David Browne remembers that it was the singer himself who demanded the crown
Michael Jackson
Credit: Michael Jackson: Caroline Torem Craig/LFI

Why Michael Jackson is NOT the ”King of Pop”

Ten years ago, a high-ranking MTV personality phoned me out of the blue. Sounding more P.O.’d than he ever allowed himself to be on the air, he was calling to report that in order for his network to obtain access to Michael Jackson’s videos for his new ”Dangerous” album, MTV was being forced to call Jackson by a new, self-anointed title: ”King of Pop.” The MTV personality was incensed. He couldn’t believe Jackson was crowning himself with such a title AND that his network was caving in to this demand.

In retrospect, it isn’t very surprising that Jackson had such clueless hubris or that notorious celebrity butt-kissers MTV went along with his wishes. What’s truly dumbfounding is that a decade later, the moniker has actually stuck. The phrase ”King of Pop” is now routinely used to describe Jacko, from the ”Dangerous” period through his child-molestation-charges controversy through his current comeback bid with his new ”Invincible” album.

Where does one start to illustrate how preposterous this moniker has become? For starters, ”King” implies an ongoing reign. And make no mistake about it: Michael Jackson hasn’t been the king of anything, including music, since the heyday of ”Thriller,” which was nearly 20 years ago. Yes, his dance moves, hiccup singing, and staccato beats have been inherited by ‘N Sync, Britney Spears, and a new generation of multimedia stars. But that makes him Pioneer of Pop, perhaps, or Godfather of Pop. What little music Jackson has produced in the last decade — ”Dangerous” and new songs from his semi-flop ”HIStory” compilation — didn’t exactly, er, reign. Maybe in Bulgaria or Romania (or wherever he occasionally performs for fans who, let’s face it, would cheer an A-ha reunion), but nowhere else.

Glancing back over pop history, we’ve seen other monarchy: ”Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin. ”Queen of Hip Hop Soul” Mary J. Blige. Prince. The difference is that those titles were created by the media or marketers, not by the artists themselves. I’d be willing to bet whatever his Minneapolis complex is currently worth that Prince does not want to be called ”His Royal Badness” anymore. Yet Jackson continues his fixation with ”King of Pop,” which has become symbolic of his failure to realize that he, like many pop stars before him, have their massive moment in the sun, the moment passes, and their careers carry on regardless.

Maybe, just maybe, ”Invincible” will top the charts and return Jackson to his ”Thriller” heyday. Maybe his chimp will fly, too. That’s not to say Jackson is thoroughly washed up or that good music is beyond him; ”You Rock My World,” after all, was a passable, if unexciting, single. But, please, let’s retire ”King of Pop” once and for all. Hey, what was wrong with Wacko Jacko anyway?