I really don't have much to say about Michael Jackson. I never owned a copy of Thriller, I think "Smooth Criminal" was the last song of his I liked and even then it was the kind of thing where I'd see the video as I flipped past MTV and say to myself, "Oh yeah, that's not bad," but never even consider actually watching/listening all the way through. I'm always deeply suspicious of the idea that any pop cultural figure is universal or a symbol of anything; sure, 65 million people (or whatever estimate you want to believe) bought Thriller, but that's out of a planet with billions of people on it. No matter how famous you are, somebody's never heard of you. And what did Michael Jackson's music mean? His songs covered standard pop and R&B territory, lyrically speaking; he sang about love, and sex, and dancing, and sometimes he sang those slightly off-putting, gooey charity anthems. I find his most paranoid stuff, songs like "D.S." and "Privacy," somewhat fascinating - but not in a music-I'd-like-to-listen-to-for-pleasure way. As uncharitable as it may seem, what I think of when I think about Michael Jackson is this: Here is someone who proved how high a black man can climb in America, as long as he's an astonishingly talented dancer and willing to (at least publicly) give up being black, or a man.
Actually, I retract that last part: that may well be how Michael Jackson himself saw his situation, but it seems clear that the American public liked him better when he was black. As he got weirder and whiter, his sales dropped.
Read John McWhorter.
Then watch this.