As of today it’s already been five years since the great Michael Jackson left us to take his place in the hallowed halls of Rock ‘N’ Roll heaven.
Now I’m hardly a qualified music critic but five years later even I can still hear the indelible influence that MJ has left behind in his wake. And it’s gratifying to know that his spirit is alive and well in the pop, rock and dance music coming out today.
To mark and honor the 5-year anniversary of the King of Pop’s passing, here are 5 of my favorite artists and albums from the period between 2013-2014 which have been seeing some heavy rotation on my iPhone and whose work has been influenced by Jackson in a very significant way. 5 artists because it’s been 5 years.
Okay, so this isn’t technically an album that was released in 2013 but I’m often late in getting around to music that I want to listen to and I didn’t sit down with this one until the latter half of 2013. The song “Panic Station,” as numerous web commentators have pointed out, borrows riffs from “Thriller.”
While the sonic influence on this album itself isn’t as readily apparent as the other works on this list, M.I.A. has repeatedly expressed in no uncertain terms that Michael Jackson was not only a huge influence on her music but that when she was growing up in Sri Lanka, his was the only Western pop music she was exposed to. When he died, she tweeted that “Michael Jackson” were the first two words in English she ever spoke—probably not literally true but a touching sentiment nevertheless.
The video for Lindsey Stirling’s “Moon Trance” from her debut album was a very explicit homage to the video for “Thriller,” and if this didn’t make her love for MJ obvious enough, she included a Michael Jackson medley during the sets of her 2013 world tour. But the tributes didn’t stop there. Her new album Shatter Me (see my full review) contains a song called “Night Vision” that’s also, like Muse’s “Panic Station,” a discernible homage to “Thriller.”
The next two albums on this list are pretty much Michael Jackson albums in their entirety, though by no means in a bad way. In fact, they were two of my favorite albums from 2013. But check out this fan remix to hear what I mean. The mashup DJ here juxtaposes “Get Lucky” with “Say Say Say” (a song by Paul McCartney in which MJ did guest vocals). This is just one example, but YouTube is filled with MJ-Daft Punk mashups of this kind that show how uncannily well the music of these two artists go together. And given how much Daft Punk songs often sound like MJ songs, it only makes sense.
The moment I first listened to the first song on Days Are Gone my brain screamed, “Michael Jackson!” And it’s true. The Haim sisters channel the ghost of Off the Wall/Thriller-era Michael Jackson (as well as other influences) with exceptional precision on their debut album but always bringing their own clever, infectious songwriting to the table and never in a way that feels like mere mimicry. Consider their hit single “Forever”:
Listened to it? Okay, now listen to MJ’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'”:
To sound so similar and yet different enough at the same time takes great craftsmanship and studiedness and Days Are Gone is lined from beginning to end with this kind of recontextualized, irresistible nostalgia.
MJ would be proud.