Saturday, August 8, 2009

Michael Jackson and the 'Child Star' Phenomenon

You know, as amazing as Michael Jackson’s death-inspired takeover of the internet was, a certain context needs to be presented. People were meant to be viewing Michael Jackson videos on YouTube in record numbers, but a quick look at his YouTube page shows few records being broken. “Thriller” has some 50 million hits, but that’s small potatoes compared to Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend” or some guy dancing for six minutes… each of which have two and a half times as many views. Hell, Connie Talbot has about as many views as “Thriller”.

Connie who? Well, it’s of no real significance, but she’s a ‘child singer’ who came to fame on one of the one million Simon Fuller talent shows currently out there. She does have an amazing voice. Ultimately, she winds up being that rare thing for a child star: someone who sings ‘well’, as opposed to ‘well for someone her age’. This is a point made by one of the jurors on a few occasions in commenting on her performances. She sings songs made famous by other child stars: “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” by Judy Garland and, of course, the love song to a rat, “Ben” by Michael Jackson.

While she sings “Ben” very well, it goes without saying that Michael Jackson wipes the floor with her.

Which raises an interesting, and often forgotten, point: it’s well known that Michael Jackson was a child star who became a magnificent adult performer. It’s often forgotten, though, that he was a magnificent child star too. Giving points for ‘cuteness’, we tend to be uncritical of child performers. But Michael Jackson really does stand up to the harshest criticism, going back all the way to his earliest performances. The energy he brought to uptempo tunes, the sincerity he brought to ballads… I have no idea how a child could sing the very adult words of “I’ll Be There” with such sincerity or ride the dramatic ebb-and-flow of “Never Can Say Goodbye” more convincingly than the adults who later covered it. It’s one of those things that defy analysis: whatever ‘it’ is that makes Michael Jackson Michael Jackson, he had it all the way back in the late sixties, when he stood barely any taller than Connie Talbot does today.

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