“Leave me alone, I need my privacy” – An Analysis of Michael Jackson’s ‘Media-Critical’ Songs

Abstract: With the release of Off The Wall and Thriller, the best-selling album in the entire history of music, Michael Jackson made history as the most successful entertainer of all time. MJ broke record after record and achieved worldwide fame that has been unparalleled so far. Nevertheless, for a long time, Michael Jacksons creative works have been dismissed by critics and academics alike, mainly due to Jacksons negative public image as constructed by the media. A great number of scandals, such as the child molestation allegations of the Chandlers in 1993 or the Arvizos in 2003, eclipsed his artistry and initiated his professional decline. Since his death in 2009, however, the significance of the King of Pops music, dance and videos has slowly been acknowledged. This thesis examines Michael Jacksons counterattack against the destructive speculations and rumors of the media by way of his music. It scrutinizes the lyrics of five of his ‘media-critical songs, namely “Leave Me Alone”, “Why You Wanna Trip On Me”, “Scream”, “Tabloid Junkie” and “Privacy”. In the analyses of these highly autobiographical songs, the focus is always on the respective songs speaker. An examination of the communicative situation, the rhyme scheme, rhetorical devices and musical aspects of the five songs reveals how the (still fictive or fictionalized) speaker progresses from a powerless victim power position in “Leave Me Alone” to a more or less self-empowered being in “Privacy”. This, in turn, potentially gives us interesting insights into Jacksons state of mind over the years with regard to his relationship with the media. Prior to the analytical part, biographical information provides the reader with crucial knowledge about Michael Jacksons rise as a pop artist and his gradual fall because of the constant, biased and sensational media reports. This biographical information is required in order to fully understand the meaning of Jacksons ‘media-critical songs.


Andreas Ardanic has completed a master’s degree in English and French language teaching at the University of Graz in Austria and is currently in his teacher training year. In the course of his studies, he became extremely interested in Literary Studies and dealt with various forms of anglophone and francophone literature. He has also been a hobby guitarist and songwriter as well as an avid explorer of music for over ten years now.


REFERENCE AS:

Ardanic, Andreas. ‘“Leave me alone, I need my privacy” – An Analysis of Michael Jackson’s ‘Media-Critical’ Songs.’ The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 5, no. 1 (2017). http://michaeljacksonstudies.org/privacy/.


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“Leave me alone, I need my privacy” – An Analysis of Michael Jackson’s ‘Media-Critical’ Songs
By Andreas Ardanic

A diploma thesis submitted for the degree of Master of Arts
At the Karl-Franzens University of Graz
Presented to the Department of English Studies
Supervisor: Ao. Univ.-Prof. Mag. Dr. phil. Hugo Keipe
Graz, 2017 © Andreas Ardanic


Table of contents

1. Introduction.

2. The Life of the King of Pop.

2.1 “Have you seen my Childhood?”.

2.2 The Jackson 5 at Motown Records. 2.3 A New Start.

2.4 MJ Going Solo.

2.5 Thriller.

2.6 Michael Jackson Goes Bad… and Dangerous.

2.7 The Gradual Decline of the King of Pop.

3. The Media vs. Michael Jackson.

3.1 A New Image.

3.2 The Creation of “Wacko Jacko”.

3.3 “Peter Pan or Pervert?”.

3.4 Living with Michael Jackson.

3.5 People v. Jackson.

4. Michael Jackson vs. the Media.

4.1 “Leave Me Alone”.

4.1.1 Bad.

4.1.2 “Just stop doggin’ me around”.

4.1.3 Music, rhyme scheme and rhetorical devices.

4.2 “Why You Wanna Trip On Me”.

4.2.1 Dangerous.

4.2.2 “Stop trippin’”.

4.2.3 Music, rhyme scheme and rhetorical devices.

4.3 “Scream”.

4.3.1 HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I.

4.3.2 “Stop pressurin’ me”.

4.3.3 Samples, rhyme scheme and rhetorical devices.

4.4 “Tabloid Junkie”.

4.4.1 “You’re so damn disrespectable”.

4.4.2 Samples, rhyme scheme and rhetorical devices.

4.5 “Privacy”.

4.5.1 Invincible.

4.5.2 “So paparazzi, get away from me”.

4.5.3 Rhyme scheme, rhetorical devices and ad-libs.

5. Conclusion.

6. Works Cited.

7. Appendix: Lyrics.

1. Introduction

Imagine a young African-American man with a Jheri curl in a “red leather jacket with up-turned shoulders, outlining the letter V in black on the front and back” combined with cigarette pants of the same color. Imagine the man in a military jacket with wide epaulets, pants that end just above the ankles and that reveal white glittering socks, black penny loafers, and a single white glove covered with thousands of rhinestones. Imagine the man in a white suit with a blue armband, a blue shirt, a “skinny tie”, a white fedora, and white tape on his fingertips (Fernandes 2011, online). Imagine him with long black hair, his face concealed by a surgical mask and dark aviator glasses. Whom do you see? Add to these motionless visions the robot dance, a crotch grab, a kick, several glides and spins, a toe stand, the anti-gravity lean, and last but not least the moonwalk (cf. Baila 2016, online). Of course, it becomes clear that we are talking about the world’s biggest star, artist and entertainer: the King of Pop, MJ, or Michael Joseph Jackson (cf. Taraborrelli 2010: 711).

 

In 1999, Jochen Ebmeier wrote in Michael Jackson: Das Phänomen[1] that American sociologists had found out that over 90% of all humans knew who Michael Jackson was, making him the most famous person who had ever lived (cf. 1999: 122). Even today, more than seven years after Jackson’s passing, children still start dancing excitedly when hearing the intro of “Billie Jean” or singing along to the lyrics of “Beat It” when the chorus begins. Today’s children still know Michael Jackson as well as his iconic signature moves and poses, and have fun imitating them (cf. Fine Brothers Entertainment 2016, online). This is how timeless Michael Jackson’s legacy – his music, lyrics, dancing and videos – is.

 

On the one hand, many people remember and admire Michael Jackson for his works. They remember the beginnings of The Jackson 5 at the Chitlin’ Circuit and at Motown Records in the 70s; the start of Michael’s successful solo career with the release of Off The Wall in 1979; the coronation of the King of Pop with the release of Thriller in 1982, the best-selling album in the history of music with 110 million estimated sold copies and a “mass-cultural, multimedia phenomenon that hasn’t been matched in scope before or since” (Vogel 2011: 55); the excitement of the releases of Bad in 1987 and Dangerous in 1991; the controversy of the double album HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I in 1995; the discovery of Blood on the Dance Floor: History in the Mix, an album whose release in 1997 went virtually unnoticed (cf. Vogel 2011: 207); the long wait for Jackson’s ultimate album Invincible, released in 2001; the anticipation of MJ’s comeback and final This Is It tour in 2009; the shock and grief about Jackson’s death at the age of 50 in June 2009.

 

On the other hand, numerous people have forgotten about Jackson’s contribution to music and only remember his bizarre, freaky image perpetuated by the media. In fact, David Yuan writes in his essay titled “The Celebrity Freak: Michael Jackson’s ‘Grotesque Glory’” that “Jackson has been more famous for his freakishness than for his talent as a singer, songwriter, and dancer.” (1996: 368) Who does not remember the discussions about Jackson’s plastic surgeries? The outcry caused by his crotch grabbing? The controversy over the video for the song “Black or White” or the lyrics of “They Don’t Care About Us”? The discussions about his pet chimp Bubbles and his pet llama Louis? His sexuality? His whitening skin? His soft speaking voice rumored to be chemically altered? His interest in the Elephant Man? Him sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber in a quest for eternal youth? His Neverland Ranch being a paradise for children? Him dangling his baby Blanket over a balcony in Germany? The child molestation accusations by Evan Chandler and his son Jordie Chandler in 1993? The several million dollar settlement to settle the civil suit out of court? The sexual abuse accusations by the Arvizo family and the following People v. Jackson trial in 2005? All these rumors and alleged scandals damaged MJ’s reputation considerably and overshadowed the fact that his “contributions to American music have been genuinely important” (ibid.). However, the King of Pop did not just silently endure his name being dragged through the mud – he fought back against the tabloid press in the form of his music.

 

This thesis will examine how Michael Jackson fought back against the media by taking a look at five ‘media-critical’ songs, namely “Leave Me Alone” off the album Bad, “Why You Wanna Trip On Me” off Dangerous, “Scream” and “Tabloid Junkie” off HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I and “Privacy” off Invincible. The first part of my thesis will give an overview of Michael Jackson’s life in order to provide the reader with important information on his personal as well as musical development. The second part will explain Jackson’s strained relationship with the media by showing how his reputation was harmed by them over the years. The third part of my thesis will focus on Jackson’s counterattack against the media by analyzing the five above-named songs in chronological order. This section will first put the songs into context by briefly discussing the albums on which they appeared, and then concentrate on the communicative situation of the songs’ lyrics as well as on poetic and rhetorical devices found in the lyrics. All the lyrics can be found in the appendix of this thesis. In doing so, I will demonstrate that Jackson’s fictive speaker progresses from victim in “Leave Me Alone” to a more or less self-empowered being in the course of the songs. It needs to be added that the primary focus of this thesis will be on the lyrics while works such as Man in the Music: The Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson by Joseph Vogel, which gives a general overview of Jackson’s works, or Dangerous by Susan Fast, which focuses mostly on his music and videos, neglect Jackson’s lyrics to a large extent. In fact, the beginning of Michael Jackson’s autobiography Moonwalk reveals that his lyrics were quite important to him: “I’ve always wanted to be able to tell stories, you know, stories that come from my soul. I’d like to sit by the fire and tell people stories – […] take them anywhere emotionally with something as deceptively simple as words.” (2010: 5) For this reason, Jackson’s lyrics deserve closer attention. This thesis will thus complement Vogel’s and Fast’s findings. However, the lyrics can and must not be scrutinized in isolation; therefore, I will also consider musical aspects as well as visual aspects in my analysis, which often play an important role in the reception of Jackson’s songs (cf. Vogel 2011: 8).

 

 

2. The Life of the King of Pop

2.1       “Have you seen my Childhood?”

Michael Joseph Jackson was born on 29 August 1958 as the seventh of nine children – after Maureen known as Rebbie, Sigmund Esco or Jackie, Tariano Adaryl nicknamed Tito, Jermaine LaJuane, LaToya Yvonne, Marlon David, and before Steven Randall or Randy, and Janet Dameta – in Gary, Indiana, a city near Chicago (cf. Taraborrelli 2010: 14). Joseph ‘Joe’ Jackson, Michael’s father and the husband of Katherine Jackson, had to work in the steel mills like most African-Americans in Gary in order to provide for his family. However, Joe was dissatisfied with his fate and started dreaming of working in show business (cf. Knopper 2015: 5). For this reason, he formed the rhythm and blues band The Falcons, and his children often watched the band’s rehearsals in awe. After The Falcons broke up and Joe stored his guitar in the closet of his bedroom, Jackie, Jermaine, and Tito regularly sneaked into their parents’ bedroom and practiced playing music. One day, Tito broke a string on the guitar and when Joe found out that his son had been using his guitar when he had not been at home, he whipped him. It needs to be added that Joe abused his children physically and mentally very frequently: he pushed them into walls, spanked them, tripped them, locked them in closets and scared them, which traumatized Michael considerably. After Tito’s corporal punishment, however, Joe wanted to hear his children play, and when they did, he realized that they could be the key to the success of the family. As a consequence, Joe bought Tito a red electric guitar and from that moment on, the children would practice together every day under the guidance of their father (cf. Taraborrelli 2010: 15-20).

