Is it bad to be reminded of a great entertainer after his death? Well, no.
Is it creepy to project a known perfectionist as a hologram, in a performance before millions, enshrined in Internet eternity, and over which he had no control? Um, yes.
Michael Jackson’s spectacular resurrection at the May 18 Billboard Music Awards was another chance to see the peerless pop king dance. That it was done through holographic imagery was a technical coup. But was it the best way to honor Jackson?
The song title to which his pixilated image appeared, “Slave to the Rhythm,” is apt. “Slave to those who can’t stop draining him for profits” would be even better. I can admire the craft involved in putting the trick on view, but I’d rather see a clip of Jackson the way he intended us to see him. And then some real dancers, of which there are many, even in Las Vegas. Give us dancers taking Jackson’s style in a new direction. Creating something new.
— Michael Jackson (@michaeljackson) May 19, 2014
Consider this approach: On last week’s “Dancing With the Stars,” Week 9 of the ABC reality show, agile pop singer James Maslow and partner Peta Murgatroyd were tasked to perform a cha cha. They fashioned it into a Michael Jackson riff, dancing to “Love Never Felt So Good,” one of Jackson’s previously unreleased tunes. Maslow’s look was complete with the hat, sparkly socks and sharp-angled Bob Fosse-inspired silhouette.
The homage was not a surprise. Yet, significantly, Maslow injected his tribute with his own ultra-calm personality, his band member’s musicality and his muscular dance style. He made it his own, he made it with all the showmanship that audiences expect from the dance contest, and he even made it fit the competitive parameters of the cha cha.
Why not look to “DWTS” for a model of how to move Jackson idolatry forward? It’s the best example out there, better than the coldness of a hologram. You don’t honor a star by spotlighting him out of the context he intended. Not even one so lamented as Jackson.
You honor the man by showing how his influence survives. How it endures in flesh-and-blood dancers, who can make Jackson live again because they bear an echo of his energy, his lasting impression, in their bodies.