An Interview with Zack O’Malley Greenburg

Abstract: This interview is part of our ongoing coverage of unique and dynamic authors who  have written compelling monographs about Michael Jackson. In it, Zack O’Malley Greenburg, author of Michael Jackson, Inc., discusses his process and his research on Michael Jackson, business and posthumous reception.


Greenburg, Zack O’Malley. “An Interview with Zack O’Malley Greenburg.” Interview, The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 2, no. 2 (2016). Published electronically 21/04/16.

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An Interview with Author, Zack O’Malley Greenburg by The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies

1) In just a single sentence, what does Michael Jackson mean to you?
He’s the world’s greatest entertainer, dead or alive.


2) Can you tell us a little bit about yourself as a senior editor of Forbes? Your background?
I’ve been at Forbes for about a decade, starting out as an intern and working my way to senior editor of media & entertainment. My coverage of the music business led to my first book, the Jay Z biography Empire State of Mind, and then my second, Michael Jackson, Inc.

3) When you started writing Michael Jackson Inc. did you have any misgivings about the process?
For sure — writing a book is always difficult, but the task of writing about someone no longer alive is even trickier. I also thought a lot about how I’d handle some of the contradictions he embodies, particularly with this being a business book. For example: how someone so brilliant, both musically and from a business perspective, could end up in the financial situation he did; and how I could accurately tell the whole story of his life without undermining the shrewdness of his best business moves.

4) If you had the chance to meet and talk to Michael Jackson what three questions would you ask him?

1. What was the best deal you ever made?
2. What was the one deal you wish you could take back?
3. What stopped you from touring more in the later part of your career?

5) How and why did you decide to become an author/editor?
The short version: My parents are writers, and after spending much of my youth trying to find other things I’d rather do, I couldn’t come up with anything I loved more.

6) What do you think the legacy of Michael Jackson’s art is?
I think he elevated the artistry and impact of pop music to new heights, and also served to break down artistic and racial barriers in the mediums of radio and video, paving the way for the culturally diverse modern day pop scene.

7) Who are your biggest artistic, literary and musical inspirations?MJ Inc
I’ve always admired the work of Jackson and Jay Z; it would have been hard to spend so much time thinking and writing about them otherwise. Nirvana, Pearl Jam and 1990s hip-hop first hooked me on music. These days, I think Kanye West has taken over the mantle of boundary-pushing rock star; I have so much respect for his work, though I think he often gets in his own way. As for literary inspirations, I’d point to Michael Lewis — I’ve always admired how he tells potentially-dry nonfiction stories with cinematic prose and scope.

8) To you, what is the relationship between music and academia?
I think it’s another valid area of study, just like any other field of art. To me, music is a fine art, no matter what anyone else says.

9) Are you planning to write further on Michael Jackson, or are there other artists/writers you have your eye on for future publications?
I don’t anticipate writing another book, but I’m sure I’ll write more about him for Forbes as time goes on.

10) What advice do you have for those wishing to study Michael Jackson’s influence from a business perspective, like you did?
Buckle up! It’s a wild ride. And get ready to argue with a lot of people who won’t believe it when you tell them–in person or in prose–that MJ was a brilliant businessman.

11) Your book was mentioned in various media outlets, as well on air as in print, called as one of “the hottest titles this season,” how did you feel about that?
Honored. It’s an amazing feeling to spend two years of your life working on something, and to have that effort validated by smart people who don’t even know you.

12) Do you think there is a place for Michael Jackson in schools and universities, and if yes, what do you think that place is?
For sure. His life and career are a fascinating lens through which to view the evolution of music, business, film, television, racism and all sorts of other significant topics over the past half-century.

13) What are your feelings about the attempt to appropriate Jackson into academic circles now?
He’s an historic figure, one who’s certainly worthy of academic study.

Thank-you, Zack for taking the time to talk to us.

Zack O’Malley Greenburg is the senior editor of Media & Entertainment at Forbes and author of ‘Michael Jackson, Inc.‘ (2014) and ‘Empire State of Mind‘ (2012). In a decade at Forbes, Zack has investigated topics from pension fund scandals to Katy Perry’s touring business to Wu-Tang Clan’s secret album. He has served as an expert source for the BBC, NPR, MTV, NY Times and 60 Minutes, and as a speaker at SXSW, TEDx, Georgetown, Harvard and Yale. Find out more about Zack here.

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