 

Michael Jackson joined his brothers’ band when he was only four years old. At the age of five, he already replaced Jermaine as the lead vocalist and choreographed the band’s shows. Finally, The Jackson 5, as they would later be called, participated in a talent contest at the Roosevelt High School in Gary. Their hard work and Michael’s showmanship at such a young age earned them a first trophy. From various talent contests in Gary, they moved on to contests in Chicago, and they also started earning money by playing at nightclubs (cf. Taraborrelli 2010: 20-16). In Moonwalk, Michael Jackson describes how The Jackson 5 were playing “between bad comedians, cocktail organists, and strippers”, and how he would “go out into the audience” in the middle of a song, “crawl under the tables, and pull up the ladies’ skirts to look under”, to which the audience reacted by throwing money at him (2010: 36f.). Experiences such as these made Michael even more determined to make it in the show business (cf. ibid.). It was also at that time that The Jackson 5 got signed to Steeltown Records, a small record label based in Gary, where The Jackson 5 gained their first studio experiences by recording their first song, “Big Boy” (cf. Jackson 2010: 39-43). The Jacksons continued performing at talent shows and soon played the so-called Chitlin’ Circuit, a number of “two-thousand-seat theaters in downtown, inner-city areas like Cleveland, Ohio; Baltimore, Maryland and Washington, D.C.” (Taraborrelli 2010: 27) During these concerts, Michael watched the more experienced artists and absorbed how they behaved on stage, further improving his performance on stage. In August 1967, The Jackson 5 finally played at the Apollo Theater in New York City, where they won another extremely prestigious amateur contest. It was only a matter of time that Motown Records, which had already signed artists such as The Supremes, The Four Tops, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, got interested in The Jackson 5 and invited them to Detroit for an audition (cf. Taraborrelli 2010: 28-40).

 

2.2       The Jackson 5 at Motown Records

Several months after The Jackson 5 had signed to Motown Records in July 1968, Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown wanted the Jacksons to move to Los Angeles (cf. Taraborrelli 2010: 45-63). With the Jacksons now living in L.A., Berry promised the Jacksons that they would have “[t]hree number one records in a row” (qtd. in Jackson 2010: 67). Berry’s songwriting team, consisting of Deke Richards, Freddie Perren and Fonce Mizell had to modify a track called “I Want to Be Free”, which they had written for Gladys Knight and the Pips, and rename it to “I Want You Back” for The Jackson 5. As can be seen, the Jacksons, like most of the other Motown artists, had no artistic freedom, but at that time they did not care yet. Ten weeks after the song had been released in October 1969, the song reached number one on the Billboard charts. Although it stayed there for only one week, the single sold around two million times in the United States and four million times abroad. This was quite a remarkable start for a newcomer. In February 1970, a second number-one single titled “ABC” was released, followed by the Jacksons’ third number-one single “The Love You Save”. The songs written by Gordy’s songwriting team proved to be a great success and the Jacksons’ singles even replaced The Beatles’ “Let It Be” and “The Long and Winding Road” at the number-one position of the Billboard charts. Gordy’s prediction of three consecutive number-one records was actually surpassed as the Jackson’s first ballad “I’ll Be There” hit number one on the charts as well. The Jacksons’ fortune continued as they were invited to perform on The Ed Sullivan Show, they broke a record in ticket sales at the Los Angeles Forum, and fans went crazy at their first concerts as a Motown band – Jacksonmania had begun (cf. Taraborrelli 2010: 56-102).

 

Even though the sales of their next singles “Mama’s Pearl” and “Maybe Tomorrow” seemed to decline, The Jackson 5 were more popular than ever: they got their own cartoon series, they performed numerous sold-out shows all over the United States, and their fans could not get enough of them. “At Madison Square Garden in August of that year [1971]”, J. Randy Taraborrelli explains, “the show had to be stopped after only two minutes when the audience stormed the stage. […] [T]he group had to be extracted from the crowd and rushed away from the premises.” (2010: 87) Overseas the situation was similar. In Moonwalk, MJ recalls the Jacksons’ first trip to England, where he observed the “wildest mob scene” he had ever seen before: “[…] the pilot announced that he had just been told there were ten thousand kids waiting for us at Heathrow Airport. […] When we landed, we could see that the fans had literally taken over the whole airport.” (2010: 91f.)

 

However, the group was also beginning to fall apart for several reasons: Tito married Delores Martes, Jermaine fell in love with Gordy’s daughter Hazel, whom he married in 1973, Motown saw Michael’s solo potential and asked him to record his first singles “Got to Be There”, “Rockin’ Robin” and “Ben”, and Joe Jackson became angry with Motown because the single and album sales of The Jackson 5 hit an all-time low with the release of Skywriter. Joe decided to take matters into his own hands and the Jacksons to Las Vegas in order to expand their audience. Furthermore, he was convinced that Motown Records would ruin Michael’s career due to the fact that none of his four solo albums except for Ben (1972) was a success – his fourth album Forever Michael (1975) only reached number 101 on the charts, which was 87 places lower than his debut solo album Got to Be There (1972) and eight places lower than his third album, Music and Me (1973). Joe was thus determined to leave Motown (cf. Taraborrelli 2010: 89-125). Michael, too, was unhappy because he wanted to write and produce his own songs, but Motown did not allow that. Consequently, he arranged a personal meeting with Berry Gordy – an important step for the young and shy Michael – and told him that The Jackson 5 would leave Motown because they wanted control of their artistic creation. So The Jackson 5 parted ways with Motown in 1975 and negotiated a better, less artistically restrictive deal with Epic Records, a subsidiary of CBS Records, but not without taking some collateral damage: firstly, Jermaine, being married to Gordy’s daughter, decided to leave the band and to stay with Motown Records, and secondly, The Jackson 5 were not allowed to be called The Jackson 5 anymore because the name was Motown’s registered trademark. As a consequence, Randy joined the band and they renamed themselves the Jacksons (Jackson 2010: 114-126).

 

2.3       A New Start

At Epic Records, the Jacksons finally got the freedom they had wanted: their first album on Epic Records, titled The Jacksons (1977), would include “Blues Away”, a song written by Michael, as well as “Style of Life”, a song contributed by Tito. For the first time, Michael was also allowed to observe song creation processes in the studio, learning a lot about the structure of songs and improving his own writing. After the Jacksons’ second Epic album, Goin’ Places, hit the stores in 1977 – this time featuring only one Jacksons contribution, namely “Different Kind of Lady” – and was not the commercial success the Jacksons had hoped for, Michael and his father went to meet the man who had signed the Jacksons to CBS, Ron Alexenberg, in order to tell him to give them complete control of their own music. CBS agreed and the Jacksons released their first album written by themselves: Destiny (cf. Jackson 2010: 124-148). Album sales were going up again and many music critics considered Destiny one of the Jacksons’ best albums. However, the success did not stop Michael from growing more and more frustrated by being part of the group because he did not see any professional progress. Although he still remained part of the Jacksons during the 1979 Destiny tour, the release of Triumph in 1980, the 1981 Triumph tour, Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever in 1983, the release of Victory in 1984 and the 1984 Victory tour, MJ started busily working on his solo career. Finally, on 9 December 1984, Michael announced to leave the Jacksons for good (Taraborrelli 2010: 172-324).

 

2.4       MJ Going Solo

Michael’s first step towards independence was when he auditioned for the role of the Scarecrow in Motown’s movie The Wiz, an Afro-American-influenced adaptation of The Wizard of Oz starring Motown star Diana Ross. He got the role, and although the movie was not a commercial success, MJ learned a lot about the movie business, which would prove to be extremely useful knowledge for the short films of his songs. In addition, Michael met Quincy Jones on set, who was doing the film score for The Wiz. When Michael asked Quincy one day if he knew a producer who could help him with a solo album, Quincy replied “Why don’t you let me do it?” (qtd. in Jackson 2010: 146) Michael accepted and they started working on Jackson’s first solo album, Off The Wall, released through Epic Records (cf. Jackson 2010: 130-146).

 

“Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough”, a song composed by Michael himself, was released as the first single off Off The Wall on 28 July 1979. It reached number one on the Billboard charts and number three in the UK. The entire album followed on 10 August 1979 and it was a huge success (cf. Taraborrelli 2010: 189f.). According to Joseph Vogel, in 1981 “Off The Wall was the biggest-selling album ever by a black artist”: four singles off the album, namely the two number-one singles “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough” and “Rock With You” as well as “Off The Wall” and “She’s Out of My Life” reached the Top Ten on the American charts, which was unparalleled (2011: 31-41). By 1982, an estimated number of seven million copies had been sold in the US alone. Fans and critics alike praised the album as revolutionary. Despite its commercial success, Jackson was disappointed to find out that Off The Wall received only one Grammy nomination for Best Male R&B Vocal (cf. Vogel 2011: 41f.). He knew that his album had been “one of the most popular records of the year” and was surprised by the decision of his peers. In his autobiography, Jackson confesses his dissatisfaction: “Off The Wall was well received by my fans and I think that’s why the Grammy nominations hurt. That experience lit a fire in my soul. All I could think of was the next album and what I would do with it. I wanted it to be truly great.” (2010: 175f.) Little did he know that he would soon create the best-selling album of all time (cf. Vogel 2011: 55).

 

2.5       Thriller

The work on his next album, Thriller, began immediately after finishing Off The Wall (cf. Vogel 2011: 61f.). For this album, Quincy wanted Michael to be more independent and encouraged him to compose more songs by himself. Since Jackson had never received a musical education and could not transcribe musical notes, he had developed his own approach to writing music, namely the imitation of the sounds that he heard in his head with his mouth (cf. Knopper 2015: 89). By the use of a tape recorder, he then recorded himself humming, singing and beatboxing rhythms, beats, instruments and melodies, and later finished the songs in the studio. Songs such as “Billie Jean” or “Beat It” were the results of this writing process (cf. Vogel 2011: 62). When Thriller was finally finished in 1982, Michael, being the perfectionist that he was, was devastated by the sound of the final mix. Consequently, the deadline set by Epic had to be postponed and every song was mixed one by one all over again. After weeks of hard work, the album was ready to be released (cf. Jackson 2010: 198-200).

“The Girl Is Mine”, a duet with Paul McCartney, was the first single of the album released one month before the album. Although the single reached number two on the Billboard charts, some critics were already announcing Jackson’s regression from Off The Wall. Thus, when Thriller was finally unleashed on 30 November 1982, its success was still unforeseeable. Moreover, it needs to be added that the album was released during a time of recession for the music industry, further jeopardizing the success of Thriller. However, all this would not prevent it from crossing “every barrier imaginable: it reached young and old, black and white, middle-class and poor; it reached fans of rock as well as R&B; it reached beyond America to the Soviet Union, Europe, Asia, Africa, and just about everywhere in between.” (Vogel 2011: 55) According to Vogel, Thriller was the “ultimate crossover album, fusing elements of R&B, disco, rock, funk, soul, world music, jazz, and gospel […].” (ibid.), which perhaps accounts for why it reached such a wide audience. “The Girl Is Mine” was followed by the second single off Thriller, namely “Billie Jean”, which reached number one on the charts very quickly. While “Billie Jean” was still number one, Jackson released “Beat It”, which soared to number one as well, so that both songs occupied the top positions of the charts at the same time. More never-before-seen achievements followed: between 1982 and 1984, Thriller was number-one album for 37 weeks and in the Top Ten for 53 more weeks; four more Top Ten singles were released, which means that seven of the nine singles off the album reached the Top Ten; Thriller won a record number of eight Grammy Awards as well as ten American Music Awards; the album was acknowledged as the best-selling album of all time by Guinness World Records (cf. Vogel 2011: 67). With Thriller, Michael Jackson had indeed managed to fulfill his wish of creating an album even bigger than Off The Wall (cf. Jackson 2010: 180).

 

Not only did Michael Jackson release the most successful album with Thriller, but he also revolutionized the medium of the music video. Whereas before his short films for “Billie Jean”, “Beat It” and “Thriller” music videos were only used as promotional tools in order to sell more records, “Jackson utilized the video as a medium for a short dramatic feature built around his dancing”, so that “recordings became soundtracks and the video itself became the potential primary focus of a pop artist’s career.” (Swenson 1992: 649) Furthermore, these extremely expensive videos changed MTV, a channel created in 1981 that played only music videos, radically. At that time, MTV avoided playing videos of black artists and showed only white rock and roll artists. Taraborrelli points out that “of the over 750 videos shown on MTV during the channel’s first eighteen months, fewer than two dozen featured black artists.” (2010: 252) Therefore, when the music video for “Billie Jean” came out, MTV did not want to play it. However, when CBS warned MTV that they would remove all the other videos by CBS artists if they did not show Jackson’s following video for “Beat It”, MTV complied. In 1983 then, the videos for “Billie Jean” as well as “Beat It” were played on MTV for the first time, paving the way for the videos of many other black artists (cf. Taraborrelli 2010: 253). It was thus Michael and his music which broke down still existing racial barriers, which Vogel praises as “one of the greatest of Jackson’s cultural achievements” (2011: 68).

