NEW YORK (Billboard) - Michael Jackson went from being Gary, Ind.’s most talented kid to one of the most recognizable human beings on the planet. While his worldwide album sales were astounding, that wasn’t the sole reason for his fame. His ascendancy went far beyond the cash register — he inspired dance moves, dictated fashion trends and raised awareness for social causes around the globe.
Following is a roundup of international reaction to the pop star’s death and recollections of him.
Less than a day after Michael Jackson’s death, the mayor of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, announced that the city would erect a statue of the singer in Dona Marta, a favela that was once notorious for drug dealing and is now a model for social development. The change was spurred partly by Jackson’s 1996 visit to film the video for “They Don’t Care About Us.”
Jackson shot two videos for “They Don’t Care About Us,” the fourth single from “HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I”: one in a prison and another in Dona Marta and Salvador da Bahia, a colonial Brazilian city known for its Afro-Brazilian culture and music.
When Jackson came to Brazil to shoot the video, directed by Spike Lee, Rio’s local government became concerned that the singer would show the world an unflattering picture of poverty. At the time, Brazilians, like people the world over, saw Jackson as an idol. He’d been to the country twice before, once with the Jackson 5 in the ‘70s and again in 1993, when he played two concerts in Sao Paulo to 100,000 people each night.
At the time, the concert promoter Dodi Sirena recalls a “sensitive” artist who asked for an amusement park to be reserved for his use, then invited children from the poorest public schools. “He displayed great concern for everything in the country, with poverty, with street children,” Sirena says.
In that context, Jackson’s choice of locale for his video made sense. “The video is about the people no one cares about,” says Claudia Silva, press liaison for Rio’s office of tourism.
When Jackson shot the video in Rio, Silva was a journalist for the daily newspaper O Globo. Lee and his staff had banned journalists from the shoot because Dona Marta drug dealers didn’t want the attention, but Silva found a family that let her spend the night at their home and saw the favela residents washing the streets to prepare for Jackson’s arrival. “The people were so proud,” Silva says. “That was the best thing for me. People got up early to clean the area, they prepared for him, they took out the trash.”
Jackson arrived by helicopter but walked the streets of Dona Marta shaking hands and distributing candy. “People were very surprised in the end, because they were expecting an extraterrestrial guy,” Silva says. “And he was — it sounds strange to say this — a normal guy.”
Jackson shot scenes in Salvador, alongside throngs of people, accompanied by the Afro-Brazilian cultural group Olodum. In the video, he can be seen dancing to the beat of hundreds of Olodum’s drummers and with cheering fans who reach out to touch him — and at one point burst through security and push him to the floor.
“This process to make Dona Marta better started with Michael Jackson,” Silva says. “Now it’s a safe favela. There are no drug dealers anymore, and there’s a massive social project. But all the attention started with Michael Jackson.”
— Leila Cobo
“Growing up as a young black kid in a township, you either dreamed of being a freedom fighter or being Michael Jackson. It was as simple as that.”
So recalls leading South African R&B artist Loyiso Bala, whose five South African Music Awards are a testament to the fact that he chose to follow the King of Pop.
The 29-year-old likens Jackson’s impact on his family — which includes his high-profile musician brothers Zwai and Phelo — to that of former President Nelson Mandela.
“The whole family would drop what they were doing and watch, mesmerized whenever Michael or (Mandela) came on,” he says of life in his Kwa-Nobuhle township home, located outside the Eastern Cape town of Uitenhage.
Lupi Ngcayisa, a DJ on Metro FM, South Africa’s biggest national urban commercial station, says Jackson’s “rich lyrics changed the complexion of black radio.”
“He forced black families to debate issues surrounding individualism and race, so his cultural impact here extended beyond simply the music,” he says.
