If anyone is in need of revisionist history, it's Jackson. The molestation charges, the reclusive behavior, the addiction to cosmetic surgery... these are the cultural baggage he amassed in life. But art outpaces artists. In the end, Jackson left behind a wealthy catalog of pop tunes. Forget comparing The Beatles to Elvis or the Stones; which is better, "She Loves You" or The Jackson 5's "ABC?" "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" vs. "I Want You Back?" "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" vs. "I Am Love?" How does Rubber Soul hold up against Thriller? Forget the canonization of the former and the demonization of the latter, and you'll find some interesting answers.
Jackson, along with The Beatles, was my first pop obsession growing up. I listened to Thriller a lot. I watched The Wiz and Moonwalker a fair bit too, although to this day I have no idea why and how Moonwalker was made. The short, redundant reason why I loved these things is because they were fun. The full truth takes longer to explain.
For a while at least, Jackson was a brilliant idea man, from songwriting to choreography to filmography. The "Thriller" video holds up as a legitimately great horror short film, not to mention an excellent song 'n' dance sequence. And while he never topped Thriller (then again, how could he?), he continued to put out some of my favorite videos into the '90s, including "Scream" and "They Don't Care About Us," although the latter's anti-Semitic tone totally went over my head as a youth.
Point is, the guy left behind some of the most enduring, alluring songs of the last 40 years. These songs prevail because they're so catchy and danceable, not to mention occasionally stirring. They succeed because they are fun. And inclusive. While his later material became surprisingly angry, Jackson was a family-friendly musician. Your parents and friends alike could groove to "Billie Jean" or "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'."
We're running out of superstars. But that just highlights their importance more.