 

It was also during the Thriller era that MJ had his career-defining moment, which catapulted him to superstardom. When Berry Gordy asked Michael whether he would perform together with the Jacksons at Motown’s twenty-fifth anniversary called Motown 25: Yesterday, Today and Forever, he declined. However, when Gordy agreed to give him a solo spot to perform “Billie Jean”, he changed his mind and accepted the offer. On 25 March 1983, the night of the taping of the performance, Mary Wells, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and all the other Motown acts were just warming up the public for the main event. After The Jackson 5 had an emotional reunion with Jermaine on stage and finished their set, Michael remained on stage while his brothers left. Suddenly the spotlight illuminated Michael Jackson in his dark jacket and trousers, his white glittering socks, his black penny loafers and his white glove covered with rhinestones. He completed the outfit by putting on a black spy hat, and started the performance that would change his life. The audience watched his every move in awe – they were mesmerized by MJ’s performance. During the instrumental interlude of “Billie Jean”, he carried out a move that would become one of his most famous signature dancing moves: the moonwalk. He rounded it off with a spin and stopped on his toes (cf. Taraborrelli 2010: 238-244). Although the audience had loved his performance, Jackson was disappointed because he had not managed to stand on his toes as long as planned. However, when a little boy complimented him backstage and two of his idols, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, called and visited him in order to tell him what “a hell of a mover” he was, he was so delighted that even the fact that his performance did not win an Emmy Award despite its nomination did not matter to him anymore (Jackson 2010: 211-215). When Motown 25: Yesterday, Today and Forever was finally broadcast about a month after its taping, almost 50 million people watched the TV spectacle, “the largest audience ever to view a musical special” (Vogel 2011: 76). Michael Jackson’s performance went down in history. Even to this day, only two TV performances can compare to the importance of Jackson’s performance on Motown 25: Elvis Presley in 1956 and The Beatles in 1964, both on the Ed Sullivan Show (cf. ibid.). Michael Jackson would finally be crowned as the King of Pop.

 

2.6       Michael Jackson Goes Bad… and Dangerous

Having established himself as business man by buying the ATV Music Publishing Company for roughly 50 million dollars, which included 251 Beatles songs, as well as a humanitarian by donating all his income from the Jacksons’ Victory tour and by being an integral part of the “We Are The World” project in 1985, Michael Jackson began working on his next album titled Bad, with which he hoped to surpass the success of Thriller (cf. Taraborrelli 2010: 325-358). In order to keep his goal in sight, “he taped a piece of paper that said ‘100 million’ to his bathroom mirror.” (Taraborrelli 2010: 358) However, with the release of Bad in August 1987, the King of Pop had to start accepting that such a feat was virtually impossible, since his image was already suffering due to numerous rumors and speculations in the media (cf. Taraborrelli 2010: 362-376). Nevertheless, Bad could still be considered a success: all five singles – “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You”, “Bad”, “The Way You Make Me Feel”, “Man in the Mirror” and “Dirty Diana” – soared to number one as soon as they were released, and the album itself, too, debuted as number one on the Billboard charts (cf. Vogel 2011: 115). What is more, the King of Pop expanded his kingdom: Bad was extremely successful in the UK and other countries around the world. To further promote his music to every corner of the world, he embarked on his first tour as solo artist in Tokyo in September 1987 (cf. Taraborrelli 2010: 379). In 18 months, MJ toured all over Japan, Europe, Australia, and the United States (cf. “Bad (tour)” n.d., online).

 

Jackson’s next album was intended to be a collection of his greatest hits by the name of Decade. At first Michael attempted to release Decade, but when he was unsure about which songs to include and kept creating new material, he decided to cancel these plans and focused on releasing an album with new material instead. For this new album, Michael decided to stop working with Quincy Jones due to some previous disagreements about which songs to include on Bad (cf. Taraborrelli 2010: 436). As a replacement, MJ hired Teddy Riley, who was known as the creator of new jack swing, a genre fusing hip-hop, elements of funk, soul, R&B and jazz. With Riley’s help, Michael hoped to create something “fresh” – and he succeeded once again (cf. Vogel 2011: 134f.). According to Vogel, “[…] Dangerous became Jackson’s fastest-selling album since Thriller […]. It also hit #1 in nearly every country in the world, including Japan, Australia, and France.” (2011: 149) Additionally, when the first single “Black and White” and its video were released, nearly 500 million people watched it in over 27 different countries – never before had a video been viewed so many times. Despite its success, by the time that Dangerous came out on 26 November 1991, Jackson’s image had been further deteriorating, and numerous critics were not able to see past the media rumors when reviewing his album, resulting in a number of negative reviews. Still, everything seemed to be going well for Jackson: his Dangerous World Tour began in 1992, and he performed during the halftime show of the Super Bowl in 1993, which was watched by 120 million viewers (cf. Vogel 2011: 144-149). On the second leg of his tour in Asia, however, his image suffered another, this time irreparable, blow. On 23 August 1993, a television station in Los Angeles reported about a police raid at Neverland Valley Ranch, Michael’s home. The news spread like wildfire, and soon national and international media started speculating about Jackson’s curious relationship with children. When the police authorities confirmed 13-year-old Jordie Chandler’s sleepovers with MJ, the media did not hold back anymore and the following child molestation allegations changed Michael’s life forever (cf. Taraborrelli 2010: 508-512).

 

2.7       The Gradual Decline of the King of Pop

During these difficult times, Michael Jackson became addicted to drugs. As a result of his suffering from insomnia and pain because of a scalp burn that had been caused during the recording of a Pepsi commercial a decade before, his excessive consumption of painkillers and tranquilizers got out of control. At that time, Michael had already been supported emotionally by Lisa Marie Presley, daughter of Elvis Presley, who would help him get through rehabilitation. Over time, the two grew closer to each other, and ultimately they married on 26 May 1994; however, the marriage would only last until 10 December 1995. Besides several minor disputes, the main reason for their divorce was that MJ was ready to have children, whereas Lisa could not imagine getting pregnant with Michael Jackson’s child yet. However, Michael wanted children, so he made a deal with his nurse Debbie Rowe while he was still married to Lisa: Debbie would get artificially inseminated, carry Michael Jackson’s baby, and receive 500,000 dollars from Michael for delivering the baby. Naturally, when word got out, the media began with their speculations again because they had never heard of Debbie Rowe up to that point. On 13 November 1996, Michael Jackson married Debbie Rowe, and in February 1997 MJ’s first son Prince Michael Jackson was born. On 3 April 1998, his daughter Paris Katherine Michael Jackson and in 2002, Prince Michael II, also known as Blanket, followed. While Michael’s first two children were conceived by Debbie and himself, the surrogate mother of Prince Michael II has never been revealed. After Michael’s and Debbie’s agreement was fulfilled, they divorced in October 1999 (cf. Taraborrelli 2010: 526-610).

 

All these events in MJ’s personal life dampened, at least in the United States, the impact of his next album, a double CD titled HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I, released on 16 June 1995. Although the album became the best-selling multiple-disc album of all time with 20 million sold copies, the media and critics alike preferred to focus on Jackson’s personal life instead of his artistic creation (cf. Vogel 2011: 171-189). Further controversies over Jackson’s album promotion tactics of constructing immense statues of himself in several European cities, or over the lyrics of “They Don’t Care About Us”, for which he was accused of being anti-Semitic, overshadowed his creative works (cf. Taraborrelli 2010: 619f.).

 

His next and final releases suffered the same, if not even a worse fate. Two years after HIStory, the King of Pop released Blood on the Dance Floor: History in the Mix, an album featuring five new songs and eight remixes of songs from his previous album. While the album reached number one in the UK, it went virtually unnoticed everywhere else in the world. The album sold a meager number of four million units worldwide. Invicible, Jackson’s ultimate album released in October 2001, too, became more or less a commercial failure when one compares it to his previous albums. Disagreements with his label regarding the promotion of the album resulted in a lack thereof and Invicible only sold around ten million copies (cf. Taraborrelli 2010: 620-624). As Taraborrelli puts it: “[…] much of what Michael did at this time, was lost in the ongoing controversy of his world […]. Without that, this stellar work would no doubt have found an appreciative audience.” (2010: 620)

 

Financial debt was the next blow Michael Jackson had to suffer. A consequence of his dwindling commercial success and his ongoing excessive lifestyle, he had more and more financial difficulties (cf. Taraborrelli 2010: 626f.). However, this was nothing compared to what happened at the end of 2003 and the beginning of 2004, “the worst period of time in Michael Jackson’s life”, as Taraborrelli calls it (2010: 638). After having settled the child molestation allegations by the Chandlers in 1993 out of court, MJ did not stop spending time with children at his Neverland Valley Ranch and what is more, he still allowed sleepovers with him. One of those children was 13-year-old Gavin Arvizo, a cancer survivor whom Michael had supported during a difficult period of his young life. In June 2003, however, Gavin Arvizo and his family turned against Jackson and accused him of intoxication of minors and child molestation, resulting in the second police raid of Neverland in a decade. After a lengthy trial though, Michael was declared not guilty on all counts in June 2005 (cf. Taraborrelli 2010: 638-697). But the damage had already been done – “Michael Jackson was gone” (Taraborrelli 2010: 698). He took his three children with him and fled to Bahrain, where he lived in seclusion before returning to Las Vegas in 2008 (cf. Taraborrelli 2010: 698-703).

 

From then on, his life seemed to improve: he got surprised by the success of the re-release of Thriller, which sold more than three million times; his fans still showed him support despite his trial; he spent more time with his children than ever before (cf. Taraborrelli 2010: 702-705). Finally, in 2009, Michael Jackson felt ready to tour again. On 5 March 2009, he officially announced his final tour called This Is It, which would consist of 50 concerts in the O2 arena in London. Although Michael Jackson was worried that no one would want to experience him live anymore, the tickets for the first ten shows, approximately 170,000 tickets, sold out as soon as they were made available. His comeback seemed to become a huge success. However, Michael Jackson also put himself under a lot of pressure, causing his insomnia to get worse again (cf. Knopper 2015: 319-326). In order to relieve Michael of his sleeping problems, his doctor, Conrad Murray administered propofol to him – a strong anesthetic that “was never intended for home use under any circumstances.” (Knopper 2015: 345) As Murray did not have the proper equipment to monitor how the propofol affected MJ, the risk of something going wrong was extremely high. And something did go wrong on 25 June 2009: the King of Pop died at the age of fifty because of propofol intoxication (cf. Knopper 2015: 340-345).

 

When the news of MJ’s death spread, the world was shocked. Google and Twitter servers went down due to too much traffic, and sites such as Facebook, Myspace and Wikipedia had similar problems (cf. Marshall 2009, online). People all over the world mourned the loss of the King of Pop. Radio stations rediscovered his music and even played some lesser known songs; the number of downloads of his songs on iTunes went up to nearly two million in only three days – by the end of 2009, his tracks had been downloaded more than eight million times; memorials in honour of Michael were held, for instance at the Apollo Theatre in New York or at the Staples Center in Los Angeles (cf. Knopper 2015: 342-347). In addition, Jackson’s reputation was finally being restored: Michael Jackson’s This Is It, a documentary showing Jackson rehearsing for his final tour, grossed 200 million dollars; the posthumous album Xscape, released in 2014, sold nearly 2.5 million units worldwide; the King of Pop went on to sell 50 million albums after his death. Unfortunately, it needed MJ’s death in order to start seeing the man and his creative work stripped of his media image (cf. Knopper 2015: 352-356).

 

 

3. The Media vs. Michael Jackson

In the first part of this thesis, we have taken a glimpse at Jackson’s 40-year-long career, which established him as the King of Pop and “the Most Successful Entertainer of All Time” (“Most Successful Entertainer of All Time-Michael Jackson sets world record” 2009, online). This section will now give a short overview of Jackson’s difficult relationship with the media. The aim is to provide the reader with crucial information about why and how the media constructed an image of Jackson that would lead to his professional and, consequently, his personal downfall.

 

3.1       A New Image

During the days of The Jackson 5 at Motown Records, Michael Jackson had always been the adorable little kid who mesmerized the audience not only with his voice, but also with his cuteness (cf. Taraborrelli 2010: 77). So when Michael grew up and recorded his first solo record Off The Wall for Epic Records, he wanted to get rid of this image and establish a new, more mature one. He did so by presenting himself with a fashionable tuxedo on the album cover. According to Taraborrelli, “[a]lmost as much attention had been lavished on the album jacket as on the record itself.” (2010: 189) While this statement is certainly hyperbolic, it shows that Jackson and his management were consciously attempting to alter Jackson’s image. Vogel adds that “[o]ne of the primary goals of Off The Wall from a marketing perspective, then, was to take this symbolic step forward and introduce the adult Michael Jackson as mature, polished, sophisticated, and sexual.” (2011: 40) This new image stuck with him and when Thriller came out, he was taken seriously as an adult as well as an artist and entertainer (cf. Taraborrelli 2010: 190-232).

