ album, was view so many times that it out-ranked the Michael Jackson/Justin Timberlake duet “Love Never Felt So Good” (#16) on this week’s Billboard Hot 100 singles chart with a total of 11.2 million streams in the United States alone, according to Nielsen BDS.

Now, both the “Slave to the Rhythm” hologram performance and the Brett Nichols “Billie Jean” performance were the work of Michael Jackson impersonators. However, one was misleadingly labelled as being “Michael Jackson” himself, complete with dance moves and costumes that Michael Jackson never executed or wore and topped with an instrumental track that the King of Pop never heard. The other featured a boy who in no way pretended in be Michael Jackson, yet executed all the classic dance moves Jackson himself made famous more than three decades ago, to the original audio track the King of Pop wrote, recorded and released.

The Estate of Michael Jackson, in one of their statements in defence of the hologram, said: “The best entertainment is that which evokes ‘suspended disbelief'; it’s about entertainment, not reality. When David Copperfield makes an airplane disappear, the illusion is no less compelling because it is not real.”

However, I tend to disagree. For me, the excitement, the wonder and the brilliance of Michael Jackson was all about the reality of it. The reality that a human being could seemingly execute a form of real-life, gravity-defying magic as he floated and glided around the stage under a single spotlight, all on his own, physically embodying the music while captivating and mesmerising his audience. That, for me, is the best kind of entertainment. It’s real. It’s authentic. It’s Michael Jackson.

Huffington Post journalist Charles Thomson hit the nail on the head with his commentary of the issue.

“The suggestion that Michael Jackson would somehow become ‘irrelevant’ or ‘forgotten’ if the Estate didn’t screen holograms of impersonators on awards shows has no basis in reality,” said Thomson. “There are artists who died decades ago and are still as famous and respected today as they were then, without holograms of impersonators, or old songs being tampered with by new producers. Jimi Hendrix. John Lennon. Marvin Gaye. All doing just fine. Michael has one of the greatest legacies and bodies of work in music history. He simply cannot and will not ever be forgotten – hologram or no hologram.”

The fact that a real-life dance tribute from a high school talent contest completely out-performed the high-tech projection of ‘Virtual Michael’ from a globally-broadcast awards show indicates, to me at least, that there is absolutely no need for fabricated or reimagined Michael Jackson material to be shoved down the throats of the public to generate interest in his artistry.

Follow Damien Shields on Facebook and Twitter to stay up-to-date with Michael Jackson-related news.

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