That impact was most visible in 1997 when the HIStory tour came to the country for a five-date run that ended October 15 at Durban’s King’s Park Stadium, the performer’s final full-scale concert in support of a studio album. The shows are still the largest the country has ever seen, attracting 230,000 people, according to Attie Van Wyk, CEO of the presenting promoter, Cape Town-based Big Concerts.
Equally notable for a country just three years into post-apartheid democracy was the audience mix. “Black and white, young and old, Michael drew a huge crossover audience that we still don’t see often at shows,” tour publicist Penny Stein says.
Duncan Gibbon, now strategic marketing director at Sony Music Entertainment South Africa, who worked Jackson’s catalog as far back as the apartheid era, says Jackson sold more than 2 million albums in South Africa. More important, he says, Jackson’s music was a unifying point for a deeply divided society.
“South African radio was very racially segmented in the years before 1994,” he says. “But Michael proved to be the one artist whose music was played on white pop stations and black R&B stations. It doesn’t sound like much now, but it was a very potent thing when you think back to how apartheid attempted to keep everything about black and white society separate.”
— Diane Coetzer
After 30 years of vilifying everything American, Beijing re-established diplomatic relations with Washington, D.C., at the beginning of 1979, the same year Jackson released “Off the Wall.” At the time, most of China was still clad in drab blue Mao suits, state-controlled radio was almost devoid of Western pop music, and record companies had little distribution. But Jackson’s music soon took root — with a vengeance.
Beijing-based musician Kaiser Kuo says that the only time he felt physically threatened during the volatile spring of 1989 was an indirect result of Jackson’s popularity.
On June 3, 1989 — just as pro-democracy students reached what would prove a fatal deadlock with the government in Tiananmen Square — Kuo’s heavy rock band, Tang Dynasty, was playing a show in Jilin Province, unaware it had been billed as “Michael Jackson’s backup band.” Realizing they’d been scammed, the audience “went nuts and burned down the ticket booth,” Kuo says. “Jackson was just that popular.”
For many in China, reflecting on Jackson means dredging up memories of that era of dashed hopes. Blogger Hong Huang lived much of her childhood in the ‘70s and ‘80s in the United States, where her father was a Chinese diplomat. “Back then, I thought nobody in China could be listening to Michael Jackson,” she says. Yet Hong hosted three evenings of her late-night TV talk show “Straight Talk” about Jackson’s death while the Chinese Internet lit up with discussion of his life and music. The top video-sharing Web site Youku.com has dozens of posts of Chinese youths moonwalking to his songs in black loafers, white socks and high-water pants.
Jackson’s sales in Asia have been strong despite rampant piracy, according to Adam Tsuei, president of Sony Music Entertainment Greater China. Sony says that since 1994 it has sold about 1.2 million Jackson albums in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Jackson never visited mainland China, but Sony says it has sold about 300,000 albums there since 2002, although censorship has prevented the release of his entire catalog.
There had been unconfirmed reports that AEG Live planned to bring Jackson to China after his sold-out London dates. Instead, Shanghai warehouse manager Jin Hailiang says the 150 regular members of the local Jackson fan club he helps manage will host a party August 29, Jackson’s birthday.
“His music is so important because it’s about love,” he says, “and it makes us feel free to dance.”
— Jonathan Landreth
For many people in India — a market where international repertoire accounts for just 5 percent of physical music sales — Michael Jackson is Western pop.
Alone among Western artists, his popularity isn’t confined to English-speaking urban Indians. Among the country’s rural youth his celebrity competes with Bollywood stars for one reason: his trademark dance moves.
“Anybody who dances well is compared with Michael Jackson,” says Nikhil Gangavane, who founded India’s official, 13,000-member Jackson fan club. “The moonwalk made Michael reach from the classes to the masses in India.”
The way Bollywood appropriated Jackson’s moves and style connected with Indian fans. “Actors, established choreographers, aspiring composers, kids in dance shows — everybody borrowed ideas,” says British-born hip-hop star Hard Kaur, now a Bollywood star.
