Top 5 from the Week #22 (ft. Michael Jackson)

A couple nights ago, while sitting in the bed thinking about life (probs on the verge of an existential crisis, i don’t know lol), I started thinking about my favorite Michael Jackson tracks.

He died during the summer before my fresh year in middle school. I remember sitting in the middle of the driveway with my best friend at the time, and we both got one of those chain texts saying that he died (at the same time), so we RAN to her room, turned on the TV, and there it was. Neither of us had been really big fans of his – I mean, we were like 11 at the time, so what did we really know about Michael Jackson other than he was this mythical, talented being who wore a white glove – but we both were very much shocked. To have someone as big as that die and be able to comprehend the gravity of what happened was quite the experience. I don’t remember what happened directly after that, but I remember waking up the next morning (I spent the night at her house, and woke up in my trusty blue sleeping bag on the floor near her TV) hearing his music videos playing on MTV. I was mesmerized! And literally spent the next hour or so, while my friend was still asleep, watching the marathon of videos they were playing. A few months later and throughout my time in middle school, I became the girl who was wearing Michael Jackson shirts to school and bringing her Michael Jackson Platinum Edition Collector’s Vault (which I still have, by the way) to school to show a whole bunch of kids who probably didn’t care that much. But they entertained my obsession – really everyone around me did. So I appreciate them letting me be myself lol. My teachers really got a kick out of it.

I don’t listen to him as much anymore, but from time to time, I get urges to revisit an album or two. Or a moment like this one happens, where I randomly start thinking about my favorite tracks of his. This night, I was trying to boil it down to my favorite MJ song ever, but it was very difficult, so instead, I focused on my favorite song from each of his albums. And I’m bringing that late night convo with myself here!

A quick note: I’m not including my favorite songs from his posthumous albums because those don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things LOL.

“I Can’t Help It” from Off the Wall (1979)

I went back and forth with this one, eventually coming to the conclusion that “I Can’t Help It” is my favorite song on Off the Wall. I don’t listen to Off the Wall that often; it’s not a bad album, but I don’t always want to listen to disco. “I Can’t Help It” is one of the few songs off that project that isn’t a disco song, feeling closer to a soul song instead. I love the instrumentation, and Michael’s voice just floats right on top of it.

“The Lady in My Life” from Thriller (1982)

I feel the same way about “The Lady in My Life” as I feel about “I Can’t Help It.” where it’s this really beautiful moment towards the end of Thriller that kind of gets overshadowed. Thriller is Michael’s magnum opus (well…I guess HIStory (1995) ends up being that in the long-run, but Thriller is – at least – his most iconic record). “Thriller,” Billie Jean,” “Beat It,” “Human Nature,” “P.Y.T.,” “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” – they’re all on there. So with all the attention focused on those tracks, I feel like “The Lady in My Life” gets kinda pushed to the side, even though it’s an absolutely gorgeous musical moment. So this is really “a rooting for the underdog” moment, and we love an underdog.

“Liberian Girl” from Bad (1987)

Bad is Thriller Lite™ – another project that’s full of his greatest hits. We have “The Way You Make Me Feel,” Smooth Criminal,” “Leave Me Alone,” “Another Part of Me,” “Bad,” “Man in the Mirror,” “Dirty Diana,” and “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” all on the same project. And those songs make up eight of the eleven songs on the project LOL. And again like Thriller, the songs that aren’t in Michael’s Greatest Hits kind of get left to the side, even though they’re just as amazing as those other tracks. I like “Liberian Girl” a lot because it has such a different feel and life to it. Plus, the music video is super cool! There’s just…SO many famous people in that video that I just know jumped at the chance to be in a Michael Jackson video.

“Why You Wanna Trip on Me” from Dangerous (1991)

I think I’ve mentioned before that Dangerous is my favorite Michael Jackson project. Like…Michael showed us talent on the other projects, but Michael really said “oh, girl…you didn’t know I wear many musical hats? Let me show you” on this one. It was such a departure from his usual sound. 90’s hip hop is iconic in its own right, and Michael was able to take the genre – with the help of people like Teddy Riley – and mix it up with his style to create something that both stays true to his music but also ushered him into this new era. And I think there’s also a really important piece with this album where on previous projects, Michael kept his music as a sort of race-neutral, politically neutral space, and chose not to do that on here. And with that incorporation of hip hop elements into Dangerous, it was more of a socio-political moment and call to action than Thriller, Off the Wall, or Bad. Dangerous saw Michael talking about things like race, poverty, and the environment like he does on “Why You Wanna Trip on Me.” And that guitar at the beginning of the song is absolute perfection.

“Is It Scary” from Blood on the Dancefloor (1997)

I decided to pair HIStory and Blood on the Dance Floor together ’cause for me, those two projects exist in the same world, and I picked “Is It Scary” to be the representative of both of those projects. Overall, these two albums do the same thing for me that Dangerous does, where we see Michael bringing in some political moments in his music, opening up the musical space of his tracks to make comments on some controversial moments in his life, and bringing in some elements of different genres. For me, “Is It Scary” is the standout track out of those two projects because it’s giving us vulnerable Michael. And of course, there’s some level of that on all of his projects before these two, but most of the time those are moment of vulnerability in the form of talking about his love for another person. “Is It Scary” is a moment where we’re getting a spooky track, while he’s also talking about the ways that he feels like he existed in the public imagination. I was reading through my “it’s been a year” thoughts on Tyler the Creator’s IGOR (2019) a couple of days ago, and in that write-up, I was talking about how – on the album – Tyler built this character of a monster and used it as the embodiment of a social disconnect and moment of vulnerability, pointing out the (very obvious and intentional, but I missed it until I didn’t lol) similarities between his character and the monster in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. And for me, those things work in the same way as Michael Jackson’s “Is It Scary;” Michael takes on this persona of a monster, in order to be vulnerable about the way that he feels people see him (especially considering what was going on at the time), in hopes that the listener will be empathetic and see humanity in it.

BONUS: “Butterflies” from Invincible (2001)

I have a very strong love for “Butterflies.” I remember I would come home from school, put my backpack down, grab the broom (to be my pretend microphone and stand), turn on “Butterflies,” and just start singing my little heart out before my mom got home LOL. I used to be so excited when I could hit the higher notes in the second verse. And I don’t know why I thought that I needed to do that or why I had such a strong need to sing “Butterflies” alone in the kitchen at home before my mom got home, but it was one of the most freeing experiences that I’ve ever had in my life lol. So I love “Butterflies” for giving me that. I really love the production on here and Marsha Ambrosius really came through with some amazing writing on this song. It’s the perfect early 00s R&B song.

here’s something else you might like:

Top 5 from the Week #21 (ft. Death, Kelis, Spillage Village, IDK, and Rich Gang)

This week has been a REALLY good week for music. I’ve been listening to Tasty (2003) a lot, Spilligion (2020) is still hitting pretty hard, I’ve been revisiting some of my favorite Michael Jackson tracks – “The Lady in My Life,” “I Can’t Help It,” and “Liberian Girl” being three of them – I’ve listened … Continue reading Top 5 from the Week #21 (ft. Death, Kelis, Spillage Village, IDK, and Rich Gang)

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