The interest surrounding Michael Jackson’s death is hardly surprising. Neither is the almost immediate backlash. Some people had very strong, negative views on Jackson, only equalled by those that obsessively adore him. Either way, the whole feeling surrounding his death was a weird and fascinating one. Equally, it’s no surprise that the TV wants to jump all over the bandwagon and ride this emotion by showing Michael Jackson Memorial: Live from LA (BBC Two, Tuesday, 7 July, 6pm). Of course, any tribute to Michael Jackson was going to be as over the top and gaudy as the way he lived his life…
The live coverage, displayed like a royal death, featured the very dubious talents of Trevor Nelson and Paul Gambuccini on narration duties. In fairness, we’d probably be up-in-arms if Huw Edwards took the gig, demanding that he go and cover some proper news or something. Naturally, getting someone who isn’t used to a gig like this was always going to produce some toe-curling moments.
Trevor Nelson quipped, as the body was brought on stage: “This will be the last reunion of the Jackson 5.” Gambo, meanwhile, sounded almost pleased at the whole spectacle. Of course, you didn’t want him to start wailing and bawling like a baby about how dreadful it all was… but there was a definite skip in his voice and a slight sneer every time he spoke. It made a strange spectacle all the more surreal.
Perhaps fittingly, the whole thing looked like a gig… like a stadium show. Huge drum rigs decked out in flowers and artists coming in to sing tributes to Jackson. Lionel Richie came on and did some gospel, which made sense. Mariah Carey couldn’t help herself from doing vocal gymnastics through ‘I’ll Be There’, which seemed tacky.
In fact, the whole thing felt a bit tacky. The Jackson Brothers all sat in a row with sequinned gloves on, singing along to the songs… which seemed a bit weird. Like they were enjoying a birthday party, rather than the death of their brother. Berry Gordy appeared to make a very convincing argument for why Motown records was so cool… then remembering to add something about Michael who he claimed was “simply, the greatest entertainer who ever lived”. Puff Daddy meanwhile, Tweeted: “I’m at the memorial. RIP Michael Jackson..” Nice to know it’s alright to Tweet during a funeral service.
Stevie Wonder’s tribute was as touching as it gets, who looked physically shaken by the whole thing. Maybe he was more sympathetic to the weirdness of Jackson’s life, being one of Motown’s child-stars? Either way, of all the performances during this strange spectacle, Stevie kept it pretty simple and, as such, seemed one of the only people there to actually feel for the moment. Smokey Robinson at least celebrated Jackson’s life and brought some cheer without too much hyperbole.
Maybe it’s because we’re used to stuffy, regal affairs that this service seemed so odd to me. I know there’s a grieving family and millions of grieving fans, but I couldn’t quite get over the way the whole thing seemed to be an advertisement for those that appeared while Jackson’s body lay in a silver coffin yards away.
As each participant in turn extolled the notion that Michael Jackson was the first famous black person, in turn, they seemed to forget that Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald existed at all. Rev. Al Sharpton’s stint, although impassioned, seemed to suggest that Michael Jackson invented love itself. Gambuccini of course, was on hand to say “what a thumpin’ speech!”
Naturally, this being Michael Jackson, it was never, ever going to be a normal affair. It was always going to be one of the most mental things ever aired on TV. Seeing Brooke Shields having something of breakdown is never going to be pleasant viewing. That’s not even mentioning the elephant in the room. Effectively the court cases. It was mentioned… but maybe the less said about that the better right now.
However, to dismiss all this on grounds of taste would be churlish. How anyone could fail to be fascinated by the death of one of the most famous people who ever walked the earth? As tributes go, this was one of the biggest I’ve ever seen. It’s probably the biggest memorial service I’ll ever witness. Fact remains though… it was incredibly strange in places and not comfortable to watch. Having Jackson’s children on-stage, performing in front of the casket was a pleasant way to close.
Was it a fitting tribute? I’ll hand that decision over to you…