With James Brown’s passing on Christmas Day, I started thinking about the royal family of pop music. When he passed, Brown took two of the all-time great nicknames to rock and roll heaven with him: “The Godfather of Soul” and “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business.”
There is one more title, however, that still could hold some relevance in today’s pop-culture landscape: King of Pop. Sometime after the release of his 1987 album “Bad,” Michael Jackson hit the height of his stardom. According to Jackson, his friend Elizabeth Taylor conceived the nickname in 1989 when presenting him at an awards show. And King of Pop Jackson was: The “Bad” world tour averaged roughly 36,000 fans at each concert. Five songs from the album became number one singles. The “Bad” music video was directed by acclaimed film director Martin Scorsese. VH1.com recalls that Jackson “possessed of all the tools to dominate the charts seemingly at will: an instantly identifiable voice, eye-popping dance moves, stunning musical versatility, and loads of sheer star power.”
Since 1989, however, Jackson’s career has taken a dizzying nosedive. His 2001 album “Invincible” was a commercial bust. He held his infant son over a balcony in Berlin, and was charged with child molestation (again). After being acquitted in June 2005, Jackson moved from his Neverland ranch to the island nation of Bahrain. He has made three public appearances since: two at award ceremonies, and one at James Brown’s funeral.
Although Jackson is still a fascinating character, he has become largely irrelevant. The King of Pop should be more than a perpetual punching bag for no-talent comedians. That’s why Jackson has only one choice: to publicly hand his title over to Justin Timberlake.
Don’t laugh; Timberlake is closer to Jackson than you may think. First of all, he has all the tools that VH1.com ascribed to Jackson. Not since Jackson has there been a solo artist with the ultimate clout that Timberlake now wields. Secondly, his pop chart dominance has become a given, beginning with ’N SYNC’s unrivaled heartbreakery from 1998 to 2001.
His debut solo effort, 2002’s “Justified,” sold more than 3,000,000 units. His new album, 2006’s “FutureSex/LoveSounds,” sold more than 684,000 units in the first week alone. “FutureSex/LoveSounds” has also hit the number one position on charts in nine countries, including England, Canada, Estonia, and the Philippines. As of press time, Timberlake’s first 22 concerts on the FutureSex/LoveShow world tour were sold out.
When the FutureSex/LoveShows are over, Timberlake should initiate an event that takes place during the last week of July: The King of Pop Show 2007. Invite Jackson and all of his friends: Elizabeth Taylor, Macaulay Culkin, Bubbles the chimp, the whole nine yards.
The show would start with an all-star cast of Jackson fans. I know Usher won’t be left out if there’s a chance that he could show off his dance moves. Get Carlos Santana and Slash to have a guitar duel while Shakira belts out “Beat It.” Bring Paul McCartney out to perform “The Girl is Mine” with Brian McKnight.
Then when the first set is over, that’s when Timberlake comes out. But don’t let him just run out there; make him perform “Billie Jean” in the same outfit that MJ wore on “Motown 25” in 1983. Keep the choreography the same, and the crowd will freak. Then, Timberlake performs a set that contains some of his songs and some of Jackson’s. He could start with “Senorita” and “Rock Your Body,” but don’t forget about “The Way You Make Me Feel.” He could even bring that pretty girlfriend of his up on stage.
That right there would be enough for a Michael Jackson tribute, but Timberlake isn’t finished yet. He sings “You Are Not Alone” as Jackson himself comes onto the stage wearing a sash that says “King of Pop.” The house would erupt, and then it would be Jackson’s turn to shine.
Jackson has proven that he can still dance, and he could let the world know that although he’s handing over King of Pop, he’s not going down quietly. He could open with his most recent radio hit, “You Rock My World,” and then go into a frenzy. “Cry Me a River” would take on a whole new meaning with Jackson behind the microphone. Bring back “Bad” and “Thriller.” Bring out the Black Eyed Peas to perform “Where is The Love?,” with Jackson singing Timberlake’s chorus.
After the song, Jackson begins walking off stage and the background music starts back up. But wait! What’s this? Timberlake pulls him back on stage for a performance of “Smooth Criminal” that would make the guys from Alien Ant Farm wet themselves. They combine for “Man in the Mirror” and a sexier-than-ever version of “SexyBack,” and then a teary-eyed Jackson presents the “King of Pop” sash to Timberlake. Finally, bring in a children’s choir and conclude the evening with a duet version of “We Are The World.”
There would be no downside to this event. Timberlake gets the title he deserves, and Jackson earns some much-needed positive publicity before finishing his next album, currently slated for a fall 2007 release. Jackson’s most rabid fans may rebel, but they can be comforted by the fact that Jackson willingly gave up his title to the new, true King of Pop.
This would also be Jackson’s chance to finally change his image. He could be resurrected with a new album, a grittier persona and renewed confidence. Jackson would arise from his own ashes like the mythical phoenix, and he could finally moonwalk into the sunset with his head held high.