 

However, with his success as an artist also came the first rumors and speculations, primarily about his sexuality. For instance, when he was 19 years old, a story published by the tabloid press said that MJ was planning to have a sex-change (cf. Taraborrelli 2010: 158). Several years later, tabloids speculated about whether Michael Jackson was heterosexual, homosexual or even asexual (cf. Taraborrelli 2010: 31, 331). While these stories annoyed Michael, they did not really affect his image (cf. Taraborrelli 2010: 158). How come then that by the time Bad was released in 1987, he was already known as “Wacko Jacko”, a derogatory name coined by the media (cf. Vogel 2011: 93)? The answer lies in several PR misjudgments by MJ and his management.

3.2       The Creation of “Wacko Jacko”

The first publicity miscalculation happened in 1986 when Michael Jackson wanted to promote Captain EO, a 3-D movie he would appear in. Together with his manager Frank Dileo, Michael planted a story about him sleeping in a so-called hyperbaric chamber, a machine that assisted the healing process of burn victims, in order to extend his life to the age of 150. The story was accompanied by a photo of Michael lying in such a machine, taken in 1984 when Jackson had been a patient in the Brotman Memorial Hospital because of the scalp burns he had suffered during the shooting of a Pepsi commercial. The story seemed harmless to Jackson’s management. From the tabloid press, it quickly spread to mainstream media – almost every newspaper, television and radio station covered the news. Dileo and Jackson were surprised that their plan was such a success. Besides they were fascinated by the fact that they could manipulate the media in their favor so easily. However, at that time, they did not know yet that this was the first step towards changing Michael’s image from normal celebrity to bizarre freak (cf. Taraborrelli 2010: 362-367).

 

The next PR misfire was conceived by MJ in May 1987: having been a longtime fan of The Elephant Man, a movie about a deformed member of a freak show in Victorian England released in 1980, Michael Jackson went to see the remains of the Elephant Man at the London Hospital Medical College. There he had the idea to put his influence over the press to the test once again by spreading the rumor that he was interested in buying the bones of the Elephant Man and that he had already made an offer to the hospital. To Jackson’s and Dileo’s pleasure, the tabloid press covered the story, but they also verified whether Jackson had really made an offer. In order to fully complete the prank, Dileo called at the hospital and offered one million dollars for the bones, which resulted in a public statement by a spokesperson of the hospital that officially admitted Jackson’s offer. Again the news spread like wildfire, but this time not without setting off an avalanche (cf. Taraborrelli 2010: 367-371).

 

According to Taraborrelli, the story of Michael Jackson being interested in the remains of the Elephant Man was the last straw that triggered the tabloid press to create their own stories about Jackson. In fact, the first “Wacko Jacko” stories had been so lucrative for the media that they would not stop inventing them. Rumors of the 30-year-old Michael proposing to the 55-year-old Elizabeth Taylor, of Michael’s attempts to persuade Taylor of sleeping in his hyperbaric chamber, of Michael fearing the end of the world in 1988, of Michael having seen the ghost of John Lennon, and of Michael’s best friend being a chimp were making the headlines (cf. 2010: 371). Further fabrications by the tabloid press followed: Jackson built a shrine to Elizabeth Taylor where he played her movies 24 hours a day (cf. Morris 2011, online); Jackson spoke to his pet chimp Bubbles using chimp language (cf. Taraborrelli 2010: 388); Jackson took hormones in order to stop the breaking of his voice (cf. Gritt 2016, online). The stories were slowly but surely spinning out of control. When Dileo was asked to reduce the negative publicity in 1987, it was already too late (cf. Vogel 2011: 107).

 

A great number of speculations also focused on MJ’s changing appearance. Michael had never been satisfied with his wide nose, so when he broke his nose during a dance rehearsal in 1979, he decided to get his first nose job in order to get a smaller nose. However, Michael started having problems with his breathing due to the surgery, so he underwent rhinoplasty for a second time (cf. Taraborrelli 2010: 209f.). While Michael admits to only three plastic surgeries in his autobiography first published in 1988, Taraborrelli writes that Michael got his fourth rhinoplasty in June 1986 and that he also added a cleft to his chin (cf. Jackson 2010: 229; cf. Taraborrelli 2010: 353). By 1991, the number of nose jobs had risen to “at least ten” (Taraborrelli 2010: 441). But it was not only his nose and chin that caused numerous headline stories – the changing color of his skin did so as well. As he got older and older, his skin appeared to be getting lighter. According to Taraborrelli, Jackson’s skin lightening was the result of a skin-bleaching cream by the name of Porcelana as well as various other chemicals. Together with Jackson’s vitiligo, a “long term skin condition characterized by patches of the skin losing their pigment”, and the amount of makeup that he applied to his face, he seemed to become whiter and whiter, which caused a lot of speculations in the media (“Vitiligo” n.d., online; cf. Taraborrelli 2010: 357, 442). Even after his death, a number of tabloid press internet sites published an interview with Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson’s producer for Off The Wall, Thriller and Bad, who told them that Michael did not want to have black skin, which is why he bleached it (cf. Henley 2013, online).

 

Jackson’s eccentric image was increasingly starting to overshadow his artistry. Because he had wanted to create a mysterious image that “kept people guessing (and talking)”, he sparked his own professional decline (Vogel 2011: 106). Taraborrelli reveals that after the release of Bad, the public had already started turning on Jackson: “Rolling Stone’s readers voted him the worst artist in nearly every category in its yearly poll.” (2010: 388) In just a matter of five years, Michael went from most-loved artist to eccentric freak in the public eye. Suddenly, the public was starting to become deaf to his music and only saw the bizarreness of his image. However, the blow that would almost destroy his entire career came with the child molestation allegations in 1993 (cf. Taraborrelli 2010: 510).

 

3.3       “Peter Pan or Pervert?”

MJ had always been very fond of children. In fact, in Moonwalk he writes about his fascination with children and how they had an energizing effect on him. He considered children as his toughest audience and it was his aim to create music that children would appreciate. In addition, he wanted to inspire them and make them happy. For these reasons, Jackson made it his goal to brighten the day of uncountable terminally ill children by visiting them at children’s hospitals. He felt that it was unfair that children had to suffer and wanted to relieve them of their pain (cf. Taraborrelli 2010: 455; cf. Jackson 2010: 274f.). “If I were living for no other reason than to help and please kids”, Jackson admits in his autobiography, “that would be enough for me. They’re amazing people. Amazing.” (2010: 275)

 

While a majority of people regard such an attraction to children as odd nowadays, it is actually nothing new. In “Making Sense of Michael Jackson”, Bill Ott explains that Jackson “would have felt right at home in England about 125 years ago, when the Victorian cult of the child was in full flower.” (2003: 92) Ott adds that a number of children’s literature writers of the 19th century, such as Lewis Carroll or J. M. Barrie, whom we consider as great names today, were captivated by children. Without their fondness for children works such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or Peter and Wendy would have never been created – the same goes for Jackson’s music. While it is a normal reaction to question the intention behind the preferences of Barrie, Lewis Carroll or Jackson, Ott points out that “[t]he cult of the child […] is all about the return to innocence, to a time before the Industrial Revolution (in the Victorians’ case), before stardom and parental abuse (in Jackson’s case), and before sex (in all of their cases).” (ibid.) However, the notion of “the cult of the child” did not save Jackson from “one of the biggest global-media feeding frenzies of the decade”, accusing him of molesting 13-year-old Jordie Chandler (Vogel 2011: 173).

 

Michael Jackson met Jordie Chandler for the first time when MJ’s car broke down in Beverly Hills in May 1992. An employee of Rent-A-Wreck decided to help him, picked him up and took him to a Rent-A-Wreck shop. When the owner of Rent-A-Wreck, Dave Schwartz, was notified of the approaching Michael Jackson, he immediately called his wife June and her son Jordie, who was a big fan of Michael, and told them that he had a surprise for them. When Michael arrived, they introduced themselves and conversed with the King of Pop; then June gave Michael Jordie’s phone number and told him to call her son someday (cf. Taraborrelli 2010: 453-455). He did so quite frequently during his lengthy Dangerous tour and Jordie became some kind of “lifeline to the real world, to his home, as he performed in front of hundreds of thousands of adoring strangers.” (Taraborrelli 2010: 459) In February 1993, Michael then telephoned June Chandler and invited her, her son Jordie and her daughter Lily to spend the weekend with him at his Neverland Valley Ranch. Naturally, they accepted and when they arrived at Michael’s home, they were astonished by what they saw: Neverland was a place of gigantic dimensions that had everything a child could ever wish for – a zoo with exotic animals, an own cinema with unlimited free candy and an own amusement park with a Ferris wheel, as well as a carousel, bumper cars and steam trains. Everything and everybody was at their disposal. When the weekend was over, June, Jordie and Lily departed for Los Angeles again, but soon more visits would follow (cf. Taraborrelli 2010: 460-463).

 

One day, Michael took June, Jordie and Lily to Las Vegas where they lodged together at his private suite in The Mirage. After an exhausting day in Las Vegas, June and Lily went to bed while Michael and Jordie watched The Exorcist. Because Jordie got scared by the movie, he stayed in Michael’s room and the two slept together. When June found out the next day, she confronted Jordie, but Michael convinced her that his relationship with Jordie was innocent, that he would never hurt Jordie and that he could be trusted. June apologized and despite this incident the contact by telephone, the visits at Neverland and the sleepovers with Michael continued (cf. Taraborrelli 2010: 465-469).

 

However, as soon as Jordie’s father, a dentist by the name of Evan Chandler, discovered his son’s odd relationship with the King of Pop, the situation started escalating rapidly. Evan felt threatened by the presence of a new father figure in Jordie’s life and found that Jordie and Michael sleeping in the same bed was inappropriate. He was beginning to believe that something sexual might be going on between his son and the pop star. For this reason, he confronted his ex-wife June and her husband Dave Schwartz and demanded that they put an end to Michael’s and Jordie’s relationship. When the confrontation did not lead to the desired outcome and facing Michael did not solve the problem either, he decided to get the help of an attorney, Barry Rothman, and threatened to ruin Michael Jackson’s career. Then, while treating Jordie’s tooth in his clinic, Evan obtained a confession about sexual activities with Michael from his son by administering the psychiatric drug Sodium Amytal, which was known to be able to create false memories. His next step was to meet with Jackson’s attorney Anthony Pellicano and to ask for a 20 million dollar settlement. Naturally, Jackson viewed this as an extortion attempt, so he declined Evan’s demand. As a consequence, Evan took Jordie to a psychiatrist and after the lengthy session was over, the psychiatrist had to report Jordie’s shocking confessions to the Department of Children’s Services, which informed the Los Angeles Police Department immediately. Finally, on 21 August 1993, the LAPD obtained a search warrant and raided Jackson’s Neverland Valley Ranch. Only two days later, the news of a police raid in Neverland started spreading all over the world (cf. Taraborrelli 2010: 470-509).

