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.

W H Chong — Culture Mulcher

W H Chong

Culture Mulcher

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.

Free Trial

You've hit members-only content.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial to keep reading and get the best of Crikey straight to your inbox

By starting a free trial, you agree to accept Crikey’s terms and conditions


Leave a comment

One thought on “Michael Jackson: the looks, the moves

  1. Heathdon McGregor

    the jacksons were a cartoon in the seventies. Many a Saturday was spent with them and the animated beatles

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details