Indian actors, from Javed Jaffrey to Hrithik Roshan, say they were inspired by Jackson’s dancing. And the southern Indian movie industry still uses Jackson-esque routines, thanks to the influence of dancers and choreographers like Prabhu Deva, known as “India’s Michael Jackson” for his lightning-fast moves.
Jackson’s recorded-music sales are also significant. Arjun Sankalia, associate director of Sony Music Entertainment India, says the 25th-anniversary edition of “Thriller” sold 15,000 copies. The album’s initial release sold more than 100,000, according to Suresh Thomas, former branch manager of the southern region for CBS India — a joint venture between India’s Tata Group and CBS America. “Bad,” which had an inlay card translated into regional languages, sold 200,000. None of the totals include the millions of pirated versions that have been sold.
Jackson proved his popularity on the subcontinent with the one show he performed in India — November 1, 1996, at Mumbai’s Andheri Sports Complex. A 70,000-seat sellout, it was organized by Shiv Sena political party leader Raj Thackeray to raise funds to provide jobs for young people in the state of Maharashtra — and boost the party’s popularity among young urban voters.
Jackson arrived at Mumbai airport October 30 and was greeted by actress Sonali Bendre, who put the traditional Hindu “tilak” mark on his forehead. A motorcade escorted him to the concert, and he stepped out of the car several times during the journey to wave at the thousands of fans lining the streets between the airport and his hotel lobby.
Fans still remember. “Go to any village, any corner in India and you’ll find everyone is familiar with the name Michael Jackson,” Kaur says. “There is no musician who can replace MJ.”
— Ahir Bhairab Borthakur
The news of Michael Jackson’s death caused such a stir in Japanese society that three Cabinet ministers took the unusual step of commenting on his passing.
Fans ranging from teenagers to 50-somethings — many dressed in Jackson’s trademark outfits — staged an impromptu candlelit memorial June 27 in Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park. While some showed off dance moves and sang songs, others wept openly and prayed at makeshift altars.
“It’s funny,” one attendee said. “The gathering at (Harlem’s) Apollo Theater was like a celebration of his life, but Japanese people go straight into mourning.”
Jackson won over Japan like few Western stars before or since. Famous in the country since the release of “Off the Wall,” he became even bigger in 1987, when he started his “Bad” world tour at the Tokyo Dome. He sold out 14 shows, drawing about 450,000 fans and taking in an estimated 5 billion yen ($52 million). Hundreds of screaming girls greeted his arrival at Tokyo’s Narita Airport, which was covered by 1,000 journalists; another 300 covered the arrival of Bubbles, Jackson’s chimp, who came on a separate flight.
“No other performer had Michael Jackson’s star power in Japan,” says Archie Meguro, senior VP of Sony Music Japan International. “He was so loved for his talent, his music, his dance and his gentle soul.”
Sony reports career album sales of at least 4.9 million for Jackson in Japan, making him one of the top-selling international artists. “Thriller” alone sold 2.5 million copies. But his impact went beyond sales. His 1987 tour helped reshape J-pop’s choreography, as performers tried to appropriate his moves.
Sales of Jackson’s catalog have spiked, and six of his albums made SoundScan Japan’s Top 200 Albums chart. By the morning of June 27, Tower Records’ seven-story flagship store in Shibuya had three displays of his albums and DVDs. Jackson had attended an event there in 1996, presided over by then-Tower Records Japan president Keith Cahoon. “The fan club members who attended were mostly young girls who shrieked ‘Michael!’ in incredibly loud and high-pitched voices,” he recalls, “and Michael replied in a soft voice that was nearly as high.”
“Michael is the biggest entertainment influence on the Japanese people after the Beatles,” says Ken Ohtake, president of Sony Music Publishing Japan. “He will always remain in the hearts of the Japanese people as an extraordinary and unparalleled artist.”
— Rob Schwartz
Editing by Sheri Linden at Reuters