 

Even before the police had secured any evidence that could be used against Michael Jackson, speculations and rumors ran the headlines worldwide. For instance, The New York Post published an article “with a dreadful photo of Michael looking his worst, and the blazing headline: ‘Peter Pan or Pervert?’” (Taraborrelli 2010: 509f.) But the media did not leave it at that. Soon a copy of the child molestation report from the Department of Child Services, which contained every detail of the allegations and had been obtained illegally somehow by Diane Dimond, a reporter “who would make a career off Jackson” like many others, spread from the tabloid media to major news broadcasting stations (Vogel 2011: 173f.). Even without any single piece of evidence, Jackson was stigmatized as pedophile through misleading headlines and interviews with bribed eyewitnesses. Vogel further adds that “[e]ven more-respected media outlets compromised standards for ratings, joining in on the feeding frenzy.” (2011: 174) The media went as far as ignoring “[o]ne of the most sacred principles in the American criminal justice system”, namely that a person is always “innocent until proven guilty” – their news stories were full of strong implications that MJ was guilty “even if not yet charged” (“Presumption Of Innocence” n.d., online; Taraborrelli 2010: 511). There was no restraint or objectivity left. An article published by Mary Fisher in 1995 called the behavior of the media “a nearly year-long media witch hunt in which article after article and show after show offered speculation and innuendo but no supporting evidence or credible witnesses.” (qtd. in Vogel 2011: 174)

 

For Jackson, however, the humiliation did not stop at that. Not only was every last inch of his Neverland Ranch Valley scrutinized, including the inside of his mattresses, his diaries, personal videos and photos, but in the month of December, he also had to endure a strip search during which his genitals and buttocks were photographed in order to see whether they matched Jordie’s description. However, Vogel points out that the fact that the description and the photos did not match did not make “the same headlines as the initial allegations.” (2011: 174) Of course, the constant media bashing had also taken a toll on Jackson. The impact on Michael and his career was devastating, as was already mentioned in the first section of the thesis: he became addicted to drugs and his career got into a downward spiral. When his attorneys told him that the investigation could continue for several years, that more degrading information could be made public and that in the end he could still be condemned, Michael decided to accept Evan Chandler’s demand and to settle out of court (cf. Vogel 2011: 175). On 25 January 1994, Jackson paid the sum of 17 million dollars to Evan Chandler, Jordie Chandler, their attorney Larry Feldman, as well as to June Chandler-Schwartz (cf. Taraborrelli 2010: 552). While on the one hand Jackson certainly avoided a lengthy, humiliating trial with this decision, he also put his reputation on the line: in the public eye he was guilty because he settled out of court; or in other words, he escaped justice by buying his way out of a trial. For many, the multi-million dollar deal equaled an admission of guilt (cf. Knopper 2015: 224; cf. Ebmeier 1999: 217).

 

3.4       Living with Michael Jackson

Apart from the skepticism of Jackson’s marriage to Lisa Marie Presley, which was believed to be a PR maneuver aimed at cleansing MJ’s image of the child molestation allegations of 1993, and speculations about his curious arrangement and marriage with Debbie Rowe, the next decade was more or less calm. Jackson focused on fixing his career and on releasing new music again (cf. Vogel 2011: 177; cf. Taraborrelli 2010: 590-596). From time to time he still made the news, for example because of his lyrics for “They Don’t Care About Us”, which generated a lot of controversy over the lines “Jew me, sue me, everybody do me / Kick me, kike me, don’t you black or white me”. The misinterpretation of Jackson’s lyrics and the following accusations of anti-Semitism forced him to issue a statement explaining the meaning of those particular lines, and ultimately to change “kike me” to “strike me” and “jew me” to “do me” in order to end further controversies (cf. Weinraub 1995, online; cf. Taraborrelli 2010: 619). However, in 2003, Michael Jackson’s life would become more turbulent again.

 

In February 2003, Martin Bashir’s Living with Michael Jackson, a “highly controversial documentary […], which first attracted fifteen million viewers in the United Kingdom and more than double in the United States” aired on ABC (Taraborrelli 2010: 610). Bashir had followed Jackson over the period of eight months and conducted several interviews with him in order to portray Michael’s life (cf. Stanley 2003, online). The documentary was supposed to restore MJ’s image, just like Bashir’s 1995 interview with Diana, Princess of Wales about her dissatisfaction and problems with her marriage to Prince Charles gained her the sympathy of the public, but it did more harm than good to Michael Jackson (cf. Taraborrelli 2010: 610-612).

 

Bashir’s Living with Michael Jackson starts with a focus on Michael’s songwriting process (5:02), then moves on to Jackson’s past as he speaks about his missed childhood (16:10), the abuse by his father (17:06) and the problems with his appearance during adolescence (35:42), painting a somewhat sympathetic picture of the King of Pop (cf. Bashir 2003, online). At the same time, the documentary works against Jackson in a number of instances by introducing more and more of his eccentricities: he calls himself “Peter Pan by heart” (Bashir 2003, online: 10:47); he reveals that his favorite hobbies are climbing trees and water balloon fights (cf. Bashir 2003, online: 13:01); the video shows him spending an enormous amount of money in a couple of minutes on a shopping spree in Las Vegas (cf. Bashir 2003, online: 32:14); he tells that when his daughter was born he was “so anxious to get her home” that he “snatched her and just went home with all the placenta and everything all over her” (Bashir 2003, online: 53:32). All this is accompanied by Bashir’s “leading questions, his presumptions, expressed fascination and bemusement”, encouraging Jackson to behavior and revelations that are then judged as bizarre by Bashir’s “sanctimonious voice-overs” (Taraborrelli 2010: 614). While these parts of the documentary certainly added to the image of “Wacko Jacko”, they were not particularly harmful. But then Bashir’s voice-over announces that he discovered “that children were still sleeping over – sometimes in his house, sometimes in his bedroom.” (Bashir 2003, online: 1:22:20) Suddenly the scene shifts to Michael Jackson holding hands with 13-year-old Gavin Arvizo, both of them admitting that they sleep in the same room sometimes (cf. Bashir 2003, online: 1:22:51). When Bashir confronts him with the inappropriateness of a grown man and the child of a stranger sleeping in the same bed, Michael replies: “When you say ‘bed’, you’re thinking sexual. They make that sexual; it’s not sexual. We’re going to sleep – I tuck them in, we put a little music on […]. It’s very charming, very sweet. It’s what the whole world should do.” (Bashir 2003, online: 1:38:22) Of course, Jackson attempted to block the broadcast of Living with Michael Jackson as soon as he received an advance copy of the documentary; however, his attorneys told him that at that point withdrawing it was impossible. Soon after the documentary was aired, it incited new discussions about Jackson’s relationship with children. The past was catching up with Michael again: new documents regarding the 1993 child molestation allegations leaked online, and above all, Gavin Arvizo decided to sue Michael for child molestation, resulting in a lengthy trial (cf. Taraborrelli 2010: 615-618, 638-650).

 

3.5       People v. Jackson

Investigations began when during a session with psychologist Dr. Katz, Gavin Arvizo and his brother turned against Jackson and confessed that Jackson had intoxicated them with alcohol and sexually abused Gavin several times. This session had been organized after Janet Ventura-Arvizo had called the same attorney who had represented Jordie Chandler in 1993: Larry Feldman. The Arvizos had thus decided to seek out the same attorney the Chandlers had used to extort 17 million dollars of Michael Jackson in 1993. As soon as Dr. Katz filed the report to the authorities, the LAPD raided the Neverland Valley Ranch for the second time in a decade and the King of Pop was handcuffed and led away. The investigation and media speculations were already in full swing by the time that formal arraignment of Michael Jackson took place in the Santa Barbara courthouse on 16 January 2004 (cf. Taraborrelli 2010: 638-665). Then, in April 2004, a grand jury in Santa Barbara County “handed down an indictment against the entertainer on molestation charges”, which means that the “members of the grand jury felt enough evidence existed in the case against Jackson to bring it to trial.” (Taraborrelli 2010: 673f.) The trial would begin on 31 January 2005 and it would be settled once and for all whether Michael Jackson, represented by attorney Thomas Mesereau, was a child molester or not (cf. Jones 2012: 3f.).

 

Even before the trial had officially begun, it was clear that the media would turn it into a spectacle. According to Jones, journalists from more than 2200 different television networks and major journals from all over the world were waiting in front of the courthouse to report incoming news about the Jackson trial. For example, “[t]he NBC network and its cable TV subsidiaries had set up a four hundred eighty-square foot platform to hold its giant team of reporters, producers, and cameras.” (2012: 16) For several months, the streets of Santa Maria would be crowded with press tents, journalists and MJ’s fans (cf. ibid.). Finally, on 28 February 2005, the judge announced the indictment against Jackson, “which included four counts of child molestation, four counts of administering alcohol to commit a felony, one count of attempted molestation, and one count of conspiracy.” (Jones 2012: 20) The announcement was followed by the opening statements of prosecutor DA Thomas Sneddon and defense attorney Thomas Mesereau, and the next day the first day of testimony began (cf. Jones 2012: 20-27).

 

It was Martin Bashir who was called to the stand as the prosecution’s first witness. After having introduced himself to the members of the jury, Bashir played his documentary Living with Michael Jackson for them in order to demonstrate to them the inappropriate behavior of Michael. At first the video was rather effective, but when Meserau cross-examined Bashir and Bashir’s attorney objected to every single question asked by Mesereau, so that Bashir did not have to give any answers, the jury began to doubt him. Through his extremely skillful questioning, Mesereau managed to show the jury that Bashir could not be trusted because he had done everything to get the scandalous documentary he wanted – he had flattered and complimented Jackson in order to hear what he wanted to hear. Furthermore, Mesereau accomplished to expose numerous mistakes in the testimonies of the rest of the prosecution’s witnesses: Davellin and Star Arvizo, Gavin’s siblings; Kiki Fournier, one of Jackson’s former housekeepers; other former employees of Jackson; Dr. Urquizo, a psychologist that claimed to be a child abuse expert; Lauren Wallace and Cindy Bell, two flight attendants who had attended to Jackson’s needs on many flights; Janet Arvizo, Gavin’s mother; June Chandler, Jordie Chandler’s mother; even the accuser, Gavin Arvizo himself, had a hard time of convincing the jury. When the last witness of the prosecution had testified, it was time for Mesereau’s defense case (cf. Jones 2012: 28-238).

 

The defense case began in a strong way by first calling Wade Robson, then Brett Barnes, and finally Macaulay Culkin, three young men who had been friends with MJ since their childhood and who had also slept in the pop star’s bedroom, to the stand. Even cross-examination by the prosecution’s attorney could not lessen their credibility when they insisted on Michael’s innocence. Mesereau’s next step was to neutralize Bashir’s Living with Michael Jackson by showing the jury the outtake footage recorded by Jackson’s personal videographer, further demonstrating Bashir’s deceitful way of conducting the interview and the one-sided, deliberately damaging editing of Bashir’s documentary. More testimonies by Larry King, Jay Leno and Chris Tucker amongst many others followed, and together with Mesereau, they disassembled the Arvizos’ statements step by step. After Chris Tucker’s testimony, the defense rested their case and the prosecution as well as the defense presented their closing arguments. Two days later, the judge was ready to announce the verdicts (cf. Jones 2012: 238-291).

When on 13 June 2005, Superior Court Clerk Lorna Ray read the verdicts, the media representatives present in the courtroom were taken aback: Michael Joseph Jackson was declared not guilty on all counts (cf. Jones 2012: 3f.). “There was a shock wave that hit everyone, and the media folks who expected a guilty verdict seemed to be in a state of disbelief, with their jaws dropped.” (Jones 2012: 292) In fact, the media representatives had been anticipating Jackson’s conviction since before the trial had even started. While every accusation of the prosecution made the news, Jackson’s good deeds put forward by the defense were largely ignored. “The more negative the commentary, the more attention the story got.” (Jones 2012: 8) Just like during the child molestation accusations by the Chandlers in 1993, the media knew no objectivity when reporting about Michael Jackson’s trial. Instead of providing the public with unbiased reports on the trial, reporters focused on Michael Jackson’s light skin, on Michael’s past relationship with his pet chimp Bubbles, on Michael dangling his son over a balcony in Berlin, on Michael appearing in court in his pajamas, on Macaulay Culkin having shared a bed with the King of Pop (cf. Jones 2012: 10, 27, 65f., 250).

 

Even after the trial, after having presented the verdicts, several news channels very quickly moved on to speculations about MJ leaving the United States (cf. Jones 2012: 293). Apparently, the media wanted to make as much money as possible out of Jackson’s damaged image. In fact, Jones reveals that “Jackson’s exoneration actually cost the worldwide media billions of dollars.” (2012: 10) A number of media channels had already arranged “to follow Michael’s everyday schedule behind bars”, so that if the King of Pop had been convicted, stories “about Jackson’s safety in jail, about Jackson’s life behind bars, about Jackson’s suicide watches, about Jackson’s prison inmates” would certainly have followed (ibid.). However, the verdict of the jury put an end to these plans and Jackson’s decision to seclude himself with his children abroad reduced media coverage of his life considerably over the next years. Only in 2009, Michael Jackson really made the international headlines again; namely, when people all over the world mourned the death of the King of Pop (cf. Taraborrelli 2010: 698-707).

 

 

4. Michael Jackson vs. the Media

The previous section of this thesis has shown how the Jackson bashing by tabloid as well as mainstream media began and how it went on to the point of escalation over the years. In addition, it has revealed that Michael Jackson with his eccentricities was a constant target of biased, one-sided media reporting. In doing so, it was possible to understand the gradual decline of the world’s once most successful artist and entertainer. Having said that, we have also seen that, as Vogel puts it, “Jackson wasn’t a mere victim of the media.” (2011: 106) It was MJ himself who took the first step to damaging his image irreparably by planting fake stories about him in the media. But he was also not a mere victim in another sense: he fought back in the form of his music.

