The King and Queen of Pop

Last week’s episode of Glee and the Superbowl halftime show have me thinking about the roles Michael Jackson and Madonna have played in my life.

Michael

I remember my first time with Michael. My brother’s best friend introduced us to him circa 1983, via the video for Billie Jean. I thought the lyrics were, “Billie Jean is at my door.” We had the Thriller album on vinyl and I stared dreamily at his picture. I was eight. My brother and I eagerly awaited the premiere of the video for Thriller and then couldn’t watch the whole thing because it was too scary.

I couldn’t connect with his earlier album, Off the Wall, not until much later.

I remember Bad, but then for a stretch it wasn’t cool to love MJ, even before the child molestation charges. Let me add, too, that I don’t think Michael was a pedophile. I think he was deeply disturbed, a child himself. And parents should not have their children spend the night at his house.

I was on a plane to Southeast Asia when Michael died. I learned about it during my layover at Narita. Interestingly, the Americans I encountered during that trip all pretty much took the attitude, Oh yeah, Michael Jackson, that child molester. But the Europeans fairly universally thought of him as the legendary artist that he was.

Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough became an anthem for me after college, when it was used for the warm up in a hip-hop dance aerobics class I took on Monday nights. The opening music still makes me want to party.

So, even though I forsook him for a number of years, I look back on MJ’s career with admiration and affection. I loved the Glee episode featuring his music, most especially the video for Scream. At first, I thought it was practically a shot by shot remake. I didn’t realize the choreography was new, and I thought, man, this just shows what good dancers Michael and Janet were/are because I never realized how awesome this video was. But then I rewatched the original, and dammit if I don’t think the Glee video is better!

Madonna

I don’t have as precise a memory of my first exposure to Madonna. I think it was probably the Borderline video, around 1984. That was also the year lots of nine-year-olds like me learned what virgin was. I didn’t know who Marilyn Monroe was before I saw the video for Material Girl. I walked out of Desperately Seeking Susan desperately wanting a really cool jacket with a pyramid eye on the back. Friends of mine had Madonna lookalikes at their birthday parties. I became penpals with one. Her name was Denise.

Like MJ, Madonna was uncool in my circle for a few years, until I met a girl in 1990 who unapologetically worshipped her. That was during the Vogue/pointy boob/Dick Tracy era, and I had to admit, there was nothing uncool about her.

I’ll admit, I haven’t really paid that much attention to Madonna in recent years, since her arms became all scarily muscular. But I do enjoy her songs when I hear them, and I still admire her.

The only part of the Superbowl that interested me was her performance during the halftime show, and she rocked it.

I never saw Michael Jackson in concert, and I regret it. Maybe I need to get tickets to Madonna’s upcoming tour.

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