Back in December 2010, the first posthumous album featuring all new Michael Jackson songs was released. The album, named simply Michael, fit quite seamlessly with the narrative associated with the last months of his life: wanting to make a comeback, Michael was planning his “This is It” series of concerts, which was to be one of the most spectacular concert experiences to date. Not only would it be the culmination of his 40 year long career, this concert was to be the first his children were old enough to see him perform live.
On 16 June 2011, a second posthumous Michael Jackson video clip was released. “Behind the Mask” features contributions from 1,600 fans living around the world, collected in the span of a couple of months and put together in this montage of a video clip.
Typically, Michael Jackson productions are polished to a full blinding shine worthy of the artist who changed the music video landscape and, consequently, the music industry. And so, the simplicity of the video to the song “Behind the Mask” comes as a bit of a shocking yet rather refreshing contrast. Of all the official, marketed tributes paid to the late Michael Jackson, this one is by far the best. Stripped of the gloss and venure of professional video clips, filled with the sequins, glitter, gloves and fedoras that will be for a very long time associated with him, and ending with exclamations of “We love you, Michael”, this video seems to capture a sense of fun and – dare I say – innocence that seemed lacking in the entertainer’s life.
While it might seem a little disappointing to those who were hoping for something a little more glamorous, it is, in my opinion, not only a tribute to Michael Jackson, but also one to all the fans he managed to bring together and who supported him throughout his career. Also thrilling for me (pun totally intended) is that one of my friends made it in the video not once, not twice, but thrice (congratulations again, Pedram!). It makes Michael Jackson’s music all the more “approachable”.
The lyrics of the song come in sharp contrast to the clip; Michael sings about the betrayal of a woman, “a phony girl” who “sit(s) behind the mask” and who “control(s) the world”. This contrast could have been purposefully created by producers of the video; if reports are to be believed, Michael Jackson was surrounded by phony people who were only looking to advance their own agenda. Perhaps if he had been able to see behind their mask early on in his lifetime, things would have been very different.
This video relates beautifully to the previously released posthumous Michael Jackson video. The clip to “Hollywood Tonight” is the story of a talented young girl who comes to Hollywood to make her dreams of fame come true, only to face the usual difficulties associated with the pursuit of fame, including the unfortunate fall from grace. Throughout the entire clip, the young woman draws strength from the memory of her idol – Michael Jackson.
Ultimately, taken together, these three aspects – the video itself, the lyrics and the video to “Hollwood Tonight” – tell a specific story: behind the public mask of the performer are his fans. It makes the posthumous narrative behind these videos one of empowerment, that it really is up to us fans to change the landscape of the music industry.
Thankfully, the public’s appetite for all things Michael Jackson will not be whetted anytime soon; and so, I’m fairly certain there are going to be many more posthumous productions that will be released in the upcoming years. I do hope that a constant reflection on the way Michael Jackson arrived at his untimely demise will create an environment that will receive these creations as an appreciation for art rather than fuel for the same gossip and tabloid junk that have ruined so many artists’ careers.