 

This section of the thesis will focus on Michael Jackson’s counterattack against the media by taking a closer look at the lyrics of five of his songs (and a brief look at the respective albums the songs appeared on), namely “Leave Me Alone” off Bad, “Why You Wanna Trip On Me” off Dangerous, “Scream” and “Tabloid Junkie” off HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I and “Privacy” off Invincible. Throughout the analyses, the first focus will be on the communicative situation underlying the lyrics. According to Werner Faulstich, when analyzing the lyrics of a pop song, it is crucial to scrutinize the communicative situation, so that we can find out who says what to whom, that is, the fictive speaker, the subject-matter of the speech and the fictive addressee: “Der Text eines Popsongs muß als eine Redesituation aufgefaßt werden und insofern stellt sich nach eher inhaltlichen Fragen sofort das Problem der involvierten verbalen Person(en): Wer spricht zu wem?”[2] (1978: 81) The second focus will be on the lyrics’ poetic as well as rhetorical devices, for example the rhyme schemes, metaphors, repetition and intertextuality, and their effects and meanings. Faulstich explains that the communicative situation is determined by these devices to a large extent; therefore, it would be nonsensical to focus on the communicative situation alone (cf. 1978: 83). For this reason, we will not only examine who says what to whom, but also what Faulstich calls “[das] Wie der Redeweise”[3] – how something is said (ibid.). In fact, how the fictive speaker chooses to transmit the content will also reveal important information about the speaker and his/her power position in the various songs. An examination of the five songs in chronological order will then allow us to see how the fictive speaker’s power position changes over the course of the songs, or rather how the speaker progresses from victim in “Leave Me Alone” to more or less self-empowered being in “Privacy”.

 

4.1       “Leave Me Alone”

4.1.1    Bad

“Leave Me Alone” is a song that first appeared on Michael Jackson’s highly anticipated follow-up album to Thriller, titled Bad. In the years following the release of Thriller, Jackson and his team consisting of Quincy Jones, Matt Forger, John Barnes, Bill Bottrell, Bruce Swedien, Greg Phillinganes and Jerry Hey wrote hundreds of songs for what became Jackson’s third solo album for Epic Records. However, only eleven songs were selected for recording. As soon as the songs were chosen, the recording process started. Because Michael wanted to avoid creating a copy of Thriller, he encouraged his team to fabricate new, innovative sounds never before heard by human ears. Consequently, the studio was equipped with the newest technology and the whole space of the studio was occupied by synthesizer stacks and the largest Synclavier in the world. The recording process was so elaborate that it took Jackson and his team more than a year to complete Bad. In fact, in order to finish one single song for Bad, over a hundred audio tracks were recorded and merged, resulting in more than 800 multitrack tapes to create the album in its entirety. Horns, electric guitars and organs were combined with the noises of a cheering crowd, the purr of a car engine, birdsong and the sound of a beating heart for the sake of constructing a wide collection of sounds. The hard work paid off: when Bad was released on 31 August 1987, it reached number one on the Billboard charts immediately. To date, it has sold approximately 35 million copies worldwide (cf. Vogel 2011: 93, 107-115).

 

Bad consists of eleven songs, namely “Bad”, “The Way You Make Me Feel”, “Speed Demon”, “Liberian Girl”, “Just Good Friends”, “Another Part of Me”, “Man in the Mirror”, “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You”, “Dirty Diana”, “Smooth Criminal” and finally “Leave Me Alone”. All songs except for two, namely “Just Good Friends” and “Man in the Mirror”, were written by Michael Jackson. Of these eleven tracks, five were number-one singles (“Bad”, “The Way You Make Me Feel”, “Man in the Mirror”, “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” and “Dirty Diana”) and three more tracks made it to the Top 15 (“Another Part of Me”, “Smooth Criminal” and “Leave Me Alone”). The album offers everything from love songs (“The Way You Make Me Feel” and “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You”), to a car chase (“Speed Demon”), a song inspiring social change (“Man in the Mirror”), a story about a seductive groupie trying to lead the speaker into temptation (“Dirty Diana”), and the fiction of a murder (“Smooth Criminal”). Last but not least, Bad also features Michael Jackson’s first artistic reaction to the damaging speculations and rumors about him circulating in the media: “Leave Me Alone” (cf. Michael Jackson. Bad; Vogel 2011: 116-127).

 

4.1.2    “Just stop doggin’ me around”

“Leave Me Alone” is a song written and composed by Michael Jackson, on which rhythm and vocal arrangements as well as solo, background vocals and the vocal synthesizer were done by Michael Jackson. Drum programming and synthesizers are the work of Larry Williams, the guitar was played and recorded by Paul Jackson Jr., the Synclavier as well as synthesizer programming is attributed to Casey Young, and Greg Phillinganes is accredited with playing the synthesizer (cf. Michael Jackson. Bad. Booklet: 12f.; cf. Vogel 2011: 126). While the song appeared neither on the vinyl nor on the compact cassette version of the album due to a lack of storage capacity, it was included on the CD version of Bad (cf. Vogel 2011: 126). As a single accompanied by a video that managed to win a Grammy Award, it reached the Top 15 on the Billboard charts (cf. Vogel 2011: 115).

 

The first step to examining the communicative situation in “Leave Me Alone” is to establish the extratextual level of the song. The following can be said about the extratexual level of “Leave Me Alone”: on the productive side of the extratextual level, there is the real author, namely Michael Jackson and his team involved in the creation of the song’s music and lyrics. Having said that, on the receptive side of the extratextual level, there is the real reader and, due to the fact that songs are plurimedial works of art, the real listener, which includes every person who has ever read the lyrics of “Leave Me Alone”, watched its video and/or listened to the music of the song.

 

As for determining the intratextual level of the song, or rather who says what to whom, a step-by-step in-depth analysis of the lyrics beginning with the fictive speaker is required. The fictive speaker in “Leave Me Alone” appears explicitly throughout the entire lyrics and is established through a frequent use of deictic expressions referring to the first person. Firstly, the personal object pronoun “me” is present in the title of the song. Because the title “Leave Me Alone” also acts as the hook of the song, the personal pronoun “me” gets repeated in the chorus very frequently, that is to say in every line of the chorus. In addition, “me” is found in the third (“You really hurt, you used to take and deceive me”) and fifth line of the second verse (“You got a way of making me feel so sorry”), and in the first (“Just stop doggin’ me around”), second (“(Just stop doggin’ me)”), third (“Don’t come beggin’ me”), fifth (“Don’t come lovin’ me), fifteenth (“Don’t come beggin’ me”) and seventeenth line of the outro (“Don’t come lovin’ me”). Secondly, the personal subject pronoun “I” can also be found in the song’s lyrics very often, for example in the first two lines (“I don’t care what you talkin’ ‘bout baby / I don’t care what you say”), the fourth line (“I don’t care anyway”), the fifth line (“Time after time I gave you all of my money”) and the seventh line of Verse 1 (“Ain’t no mountain that I can’t climb baby”). In Verse 2, the first person pronoun “I” is used twice in the first line (“There was a time I used to say girl I need you”) and once in the sixth and seventh line (“I found out right away / Don’t you come walkin’ beggin’ I ain’t lovin’ you”). Thirdly, the fictive speaker also uses the possessive determiner “my” in several lines of the song, for instance “my money” in the fifth line of Verse 1 and “my way” in the final line of Verse 1 and Verse 2. As can be seen, the fictive speaker is thus very manifest throughout the entire lyrics.

 

The fictive addressee, too, is clearly perceptible in the lyrics of “Leave Me Alone”. In fact, the imperative mood in the title as well as in every line of the chorus already suggests that the speech is directed towards somebody. More instances of the imperative mood are found in the third line of Verse 1 (“Don’t you come walkin’ beggin’ back mama”), in the penultimate and ultimate line of Verse 2 (“Don’t you come walkin’ beggin’ I ain’t lovin’ you / Don’t you get in my way”), and in lines one to six of the outro (“Just stop doggin’ me around / (Just stop doggin’ me) / Don’t come beggin’ me / Don’t come beggin’ / Don’t come lovin’ me / Don’t come beggin’”) as well as lines fifteen to eighteen of the outro, which are a repetition of line three to six of the outro. Furthermore, the fictive addressee is also addressed by the use of the personal pronoun “you”, for example in the first three lines (“I don’t care what you talkin’ ‘bout baby / I don’t care what you say / Don’t you come walkin’ beggin’ back mama”) and the fifth line of Verse 1 (“Time after time I gave you all of my money”), in the first (“There was a time I used to say girl I need you”), third (“You really hurt, you used to take and deceive me”), fifth (“You got a way of making me feel so sorry”), seventh and eighth line of Verse 2 (“Don’t you come walkin’ beggin’ I ain’t lovin’ you / Don’t you get in my way”), in the third line of every pre-chorus (“Who’s laughing baby, don’t you know?”) and in line seven and line nineteen of the outro (“I love you”).[4] The fictive addressee is further specified by the gender-neutral “baby” in line one (“I don’t care what you talkin’ ’bout baby”) and line seven of Verse 1 (“Ain’t no mountain that I can’t climb baby”), and line three (“Who’s laughing baby, don’t you know?”) and line six of every pre-chorus (“Who’s laughin’ baby?”). Since “baby” is usually used as an affectionate name between lovers, the fact that the speaker uses this term to refer to the addressee reveals that the addressee is or was the speaker’s lover. In addition, the speaker also refers to the addressee as “girl”, namely in the first line of the first two choruses (“So just leave me alone girl”), in the first line of the second verse (“There was a time I used to say girl I need you”), in line three of the last pre-chorus (“Who’s laughing baby, don’t you know, girl?”) and in line one, four, nine and twelve in the final extended chorus (“So just leave me alone girl / […] Leave me alone girl”), which means that the fictive addressee is definitely a woman. The “mama” in the third line of the first verse (“Don’t you come walkin’ beggin’ back mama”) further underlines the assumption that the addressee is female. As a consequence, since the fictive speaker uses an affectionate name to refer to the fictive addressee and the addressee is a woman, it might be argued that the fictive speaker is a man for the following two reasons: firstly, although a homosexual relationship is a possible subject for a pop song of the 90s, a heterosexual relationship is just more likely considering the fact that homosexuality was not really accepted in the 90s yet; and secondly, it is Michael Jackson who gives a voice to the speaker by having written the lyrics and performed the song, so that a male voice is suggested.

 

The subject-matter of the speech is rather straightforward at first sight and does not leave much room for interpretation. Since the hook of the song and the song’s title say “Leave me alone”, it is evident that the song is about a fictive speaker who is bothered by the fictive addressee, hence why he constantly has to tell her to leave him alone. In the lines “I don’t care what you talkin’ ‘bout baby / I don’t care what you say / Don’t you come walkin’ beggin’ back mama / I don’t care anyway” of Verse 1, the speaker seems to suggest that the addressee is speaking ill of him – maybe spreading rumors – and that he does not care about what she has to say. Additionally, these lines also confirm the assumption about the speaker and the addressee being in a relationship, though they also disclose that the relationship is already over, or at least damaged beyond all repair at this point, seeing that he tells her not to come back and not to beg for him to take her back. The following lines, “Time after time I gave you all of my money / No excuses to make / Ain’t no mountain that I can’t climb baby / All is going my way” of the first verse give more information about their relationship. The speaker says that he provided for her and what is more, he seems to have offered her everything he had, so that there are no excuses that she left him and that she is now speaking ill of him – he thus seems to say that he does not owe her anything. In addition, he points out that now that she is gone, he can still achieve anything he wants and that everything is going according to his wishes, implying that he does not need her in order to be happy. With the lines “(‘Cause there’s a time when you’re right / And you know you must fight) / Who’s laughing baby, don’t you know? / (And there’s the choice that we make / And this choice you will take) / Who’s laughin’ baby” of the pre-choruses, the speaker declares that there comes a time when you have to fight, say that “enough is enough” and make the right choice. He also implies that he is going to have the last laugh with line three and line six. However, the second to last line of the pre-chorus also reveals that he has not made the choice to leave the addressee for good yet, due to the fact that he uses “will” in the sentence, suggesting that he will do so in the future.

