King of PoMo

At the 1995 MTV Awards, Michael Jackson presented a "medley" of some of his best-known songs, although "bricolage" may be a better word to describe his performance. The soundtrack consisted of pre-recorded short segments of his greatest hits - "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough," "The Way You Make Me Feel," "Scream," "Thriller," "Beat It," "Black of White," - the last of these with an instrumental solo from Guns 'n' Roses guitarist Slash. Jackson did not sing live, but lip-synched extracts from the songs. During Slash's extended solo, Jackson left the stage to re-appear in a costume very similar to that worn during the Motown 25 performance of 12 years earlier. The bricolage continued with "Billie Jean," during which Jackson literally repeated his Motown 25 performance; this time, however, the lyrics were kept to a minimum, as he performed the moonwalk to the song's backbeat. With this performance, Michael Jackson had come full circle. He no longer performed a song, but instead gave a visual representation of his earlier - now epochal - Motown 25 performance, providing a visual image that referred back to his star image of the early 1980s. The 1995 MTV Awards performance turned out to be the Motown 25 performance in the extreme - a distilled version, reduced to its basic, visual elements: the sequined black jacket, the black hat, and, most importantly, the moonwalk. Only the single white sequinned glove was missing. As the performance made clear, Michael Jackson had become a postmodernist sign, a visual representation, far removed from "live" musical performance, that reiterated and reinforced the shift towards the dominance of the visual presaged by his Motown 25 performance of 1983.

(from my essay "Michael Jackson: Motown 25," in Performance and Popular Music: History, Place and Time, edited by Ian Inglis, Ashgate 2006, pp. 119-127)

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