“I like the way he pops!” Michael Jackson Tribute
By Peter Lucas
In 1983, outside of the Los Angeles location shooting of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” music video, interviewers asked many among the throngs of young fans who’d shown up why they liked Michael Jackson so much. For the most part, the girls thought he was dreamy and the guys though he was super cool. Of course all of them praised his dancing. But I think one young boy said it best, and simplest: “I like the way he pops.” The kid was referring to the sharp and energetic movements in his dancing, and using a term from the break dancing craze that was just starting catch fire around the country. But I think his simple statement is so right on a larger level. In terms of both his singing and his dancing over four decades, what set Michael Jackson apart from the rest is his “popping”- from his screeches and moans to his kicks and glides. Like his childhood idol James Brown, Jackson’s whole body- his whole being- WAS the music. Besides the Godfather of Soul, one would be hard pressed to name another entertainer who committed half as much of himself to every performance and presentation. And it showed- it popped. That’s why the Jackson 5, fronted by a 11-year old Michael, was a phenomenon right out of the gate in the late 60s (their first four singles on Motown were all smash hits). And it’s why his solo career, a decade later when he was a young adult, changed popular music forever (1979’s ‘Off The Wall’ generated more top 10 hits than any other album before it, and you know 1982’s ‘Thriller’ topped that record by a mile.) Its why, when he busted out the moonwalk during a live TV performance of ‘Billie Jean’ in 1983, the whole world went completely silent for a moment before letting out a scream. (After seeing that TV special, Fred Astaire called him personally to praise his dancing.) And its why the world has memorized every move in his classic videos and still no one can pull them off like Michael. The guy just completely embodied his music, or vice versa. It was the magic of his delivery that moved us. When they call him the “King of Pop,” it doesn’t mean popular music so much to me as it signifies just how electrically charged Michael was when he was doing his thing, how much he popped out from the mundane, and how powerfully his music popped us all out of our lives and onto the dancefloor.
We at the Film Forum love Michael’s music, and have always lived by the credo “Don’t stop ‘til you get enough.” That’s why we’re presenting a special Michael Jackson Tribute on Tuesday July 7, 2009 (8pm, doors at 7:30) to celebrate the great entertainer. We’ll show his classic music videos from the late-1970s and 80s on the big screen (and cranked up loud), as well as other stuff (including a 1968 performance of the Jackson 5, an excerpt of Michael in the 1978 musical ‘The Wiz,’ and the 1983 TV performance that introduced the “moonwalk.”) Of course we’ll have refreshments in the cinema, and all ages are welcome. Please join us in raising a glass to the one and only King of Pop and seeing his legacy of fantastic music videos on the big screen.