 

The chorus, on the other hand, is self-explanatory: the speaker repeats several times that he wants to be left alone – he wants her to go away and to stop bothering him. The lines “Just stop doggin’ me around / (Just stop doggin’ me)” further strengthen the speaker’s request, since according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the verb “to dog” means “to bother or pester persistently” (“dog” n.d., online). Finally, in the lines “There was a time I used to say girl I need you / But who is sorry now / You really hurt, you used to take and deceive me / Now who is sorry now” of Verse 2, the speaker first focuses on the past. He felt that he needed her in the past, but since she hurt and deceived him, he does not need her anymore. At the same time, he implies that he expects her to regret her decision to do so in lines two and four. In the final lines “You got a way of making me feel so sorry / I found out right away / Don’t you come walkin’ beggin’ I ain’t lovin’ you / Don’t you get in my way” of Verse 2, the speaker then reveals that he found out how manipulative the addressee was very early into their relationship and that he really does not want her to get in his way by trying to come back to him. Clearly then, the entire subject-matter of the speech is about a damaged relationship and the lyric persona’s wish to be left alone by the fictive addressee. This interpretation is also confirmed by Jackson himself in his autobiography: “I’m sending a simple message here: ‘Leave me alone.’ The song is about a relationship between a guy and a girl.” (2010: 270)

 

Nevertheless, there is a second interpretation that is possible. In Moonwalk, Michael Jackson continues explaining the meaning of “Leave Me Alone”: “But what I’m really saying to people who are bothering me is: ‘Leave me alone.’” (Ibid.) The song is thus not only about a relationship between two lovers, but also a message to the people that bothered Michael Jackson prior to the release of “Leave Me Alone” – for instance, representatives of the tabloid press and mainstream media. This becomes more obvious when one watches the music video of “Leave Me Alone”. A work of art on its own, “which took twenty-five people more than six months to realize to the singer’s satisfaction”, it is in fact the music video that strongly suggests that the song can be understood in terms of criticism of the media (Vogel 2011: 126). The video is also the reason why Vogel calls the song “Jackson’s boldest response to date to his legion of critics” and an “expression of exasperation at a media and public that had grown insatiable” (ibid.). Therefore, in order to be able to analyze the lyrics beyond their surface, the video requires further examination.

 

The video begins with Michael Jackson being catapulted out of what looks like a tour bus and into an amusement park. While Jackson is on his way to the amusement park, newspapers with ridiculous headlines such as “MICHAEL’S SPACE-AGE DIET”, “BUBBLES THE CHIMP BARES ALL ABOUT MICHAEL” and “MICHAEL’S COSMETIC NOSE SURGERY” published by “National Intruder” and “Global Gossip” are being thrown on his doorstep. As the camera cuts to the interior of the tour bus, more newspapers with similar headlines are shown, for instance “MICHAEL FROZEN FOR 50 YEARS” and “MICHAEL CONFIDES TO PET CHIMP”. These newspapers feature photos of Jackson on their front pages and unlike normal photos, these photos are not static; they seem to have come to life and Michael is singing from them. The purpose of these first scenes is to illustrate how the sensationalistic media circus has turned Jackson into a commodity; how the media exploit Jackson for newspaper sales by turning him into a freak. Story after story, Jackson is progressively being dehumanized until he has been swallowed up by the pages, which is why he is shown singing from them. The fact that MJ is then also singing from a twenty-dollar-bill further emphasizes that MJ has become a product, or rather a money-making machine. At the same time, these scenes also manage to discredit the media by giving the newspapers derogatory names (cf. Jackson 1989, online: 0:12-1:16). After this, the scene shifts to Michael Jackson in his amusement park ride. He is slowly approaching a set of teeth that opens and closes to the beat of the snare drum – a symbol of the menacing jaw of the media that is threatening to eat him alive. He then passes through this mouth and arrives in the next room of the ride, where he sees a spinning brain from which a globe followed by a nose and a scalpel emerge. While the globe moves out of the frame very quickly, the nose and the scalpel remain in the frame slightly longer, perhaps symbolizing that humans care more about Jackson’s cosmetic surgeries than about what happens in the world (cf. Jackson 1989, online: 1:17-1:52). When Jackson’s amusement ride exits the amusement park, the viewer finally discovers that the amusement park is actually a giant, captive version of Michael Jackson. This scene visualizes that Jackson has been turned into an attraction. While he lies motionless on the floor pinned down and constrained by the media that have turned him into pure entertainment, the people can have fun at the expense of his freedom (cf. Jackson 1989, online: 2:31). After the viewer sees another captive version of Michael Jackson with his foot in a ball and chain, dancing with the bones of the Elephant Man, which pokes fun at the story that was circulated by the media, the giant Jackson has had enough and he breaks free from his constraints and rises. As he stands up, the entire amusement park starts to collapse. However, the video ends on an ambiguous note with a Jackson standing above the ruins: it is not revealed whether he can “completely escape the circus that has become his reality” (cf. Jackson 1989, online: 3:30-4:38; Vogel 2011: 127). Given that the entire music video for “Leave Me Alone” criticizes the media, it would perhaps be too rash and superficial to consider the song and its lyrics to be only about a relationship between a man and a woman. Therefore, the video renders a second interpretation of the lyrics possible.

 

If we follow the clues put forward by Jackson and his music video of “Leave Me Alone” and assume that the fictive addressee – the “girl” – of the speech is actually a personified representation of the media, the subject-matter of the speech changes completely. The lyrics then appear to be about a speaker who has become bothered by the media and who had decided to put an end to their ‘relationship’. Firstly, the first four lines of Verse 1 become an expression of the speaker’s indifference to what the media have to say about him, or rather to the rumors they are spreading. Additionally, the speaker also tells the media not to come back begging when they will need him again someday. The last four lines of Verse 1 are then about how he allowed the media to make money off him and his life. Nevertheless, despite the rumors and speculations, he believes that he is at an all-time high and that he can achieve anything. Secondly, in the pre-chorus, the speaker announces that it is time to fight and that he will have the last laugh; however, by using the future tense in the penultimate line of the pre-chorus, he reveals that he has not ended the ‘relationship’ yet. Thirdly, in the chorus, he tells the media to leave him alone and to stop bothering him. Finally, in the second verse, the lyric persona speaks about the past: there was a time when he needed the media, but since they hurt and deceived him, he wants them to stay out of his way. In addition, he says that he discovered the manipulative side of the media very soon and he implies that they will regret their wrongdoing. As can be seen, such an interpretation of the lyrics is indeed possible and, considering Michael Jackson’s biographical background at that time, perhaps even more probable. It follows then that the lyrics of “Leave Me Alone” are highly autobiographical and that the fictive speaker can be considered an alter ego of Jackson.

 

So far, it has been shown that in Jackson’s lyrics of “Leave Me Alone”, the speaker seems to be rather determined to break free from the media and to leave their damaging relationship behind; however, it can be observed in the lyrics that he fails to do so in the end due to his own weakness. Although the lyric persona appears to be resolute in his attempt to separate from the addressee for the most part of the lyrics, the lyrics towards the end of the song reveal the vulnerability of the speaker. In the first six lines of the outro of “Leave Me Alone”, the speaker repeats that he wants to be left alone by the addressee. But if he was truly serious about wanting to be left alone, why would he admit to loving the addressee in the seventh and nineteenth line of the song? In fact, these two lines of the outro negate the speaker’s seeming determination that appears to be present throughout the rest of the lyrics. It almost seems as if, in a moment of weakness, the speaker cannot hold back his thoughts anymore and his mouth betrays him. The eighth line of the outro, “I don’t want to”, then goes on to further emphasize his weakness – it shows that he is a slave to his feelings for the speaker. In the following lines “I don’t… / I don’t… / I don’t… / I don’t… / I…, I…, I…, aaow!”, communication seems to break down. The fact that he is conflicted and his desperation become more and more apparent in these lines. Then he attempts once again to convey the message that he does not want the addressee to come back, but again the words “I love you” slip out of his mouth, disclosing that he still needs the addressee. Finally, the outro ends with the lines “I don’t want it / I don’t need it”, but by the time the speaker utters these words, it has already become obvious that he is desperately trying to convince himself of believing his own words. Therefore, the outro is a confession of the speaker’s uncertainty with regard to his relationship with the media – he knows that the media are harming him, but at the same time, he does not seem to have the power to let go. However, the outro is not the only aspect of the song which betrays the speaker’s vulnerability; the music as well as the lyrics’ rhyme scheme and rhetorical devices expose the speaker’s power position – the fact that he is a victim of his emotions – too.

 

4.1.3    Music, rhyme scheme and rhetorical devices

The music of “Leave Me Alone” goes well together with the progression of the lyrics and further underlines the fact that the fictive speaker is a victim of his insecurity. The song is based around a small number of chords, namely the Em, the Bm7sus4, the Am, the G, the F#m, the F, the Am7 and the B7 chord. In the intro and the first verse of “Leave Me Alone”, a constant switching from the Em to the Bm7sus4 chord and back can be observed. As a matter of fact, every bar of the intro and the first verse consists solely of those two chords. As the song transitions into the first pre-chorus, the chords start to change. The chords in the pre-choruses move from Am to G to F#m to F, back to the Em and Bm7sus4 pattern for two bars, and then transition from Am to G to F#m to F again before being concluded by the Em and Bm7sus4 pattern. In the chorus, first the Em chord is repeated two times, then the chords move from the Am7 chord to the B7 chord, back to the Em chord and ultimately to the Am7 and B7 chord again. When the first chorus is over and the second verse of the song begins, the song reverts back into the Em and Bm7sus4 pattern. This pattern is then interrupted by the second pre-chorus, the second chorus, is repeated again during the synthesizer and vocal solo, is interrupted once again by the third pre-chorus and the third extended chorus and then reappears in the outro of the song (cf. Michael Jackson. Michael Jackson: Complete Chord Book: Song 53).

 

These chord progressions mirror the lyrics of the song: as the speaker announces that it is time to fight and that he will finally spring to action in the pre-chorus, the song suddenly breaks out of the monotony of the ceaseless Em and Bm7sus4 chord pattern of Verse 1. Although the pattern is not entirely interrupted and the Em and Bm7sus4 pattern still finds its way into the pre-chorus, the new chords introduce an, at least temporary, sense of hope for the speaker. The chorus builds on this sense of hope and as the speaker repetitively cries out “Leave me alone”, only the Em chord of the pattern remains, transitioning into two newly introduced chords, namely the Am7 and the B7 chord. It appears as if the liberation from the perpetual Em and Bm7sus4 pattern is complete, but after the speaker’s final attempt at freeing himself from the addressee in the last chorus, the music of the song reverts to and ends with a fade-out of the same pattern in the outro. This coincides with the speaker giving away that he is still a victim of his feelings – that he still loves the addressee – in the outro. As the speaker tries to convince himself that he does not want the addressee back in the final lines of the outro and the music fades out with the Em and Bm7sus4 chords, it becomes evident that his insecurity makes his liberation impossible.

 

A closer examination of the rhyme scheme of the song’s lyrics further exposes the fictive speaker’s weakness. As a matter of fact, while a number of rhymes can be found in the lyrics, there is no consistent rhyme scheme. The first verse has the rhyme scheme abcbdeab: the “say” of line two rhymes with the “anyway” of line four and the “way” of line eight, and the “baby” of line one is repeated in line seven. In addition, an internal rhyme can be found in line one and line three, namely “talkin’” and “walkin’”. In contrast, the second verse appears to have a more regular rhyme scheme; however, it soon becomes clear that most of the rhymes are identical rhymes; that is, the same words are simply repeated in the end position of the lines. The identical rhymes of “now” in the second and in the fourth line, of “you” in the first and seventh line and the “away” in line six and “way” in line eight, which also refer back to the first verse, result in the following rhyme scheme: mnonpbmb. It can be said then that similar to the chord progression in the music, the rhymes are very monotonous in the verses. Perhaps the speaker simply does not have the power to create exciting rhymes and a regular rhyme scheme. Nevertheless, the lyric persona manages to break out of this tediousness, just as the music does, namely in the pre-choruses of the song. The rhyme scheme of the first two pre-choruses is ffgeea and the rhyme scheme of the final pre-chorus is ffheea. In all the pre-choruses, the speaker rhymes “right” with “fight” and “make” with “take”, resulting in several rhyming couplets, which give the impression that the speaker is truly ready to fight and to free himself from the victim power position. In the chorus, on the other hand, a lot of identical rhymes are used again, leading to the rhyme scheme hiiiijkl. However, this time it is not a sign of tediousness, but rather of desperation as the speaker tries to liberate himself from the addressee. Therefore, it can be argued again that despite his attempts at getting into a position of power, especially in the pre-choruses, the speaker fails to succeed in doing so because of his despair.

