This week marks the one year anniversary of the release of the Xscape album – a joint venture between Epic Records and The Estate of Michael Jackson featuring eight previously unreleased songs recorded by the King of Pop between 1980 and 1999.
To mark the anniversary this article will revisit the album’s defining moments, highlighting both the successes and shortcomings of the commercial campaign, the sales and chart performance of the album and its supporting singles, the music videos, the reviews, and now a brand new book detailing the origins of and stories behind the songs used to create the entire Xscape project.
It all began in October 2013. As revealed exclusively here at damienshields.com the yet-to-be-announced album, spearheaded by Epic Records CEO L.A. Reid, was set to include remixes of a selection of Jackson’s previously unreleased tracks as well as their original, unedited versions. The release was said to be scheduled for Spring 2014.
Nearly six months passed following my article detailing how the album would be presented, until March 31, 2014 when Epic Records and The Estate announced that the album, called Xscape, would be released worldwide on May 13, 2014.
Shortly after the announcement a series of top secret listening sessions were held for music journalists, radio identities, and critics to preview the album. Feedback published online by attendees of said listening sessions (who were treated only to the remixed versions and not the original Jackson versions) was resoundingly positive. Click here for a reminder of what they were saying about Xscape following their first taste, and relive some of the hype and speculation that surrounded the album, including the rumoured inclusion of Jackson’s rendition of “Hot Fun In The Summertime” also featuring D’Angelo and Mary J. Blige.
During the New York Xscape playback session at Top of the Rock Epic Records CEO L.A. Reid played a version of the song “Xscape” featuring a rap verse by Tupac. The Tupac mix was produced by Rodney Jerkins, but was ultimately not included on the album. It remains unreleased and unheard by the public.
As the end of April 2014 approached the Xscape track list was officially confirmed. It was then confirmed that “Love Never Felt So Good” would be the lead single, with a live dance performance featuring R&B star Usher at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Awards used to introduce the remixed version to the world. Immediately after the performance the track was made available on iTunes, along with a version of the track featuring a verse sung by pop singer Justin Timberlake.
The King of Pop returned to the charts in triumphant fashion on May 9 with the “Love Never Felt So Good” single debuting on at #20 the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 – Jackson’s equal-third-highest Hot 100 debut ever, bettered only by “You Are Not Alone” which debuted at #1 and “Scream” at #5. The song “Thriller” also debuted at #20. “Love Never Felt So Good” would go on to peak at #9 on the Hot 100, becoming Jackson’s most successful single (based on sales and chart performance) in more than a decade – since 2001’s “You Rock My World” from the Invincible album.
The Xscape album was officially released worldwide on May 13 and reviews started pouring in. Click here to read my review of Xscape. The album debuted at #1 on the Worldwide Album Chart with sales of 365,000 copies across the globe. In the U.S. Xscape had a strong first week, selling 157,000 copies to land a #2 debut on the Billboard 200. The album has sold more than 1.5 million copies worldwide to date and is certified Gold by the RIAA in the U.S for domestic sales of more than 500,000 units.
The official music video for “Love Never Felt So Good” was also released May 13, featuring Justin Timberlake and a barrage of young dancers tributing Jackson’s iconic style. The video has had more than 100 million views to date – a phenomenal achievement for an artist who had been deceased for five years at the time of its release. Check out the “Love Never Felt So Good” video featuring (and directed by) Justin Timberlake below:
On May 18 The Estate arranged to have a visual Pepper’s Ghost illusion (often referred to as a “hologram”) appear on the 2014 Billboard Music Awards to “perform” Timbaland’s remix of Jackson’s “Slave To The Rhythm.” It was billed as “Michael Jackson like you’ve never seen him before,” but what resulted was the projection of ultra HD footage of Michael Jackson impersonator Earnest Valentino – not digital footage of Michael Jackson himself. The “performance” caused controversy among fans, but seemed to be accepted by wider audiences, racking up more than 30 million views on YouTube since and catapulting “Slave To The Rhythm” to #45 on the Billboard Hot 100 the following week making it Jackson’s 50th career entry on the prestigious singles chart.
