Michael Jackson in the 1980s
Before Michael Jackson’s explosive solo career, he was a prominent member and lead singer in the ultra-popular group, The Jackson 5. Michael was born in Gary, Indiana on August 29, 1958, as the seventh of nine children, and quickly became one of the most well-known and celebrated performers of the 20th century. The Jackson 5 succeeded largely because of Michael’s overwhelming charisma and talent, which brought them attention from people of all ages and races.
The Jackson 5 had a string of singles that hit #1 on the charts while they were with Motown Records, but chose to move to a division of CBS Records because of a sense of creative restriction and stagnation. After they made the move, they had to shorten their name to The Jacksons to avoid legal issues. From 1975 to 1984, Michael Jackson was the songwriter for the group, as well as maintaining his role as a lead singer. However, Michael had further ambitions as a solo artist.
In many ways, the 1980s were the highlight and pinnacle of Michael Jackson’s fame and success. His major breakthrough as a solo artist came from his release of album Off The Wall, co-produced by the legendary Quincy Jones. The album was released in 1979, and it served as the catalyst for a thriving solo career for Michael, proving to the world that he could make it even without his fellow Jacksons. The album spawned four US top hits on the charts, a first for any US album, and won Michael Jackson three Billboard Music Awards: Top Black Artist, Top Black Album, and Best Male R&B Vocal Performance.
In 1980, Michael Jackson achieved another notable success when he secured a royalty rate of 37% of the album profits. Despite the massive, record-breaking commercial success of Off The Wall and the staggering fortune it earned him, Jackson wasn’t satisfied with the performance and became determined to top it. As a result, when Epic Records released the album Thriller in 1982, he achieved a level of superstardom that catapulted him above even the Beatles and Elvis Presley as a household name.
Though Thriller was a landmark album for Michael Jackson and his career, it also had a resounding impact on music and the United States. Thriller had seven hits in the Billboard Top 10, made music videos a viable art form instead of a promotional stunt, and shattered preconceived notions of what an album should be. Michael Jackson, even more than before, became a household name and a popular icon. Another consequence of Thriller was the way it brought MTV into the forefront of popular culture, in a symbiotic relationship where MTV also played the Thriller music video and popularized Michael Jackson’s album.
In 1983, on a TV special––Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever––Michael Jackson debuted his iconic dance move, the moonwalk. Unlike anything that had ever been seen before, the moonwalk was a dance move that solidified Michael as a pop culture legend. It also epitomized the extent to which Michael would drive himself to succeed. He painstakingly practiced all of his dances and songs until he could not think of any other way to improve upon them.
During the 1980s, Michael Jackson donated substantial amounts to various charities and showed a commitment to helping others. When a Pepsi commercial landed him in a local hospital because of a pyrotechnic accident, the $1.5 million settlement he earned from PepsiCo was given to the hospital. After the Victory Tour in 1984, he donated his $5 million share to charities. Throughout the remainder of his life, Michael Jackson was a dedicated and generous philanthropist. One other significant instance of charity was his work on the charity single “We Are the World,” which he co-wrote with Lionel Richie, and sent relief to poor in Africa and the United States.
A relationship with Beatles star Paul McCartney began to blossom, as McCartney had collaborated with Michael Jackson on his album Off The Wall, and Michael had worked with Paul McCartney on the hit singles “The Girl is Mine” and “Say Say Say.” It is from Paul McCartney that Michael Jackson learned that he could make money in business as a buyer, seller, and distributor of publishing rights to music from various musical artists. This came back to haunt McCartney when much of his own catalogue went on sale and Jackson scooped up the rights for $47.5 million.
The 1980s was also a decade of scandal for Michael Jackson. Confronted with extraordinary fame, he was under a great deal of pressure by the media. One of the biggest sources of controversy was that of his physical appearance. While he had been fairly dark skinned in 1983, his skin began to lighten very rapidly. In addition to a change in his skin color, his facial features were changing at an astonishing rate.
More than anything, it was Michael Jackson’s nose that surprised people. He broke his nose in a dance rehearsal for Off The wall in 1979 and had to undergo rhinoplasty, but it wasn’t a total success. It was revealed that Joe Jackson, Michael’s father, had chastised his son’s appearance, particularly his nose, so the evolving nose might be related in part to Michael’s desire to find his ideal look. Subsequent rhinoplasties caused his nose to have an unnatural appearance.
But the plastic surgery didn’t stop with the nose. He also added a cleft to his chin and changed his forehead, cheeks, and lips. His hairstyle changed, and on top of this, his strict vegetarian diet and constant exercise left him very thin. It is possible that his facial changes were partly due to anorexia nervosa or some kind of extreme weight loss, as he hoped to achieve a dancer’s body. Other scandals included Bubbles the Chimpanzee, the hyperbaric oxygen chamber, and his purchase of the Neverland Ranch in 1988.
Despite the scandals, he achieved continued success with the release of Bad in 1987. Michael Jackson’s rights business, record sales, and merchandising made him excessive amounts of money, making the 1980s truly the apex of his career.