The Lasting Influence of Michael Jackson on Contemporary Art

The music of Michael Jackson has brought a lot of joy to many people over the years. However, it is perhaps surprising to see that the late singer’s influence is carrying on strongly in the world of contemporary art as well as in music. An example of this comes with the Michael Jackson: On the Wall exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London. 48 artists are represented here in an event that will run to October 21, 2018. What does this exhibition show us about how the King of Pop has influenced artists?

What Art is on Show?

The art exhibition in London covers artists ranging from Andy Warhol to Keith Faring, David LaChapelle, Dara Birnbaum, and Faith Ringgold. Each artist shows in their own way what this iconic singer still means to us and them. Among the most eye-catching pieces is a film by South African artist Candice Breitz, showing 16 fans of the singer re-enacting the entire Thriller album acapella. In another piece, Catherine Opie displays Elizabeth Taylor’s bedside table with photos of the two stars together.

Overall, the art on show here gives us another tantalizing glimpse at the man whose stunning list of achievements makes for impressive reading. Ten US platinum singles, 29 top ten hits on the Billboard Hot 10, 13 number singles on Billboard’s Hot 100, and over 65 million copies of Thriller sold are some of his most incredible statistics. Yet, the immense amount of art dedicated to Jackson perhaps only serves to confuse us even more about who this legendary entertainer really was. Perhaps by looking deeper into his legacy, we can begin to appreciate why he still holds such an intense appeal for artists, musicians, and the public.

Who Else Has Michael Jackson Influenced?

Many artists from a whole lot of different mediums have cited Jackson as an influence. When it comes to musicians, this selection of videos from iHeart Radio shows the likes of Usher, Jason Timberlake, and Justin Bieber all paying tribute to the singer. It is clear that his musical influence is extensive. This Rolling Stone article takes a fascinating look at the way that musicians as diverse as Kanye West, Beyoncé, Lionel Richie and Whitney Houston all took inspiration from the man whose first hit came in 1970 and his latest in 2014.

In 2014, five years after his death, Beyoncé said on her own blog that Michael taught her, “If you feel silly, you have to go from the gut, just let it go”. Whitney Houston called him “the greatest entertainer I’d ever seen in my life”, and many other singers have spoken of how they looked up to him. Even some unexpected artists have praised Jackson, with Liam Gallagher calling him a “genius” back in 2009. Marilyn Manson was in the news in 2016 for offering to help out his daughter, Paris, and has also said that the two of them have a lot in common.

Bat for Lashes – real name Natasha Khan – is often compared to Tori Amos. However, she has said that she is far more influenced by Jackson, whom she saw in concert in London during the Bad tour when she was nine. Away from music, that exhibition in London brings together a small amount of the massive quantity of art inspired by Jackson. A quick search online for Michael Jackson art brings back an incredible amount of portraits, photos, etchings, collages, and much more.

His influence also extends to areas such as dance and fashion. Among the items that show how his presence is still felt in the fashion world are his moto jacket from 1987’s Bad video, heavily embellished clothes, and the fedora that he famously wore for Smooth Criminal in 1988. In term of dance, Michael’s inventive repertoire included the famous moonwalk but there was so much to it than that. His incredible moves in videos such as Thriller, Billie Jean, and Smooth Criminal have influenced a range of dancers and choreographers around the planet.

How His Merchandise Is Still Sought After

The immense, continuing popularity of Michael Jackson merchandise shows us how strong his legacy remains. Among the most sought-after items are clothes for sale on Amazon, such as, caps, t-shirts and jackets celebrating his life. Many fans also look for other types of merchandise. This is why there is a huge range of books, DVDs, artwork, clocks, and so much more. It is possible to decorate an entire home with Jackson memorabilia.

Video games based on the King of Pop are also hugely popular these days. The Michael Jackson slot machine is a clear example of the current links between pop culture and gaming that is explained on the Betway blog. Even as far back as 1989, the singer featured in a PC game called Moonwalker, from developer US Gold. Since then, his music and his image have appeared on numerous video games such as Michael Jackson: The Experience from 2010 and his cameo on Space Channel 5.

Of course, the singer’s most valuable legacy is his rich, varied collection of music. His records continue to sell strongly, with special editions especially popular. There is a debate about how many records he has actually sold but whether it is the reported 750 million or not, the number continues to grow.

How Long Will This Influence Last For?

The fact that Jackson was so familiar to us yet so mysterious and distant ensures that he retains a unique appeal. As we approach the tenth anniversary of his untimely death, there are no signs of his powerful, diverse influence lessening. Indeed, it could be that over time the full impact of Michael Jackson on so many different areas of life and art becomes even clearer.

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