The title could easily go to Bono who, along with U2, has recently produced “critically acclaimed” music that I, as well as others, believe most other bands would be kicked off of their labels for making. Then there are the Rolling Stones, a group many say should have quit a long time ago (they're wrong!). Bruce Springsteen is another candidate to some, while Tom Petty is easily overrated to others. There are some who even think the Beatles are overrated.
As much as some may dislike one or all of these acts, they do something that the self proclaimed “King of Pop” has never done: play an instrument live in concert! I would also bet that if these acts were left alone in the studio with no outside help, they would come up with something. What they come up with may not be impressive, but they certainly wouldn’t be lost like Michael Jackson, the act who is falsely described by many critics and fans as a “musical genius.”
Don’t get me wrong. Michael Jackson was (and stress the word) a very talented guy (or is it girl these days?): he hit convincing high notes; his dancing skills were quite impressive; and he had (and stress that word) a career that very few can ever dream of. But he is far from being a musical genius and to call him one insults true musical geniuses such as Prince, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, or Kurt Cobain.
You may argue that the fact Thriller is the biggest selling album of all time certainly puts Michael Jackson into the genius category. Tell that to Quincy Jones, the actual main producer of the album. Michael Jackson did take part in writing and co-producing many of the songs (He wrote the cheesy “The Girl is Mine” all by himself), but anybody who is familiar with other works by Quincy Jones can sense that he, not Michael, is the true genius behind this album.
Michael certainly gets credit for his contributions and great singing. Thriller, as well as Michael Jackson's previous efforts, definitely make him a groundbreaking artist who paved the way for other African American performers, especially on MTV. Still, it does not make him a musical genius.
Michael teamed up with Quincy Jones in 1987 for the album Bad, which pretty much describes most of the music on this highly overrated piece. My opinion aside, this album still did amazingly well worldwide, although it didn't live up to the success of Thriller. Around this time, Michael was still a hot pop commodity, but he started becoming a parody of himself: his songs sounded like clichés of older hits; his dancing became repetitive; he started grabbing his crotch constantly and he looked like a white female in the making. Still, his Bad tour proved that he was still an excellent entertainer. Michael Jackson danced up a storm, brought audiences to their feet, and sold out show after show. Still, this wasn’t the work of a “musical genius.” If one wanted to see one, they should have checked out Prince’s Lovesexy tour around the same time.
By the time Dangerous was released, Michael Jackson had become a musical joke, but not enough of one to put a huge red stamp on a long lasting career, which his child molestation allegations eventually did. A musical genius does not need to title himself “King of Pop,” a title Michael told radio stations and MTV they must use in order to have access to his work. A musical genius also does not write and produce sappy songs such as “Heal The World,” a song a first grader could have written.
The HIStory album came out after Michael paid his way out of child molestation allegations. Despite a nazi-like promotional campaign that put the most shameful musical acts to shame, the album didn't live up to expectations in the United States, selling 2.5 million copies to date (but somehow over-shipped by a million and certified 7X platinum) and was considered a major disappointment due to the incredible pre-hype buzz. The album has done much better outside of the USA.
In 2001, Michael Jackson unleashed one of the poorest received albums of all time, Invincible. It has been certified double platinum in the United States, although the exact number sold wasn't available as of this article submission. Considering the album cost 30 million to make, those numbers were considered a huge disappointment. To kick off the album, Michael created a concert dedication to himself by relying on other artists, such as Eminem, Whitney Houston, and Marc Anthony to help create sparks.
The television special did create high ratings but created joke material for critics in months to come. One would think that a true “musical genius” could create sparks himself rather than rely on other talents. Even more questionable to Michael Jackson’s “musical genius” status was the fact that the Invincible album mostly relied on other talents such as Carlos Santana, Brandy, Rodney Jerkins, Teddy Riley, and many others to create sparks, which ended up actually being water droplets on this poorly received mess. Michael desperately pulled the race card to denounce the head of Sony for not marketing the album correctly.
When I see Michael Jackson play a musical instrument live in concert, I may be more prone to believe he is a musical genius. When Michael Jackson writes and produces an album alone, he would be even more convincing. When Michael Jackson can release a hit album that relies on artistic merit rather than one that relies on ridiculous hype, I'll never question Michael’s musical abilities again. But I’ll give Michael Jackson credit: he was once the best entertainer of our generation.
Still, he never was, or will likely never be, a “musical genius.”