What’s next for Michael Jackson?

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As we enter the back-end of March 2013, many Michael Jackson fans are wondering what the next phase of his posthumous career will bring.

Last Friday marks three years since the announcement of a seven-year deal between Sony Music Entertainment and The Michael Jackson Estate. The deal, said to be worth a potential $250 million in cash advances to the estate, made Sony Music the exclusive distributor of the Michael Jackson’s material until 2017. So far, footage from “This Is It” rehearsals, unreleased songs, demos, remixes, video games and even an posthumously edited version of the never-finished short film for Jackson’s track “One More Chance” have been released. Most recently added to the list was a commemorative 25th anniversary edition of Jackson’s “Bad” album, called “Bad 25″, which featured never-before heard tracks from the era, a live album and concert DVD showcasing Jackson’s July 16th performance at Wembley Stadium from the Bad World Tour in 1988.

Artwork for Spike Lee's "Bad 25" film.

Made to promote “Bad 25″ was a documentary of the same name, put together by legendary filmmaker Spike Lee. The documentary, which debuted at the 69th Venice International Film Festival in August 2012, details the creation of the songs and short films from the “Bad” album. An edited version of the documentary was broadcast on a number of television networks around the world in late 2012 with a DVD and Blu-ray scheduled for release in February 2013. This date was then pushed back to March – and again to summer, according to Spike Lee – meaning it won’t be released until June 2013 at the earliest. An exact release date has not yet been confirmed and the reason for the delay remains a mystery.

On February 22 The Michael Jackson Estate and Cirque du Soleil confirmed the continuation of their relationship by announcing “Michael Jackson ONE” – a brand new Cirque production set to residency at Vegas’s Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. The production will preview from May 23 before officially premiering on June 29, just four days after the 4th anniversary of Jackson’s death. The Estate and Sony previously released a soundtrack for Cirque’s touring production, “IMMORTAL”, and could very well do the same for “ONE”.

On March 4, less than two weeks after announcing “ONE”, the Estate filed four new trademark registrations for “THRILLER THE WORLD’S BIGGEST SELLING ALBUM OF ALL TIME” under Triumph International. The filings were for live performances, recorded music and video, promotional materials and merchandise, fuelling speculation that a “Thriller” themed project may also be in the works. Fans know of at least a dozen demos from the “Thriller” era that could be included in a commemorative release, such as “Hot Street”, “Trouble”, “Niteline” and “Starlight”.

Also still yet to see an official release are a number of Jackson’s more recent studio recordings – including “Escape”, “Blue Gangsta”, “Do You Know Where Your Children Are” and “Slave To The Rhythm” – all of which have leaked online, receiving rave reviews from fans around the world. Combined with songs that have not yet leaked (at least not in full) – such as “She Was Lovin’ Me“, “Can’t Get Your Weight Off Of Me”, “I Was The Loser“, “Days In Gloucestershire” and “A Place With No Name” – the opportunity for an album of  complete, unreleased recordings still remains possible.

Hard drives containing unreleased Michael Jackson music.

A couple of days ago, on March 15, Jackson’s long-time collaborative partner, Michael Prince, uploaded a photo to his Instagram showing a number of hard drives with the caption: “So many hard drives spinning and humming, new tracks from MJ will soon be coming.” Prince worked alongside the King of Pop for fourteen years, from HBO’s planned “One Night Only” concert in 1995 until the final day of Jackson’s “This Is It” rehearsals in 2009. Naturally the photo created a buzz among Jackson fans, who interpreted it as a sign that the songs on the hard drives would soon be released. However, this is not the case. According to a source close to Prince, who was able to comment, a small team was simply preparing to begin looking through old drives in pursuit of any material that may have been forgotten about. There are said to be dozens of hard drives that have not yet been analysed, which could contain yet-to-be discovered material that fans are hoping to hear. However, despite fans’ insatiable appetite for Jackson’s unreleased songs and demo recordings, there are currently no plans to release such material in an official capacity. Prince has since removed the picture from Instagram to avoid causing any further confusion or misinterpretation by fans and friends.

Sources behind the scenes at Sony tell me that other project ideas being considered include the long-awaited official release of Jackson’s famed 30th Anniversary celebration concerts from Madison Square Garden in 2001, a Blu-ray of the Michael Jackson Memorial Service, an album of incomplete, unreleased songs to be re-produced as duets, and a 3D version of the “HIStory World Tour” to be screened in cinemas around the world. The 30th Anniversary celebration in particular has the potential to be a huge success, as these stand as the last full-length concert performances of Michael Jackson’s career. The concerts include tribute performances by a number of the world’s biggest stars, and feature the incredible onstage reunion of the Jackson brothers – their first performance together in seventeen years.

In the pipeline prior to Jackson’s passing was a 30th Anniversary edition of his 1979 album “Off The Wall”, to be called “Off The Wall 30″. This was Sony’s proposed follow-up to the mega-successful “Thriller 25″, which has sold nearly 10 million copies worldwide since its release in February 2008. However “Off The Wall 30″ was put on hold following the announcement of Jackson’s ill-fated “This Is It” tour. Sony have since pursued the possibility of issuing the commemorative edition posthumously, but are yet to locate enough releasable material from the era to use as bonus tracks.

In the months leading up to his passing, Jackson himself was planning for a television special to be broadcast around the world at Halloween, showcasing his 1996 film “Ghosts”. This is also something that remains unreleased, despite the fact that fans are chomping at the bit to experience it in high definition. A Blu-ray featuring the 40-minute film and a “making of” documentary would surely please MJ-enthusiasts around the world.

But in the end, all is speculation and nothing (apart from the new Cirque production “ONE”) is confirmed. So I am asking…

What would YOU like to see released next?

Discuss below…

 

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