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Jul 1, 2009

Michael Jackson: the looks, the moves

Sick of the vulture sessions yet? Here are two notions I haven’t seen elsewhere, writes W H Chong, Crikey's newest blogger.

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Sick of the vulture sessions yet? michaeljackson nailed it in his ‘83 lyric, Wanna Be Startin’ Something:

You’re a vegetable, you’re a vegetable
Still they hate you, you’re a vegetable
You’re just a buffet, you’re a vegetable
They eat off of you, you’re a vegetable

Nonetheless, here are two notions I haven’t seen elsewhere:

1. By his legendary 1983 Motown performance michaeljackson had arrived at a foundational style: he became a cartoon. The desire to reduce to an iconifiable outline and maintain clarity from a distance made the choices simple. Before all the other costumes michaeljackson settled on these essentials:

i) The feet: white socks, with high trouser hems (sometimes with stripes down the leg). Astaire did this with contrast: two toned shoes, light socks, dark socks.

ii) The centre line: an open jacket with contrasting shirt (bowties for simplicity).

ii) The hat: stands in for the head at a distance. The possibilities of the silhouette must have delighted michaeljackson.

iv) The glove. Does for the hand what the socks do for the feet: Watch me. michaeljackson must have realised he couldn’t wear a pair because he’d have landed in minstrel territory.

Instead he ended up in Disneyland.

2. By ‘83 his dance too had codified, into that brilliant, aggressive singularity. There would be no Ginger for michaeljackson; no embrace was possible in that narcissistic style. His influential routines would parody a machine’s moving parts, would make robotic gestures silky. The unearthly moonwalk — rooted in black culture (see Bill Bailey do it in 1955, at the 3:50 mark) — was a literal backing away. This was the michaeljackson paradox: an isolated performer of inhuman movements, singing up a storm of emotion.

Chong Weng Ho — Culture Mulcher

Chong Weng Ho

Culture Mulcher

W. H. Chong is a book designer and artist. He is Design Director at Text Publishing, and a founding member of ABDA (Australian Book Designers Association) where he currently serves as Secretary. His work can be seen at whchong.com.

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