Four weeks later a new edit of the “Love Never Felt So Good” music video was uploaded to the official Michael Jackson VEVO account – excluding footage of Justin Timberlake and set to a newly modified mix of the solo version.
In early July 2014 Epic Records serviced “Loving You” to radio as a bridging single. The track was added to several UK radio station rosters and received airplay, but was never rolled out as an official mainstream single for the Xscape album.
On July 18, 2014 I revealed exclusively here at damienshields.com that Epic Records and The Estate were planning on re-releasing Xscape before Christmas 2014 with a handful of new songs. The source of this information was John Branca – co-executor of The Estate. Ultimately those plans were abandoned when Xscape‘s second official single – the StarGate remix of “A Place With No Name,” complete with accompanying music video (see below) – failed to chart anywhere in the world.
Not even a Michael Jackson-themed So You Think You Can Dance episode and much hyped yet majorly underwhelming simultaneous Twitter Video and Times Square bigscreen debut of the music video were able to salvage the “A Place With No Name” single.
The lacklustre performance of “A Place With No Name” ultimately marked the end of the Xscape album campaign, resulting in the complete abandonment of the project including the cancellation of considered third single “Chicago” (a.k.a “She Was Loving Me”) and additional marketing. Click here to read my full analysis of the failure of the “A Place With No Name” single.
Despite its shortcomings in some areas and the abrupt end to the campaign, having sold more than 1.5 million copies worldwide to date, debuting at #1 on the worldwide albums chart and #2 on the U.S. album chart (Billboard 200), and producing the wildly successful single “Love Never Felt So Good” which reached #9 on the Hot 100 and has more than 100 million YouTube views, the Xscape album has to be considered a commercial success for Epic Records and The Estate of Michael Jackson.
The deluxe edition of Xscape was especially savoured by countless Jackson enthusiasts thanks largely to the inclusion of the unedited original versions of the eight songs.
It was those original versions that formed the basis for my book, Xscape Origins: The Songs & Stories Michael Jackson Left Behind.
Just in time for the one year anniversary of the album, Xscape Origins details the anatomy of Jackson’s craftsmanship, revealing his extraordinary song-making process as he and his collaborators developed the original versions of the Xscape album’s songs.
Pieced together from exclusive interviews with many of the songwriters, producers, musicians, and technicians who worked hand-in-hand with Jackson, Xscape Origins takes you inside the recording studio, delivering fly-on-the-wall insights into the creative process of the most successful artist in pop music history.
“There are so many lessons to learn from a creative genius like Michael Jackson,” says Jackson’s longtime engineer Matt Forger in the book’s foreword. “Just as Michael said ‘study the greats and become greater,’ we are now left to study how he, a poor child from a Midwestern American town, rose to be the most popular entertainer on the planet.”
Xscape Origins combines never-before-told stories from those who knew Jackson best with retrospective facts and anecdotes. “Hundreds of books have been written about Michael Jackson,” writes the Huffington Post, “but this is one of the very few must-reads to have been published since his death, forgetting his much-debated private life and shedding light on the one area most people appear least informed about; his work.”
Xscape Origins is available today and ships globally in physical print softcover at XscapeOrigins.com and Amazon.com, as well e-book Kindle, iBooks, and Google Play editions. The physical print softcover starts from just $10.95 direct from XscapeOrigins.com, while the e-book can be snapped up for only $4.95 on all digital platforms!
Damien Shields is the author of the book Xscape Origins: The Songs & Stories Michael Jackson Left Behind about The King of Pop’s artistry, genius, and creative process in the recording studio. Click here to order your copy today - also available via Amazon, Kindle, iBooks, and Google Play. Follow Damien on Facebook and Twitter to stay up-to-date with Michael Jackson-related news.