There are things you notice when you watch a string of Michael Jackson videos back-to-back, things you probably didn’t notice when you were eight.
One of them is how obsessed with masculinity Michael Jackson’s Thriller- and Bad- era work seemed to be. In Thriller, he tells his girl he’s not like other guys, and he’s both a threat to her and her savior. Beat It is all about his alpha dog ability to stop a gang fight through dancing (“Don’t wanna be a boy/You wanna be a man). Bad, above, is full of macho-posturing, and this was when the crotch grabbing really started in earnest. (Lyrics: “Your talk is cheap/You’re not a man.”)
Sometimes, his masculinity is being challenged, and he overcomes the challenge. This is especially true in the video for “The Way You Make Me Feel,” which I remember as one of my favorite songs.*
In the beginning, a group of men are laughing at Jackson’s attempt to get the girl, saying, “You don’t know about women.”
Then he gets her. Through dancing and singing, obviously.
This continued through to “You Rock My World,” which would have been a better song and video if he wasn’t at that point so painful to look at.
He got more macho just as he began to look more feminine. One of the first things I remember learning about Michael Jackson is that, by the Bad cover — which is the last one I really remember seeing on a vinyl album in a rack at Wal-Mart — he had had surgery to make it look as though he always had eyeliner on. Even a nine-year-old knows that’s different from your run-of-the-mill Pop star.
In today’s New York Times, Alastair Macaulay wrote a really fantastic review of Jackson as a dancer, and notes that Jackson was projecting a sense of androgyny early in his career. That’s true, but I’m not really sure the conflicting tones were purposeful, or at all embraced, by the troubled soul Jackson proved to be.
*I’m trying to remember if this was in the Moonwalker movie, or if we just had the video recorded on the same VHS tape we had recorded Moonwalker on. Does anyone know? Also, as an aside, doesn’t Moonwalker become an extremely weird movie now that you’re older?
** Macaulay calls the socks Jackson wore during the Motown 25th anniversary special off-white. Those socks were sequined, sir.