 

Finally, the rhetorical devices, too, indicate the fictive speaker’s powerlessness to escape his seemingly hopeless situation. Firstly, an anaphora can be found in Verse 1, namely “I don’t care […]” in line one, two and four. The fact that the fictive speaker states that he does not care three times, possibly reveals that he does care more than he would like to admit. It is as if the speaker is trying to convince himself of his indifference. If he did not care, there would be no need to say so three times. The repetition of “Who’s laughin’ baby” in the pre-choruses and “[…] who is sorry now” in the second verse can be interpreted in a similar way: if the fictive speaker is truly having the last laugh or if the speaker really feels that the addressee is going to be sorry, why does he bother to tell the addressee several times then? The explanation is simple: the constant repeating of the same statements shows that he still cares. Secondly, the epistrophe in the final lines of the verses, namely “my way” contrasts the “All is going my way” of the first verse with the “Don’t you get in my way” of the second verse. This reveals how powerless the speaker is compared to the addressee: although he says that everything is going according to his wishes, he still fears that the addressee might get in his way. It follows from this that the speaker is not in control of his own life, but that his life is still controlled by the addressee. Finally, in Moonwalk, Jackson writes that he “worked very hard on the song, stacking vocals on top of each other like layers of clouds.” (2010: 270) This can be heard as well as seen particularly in the choruses, in which the speaker repeats the plea “Leave me alone” over and over again. Once again, the constant repetition of his demand conveys the impression that he is extremely helpless and desperate.

 

All in all, it must then be said that the subject-matter of the speech, the music, the rhyme scheme and the rhetorical devices all suggest a speaker that is the victim of his indecisiveness and consequently, the victim of the addressee – the media – since he suffers at the hand of her. The speaker attempts to be strong and to let go of the addressee, but he cannot because he still cares about the addressee, revealing his powerlessness. What is also interesting is Jackson’s decision to disguise his first ‘media-critical’ song as a love song, which is the most popular song theme (cf. Braheny 2007: 31). Perhaps the intention was to reach as many people as possible with a love theme, or perhaps Jackson feared that a song critical of the media would not interest his listeners. Whatever his reasons, it can still be considered a reserved and fearful move. This reservation and fear is certainly mirrored in the speech of the fictive speaker; it is expressed in his powerlessness.

 

4.2       “Why You Wanna Trip On Me”

4.2.1    Dangerous

“Why You Wanna Trip On Me” is a track on Michael Jackson’s first Epic solo album without producer Quincy Jones, titled Dangerous. For this album, Jackson longed for more independence and wanted a new sound, which is why he asked the creator of new jack swing, Teddy Riley, to join his team. In addition to Riley, MJ’s team consisted of people such as Bill Bottrell, Brad Buxer, Matt Forger, Bruce Swedien, Brad Sundberg, Steve Porcaro and David Paich. The results of this fruitful collaboration were more experimental and more challenging songs with more evolved sounds. Just as during the recording process of Bad, Jackson did not want to recreate his work or the work of other artists – he wanted to innovate sonically (cf. Vogel 2011: 131-137). For instance, in order to create “‘organic’ percussion sounds”, Michael and his team went outside and “hit on things like glass, metal, or trash cans (occasionally with baseball bats), and Teddy Riley recorded samples from Jackson’s zoo at Neverland. Jackson simply heard ‘music’ in everything and asked his collaborators to record it and store it for potential use.” (Vogel 2011: 137) As a consequence, Dangerous took Jackson and his team more than three years to finish. More than 100 songs had been recorded and more than 10 million dollars spent, but when the album was released on 26 November 1991, the blood, sweat and tears were rewarded: the album sold two million copies worldwide in the first week and four million in the first month of its release (cf. Vogel 2011: 143-149). Moreover, it soon became Michael’s “most successful album internationally and his second-most successful in total worldwide sales, behind only Thriller.” (Vogel 2011: 149)

 

Dangerous consists of 14 songs, namely “Jam”, “Why You Wanna Trip On Me”, “In the Closet”, “She Drives Me Wild”, “Remember the Time”, “Can’t Let Her Get Away”, “Heal the World”, “Black or White”, “Who Is It”, “Give in To Me”, “Will You Be There”, “Keep the Faith”, “Gone Too Soon” and “Dangerous” (cf. Michael Jackson. Dangerous). Of these songs, the first six as well as the last one are the result of Jackson’s collaboration with Teddy Riley (cf. Fast 2014: 12-15). The first single that was released off Dangerous was “Black or White” and it reached the number-one position on the Billboard charts immediately. While three more singles – “Remember the Time”, “In the Closet” and “Will You Be There” – followed “Black or White” into the Top Ten of the Billboard charts, the other singles were not as successful in the United States; however, these singles – “Jam”, “Heal the World”, “Who Is It” and “Dangerous” – became very popular everywhere else in the world (cf. Vogel 2011: 144f., 149). The themes that Jackson covers on Dangerous are diverse; the songs are about the state of the world (“Jam”), about a love affair (“In the Closet”), about a longing for the past (“Remember the Time”), about making the world a better place (“Heal the World”), about racial unity (“Black or White”), about loneliness (“Who Is It”), about a seductive woman (“Dangerous”) and last but not least, about the wrongdoing of the media (“Why You Wanna Trip On Me”) (cf. Michael Jackson. Dangerous; cf. Vogel 2011: 150-168). Moreover, according to Susan Fast, the themes are darker and more adult than ever: Jackson is “struggling with […] politics, love, lust, seduction, betrayal, damnation, and perhaps above all else race – in ways heretofore unseen in his music. He gives us a darker vision of the world […].” (2014: 2) Additionally, as Fast points out, “[e]ven the bright moments are surrounded by uncertainty, anger, betrayal, or ambiguity and taken as a whole, the album leaves little doubt that pain eclipses hope; this is not shiny, happy pop music.” (Ibid.) For this reason, she considers Dangerous to be Michael’s “coming of age album” (Fast 2014: 1).

 

4.2.2    “Stop trippin’”

“Why You Wanna Trip On Me” was written and composed by Teddy Riley and Bernard Belle, produced by Teddy Riley and Michael Jackson and recorded and mixed by Bruce Swedien, Teddy Riley, Dave Way and Jean-Marie Horvat. Teddy Riley also did the rhythm arrangements, the keyboards, the synthesizers and the guitars. The guitar intro was done by Paul Jackson Jr. Solo and background vocals are sung by Michael Jackson and the vocal arrangement is also the work of the King of Pop. Sequencing and programming is credited to Wayne Cobham (cf. Michael Jackson. Dangerous. Booklet: 5; cf. Vogel 2011: 153). As can be seen, Michael Jackson did not write and compose “Why You Wanna Trip On Me” himself. However, this does not mean that the song cannot be regarded as one of Jackson’s counterattacks against the media. As a matter of fact, Jackson always worked closely together with Teddy Riley and the rest of his team, who were all familiar with his vision of Dangerous. When something was not to Michael Jackson’s liking, he pushed Riley beyond his boundaries and made clear what he wanted. Additionally, Michael Jackson also acted as executive producer for the first time, which means that he had full control of the creative output. As executive producer, MJ also had a final say on which songs to put on the album. Despite many other songs being finished, which did not make the final cut of the album and would appear on later albums, Jackson decided to include “Why You Wanna Trip On Me” on Dangerous. It follows then that Jackson must have thought that the song sounded as he wanted it to sound and said what he wanted it to say. Therefore, although Riley must be given credit for having written the music and the lyrics of the song, it needs to be repeated that the song still has to be viewed as one of Jackson’s counterattacks against the media. Riley was part of Michael’s creative team; it was Michael who pushed Riley to create new grooves until he liked them; it was Michael who wanted the song on his album; it was Michael who gave the lyrics a voice through his singing (cf. Vogel 2011: 131-143).

In Man in the Music: The Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson, Vogel writes that “Why You Wanna Trip On Me” is a “more developed lyrical sequel to ‘Leave Me Alone’”, in which “Jackson is no longer simply decrying his critics for ‘dogging [him] around’; he is directing their gaze to more pressing issues […].” (2011: 153) What Vogel seems to imply here is that the fictive speaker whom Riley created for “Why You Wanna Trip On Me” on behalf of Jackson appears to be more in control than the fictive speaker in “Leave Me Alone” – the speaker is not only telling the media to leave him alone, but he is also telling them what to do. According to Vogel then, the fictive speaker in “Why You Wanna Trip On Me” has liberated himself from the victim power position the speaker in “Leave Me Alone” was in. Whether this is truly the case can only be judged by looking at the communicative situation, the rhyme scheme and the rhetorical devices in the lyrics.

 

Starting with the extratextual level of the communicative situation in “Why You Wanna Trip On Me”, it can be said that the real authors are Teddy Riley on behalf of Michael Jackson as well as Michael Jackson and the rest of his team that contributed to the creation of the song’s music and lyrics. On the receptive side of the extratextual level, there is every single reader who has ever read the lyrics of the song and, since songs are plurimedial works of art, every single listener who has ever listened to the music.

 

In order to establish the intratextual level of the communicative situation, or who says what to whom in “Why You Wanna Trip On Me”, a closer examination of the lyrics starting with the fictive speaker is necessary. As is the case with the speaker in “Leave Me Alone”, the speaker in “Why You Wanna Trip On Me” is an overt speaker due to the fact that several deictic expressions referring to the first person can be found. For example, the personal object pronoun “me” appears in the title of the song, which also acts as the hook of the song, so that the pronoun gets repeated in the choruses over and over again. Other instances of “me” can be found in the last line of Verse 1 (“So there’s really no time / To be tripping on me”), in the last line of Verse 2 (“So tell me”) and in the seventh line of Verse 4 (“Tell me”). The personal subject pronoun “I” is also used in the lyrics, though only once, namely in the first line of the first verse (“They say I’m different”). In addition to these singular pronouns, a number of plural first person pronouns are present in the lyrics. These pronouns seem to be used in a universal sense, so that the speaker includes himself as well as everybody hearing or seeing his message. The plural first person pronoun “we” is used in the first two lines of the third verse (“We’ve got more problems / Than we’ll ever need”) and in the first (“We’ve got drug addiction”), the third (“We’ve got so much corruption”), the fifth (“We’ve got streetwalkers”) and the eighth line of the fourth verse (“What are we doing”).

 

There are two things that can be concluded from these observations: firstly, the personal subject pronoun “I” is only used once in the entire lyrics whereas the personal object pronoun “me” is used numerous times in the chorus as well as in most of the verses. Therefore, there seems to be a tendency towards the personal object pronoun, possibly revealing that the speaker will primarily be an object in the text. Secondly, there also appears to be a tendency towards the plural first person pronoun “we”, potentially showing the speaker’s strategy to get closer to the addressee instead of telling him/her to stop bothering him as in “Leave Me Alone”.[5]

 

The fictive addressee, too, is clearly perceptible in the lyrics of “Why You Wanna Trip On Me”. The personal pronoun “you”, which already appears in the title and consequently in the choruses, is used rather frequently in the verses as well. For instance, it can be found in the fifth line of the first verse (“You got world hunger”), in the first (“You got school teachers”), third (“You got grown people”), fifth (“You got strange diseases”) and seventh line of the second verse (“You got many doctors”) and in the third (“You got gang violence”) and fifth line of the third verse (“You got homeless people”). Furthermore, the imperative mood, which is used in every chorus, in the outro (which is basically an extremely extended chorus that fades out in the end), in Verse 2 and in Verse 4, implies an addressee as well: the same demand of the speaker (“Stop trippin’”) can be found in the third line of the first chorus, the fifth line of the second chorus and the third chorus, the fifth and sixth line of the fourth chorus and in lines one to eight, line ten, line twelve, line fourteen and in lines sixteen to eighteen of the outro. A variation of the same request, namely “Everybody just stop trippin’” appears in the final line of the second chorus and the fourth chorus. Finally, two cases of the imperative mood can also be found in the ninth line of Verse 2 (“So tell me”) and in the seventh line of Verse 4 (“Tell me”). As can be observed, the fictive addressee is very manifest in the lyrics. Additionally, it is safe to assume that the addressee is not one single person, but rather a group of people. The fact that the fictive speaker utters “Everybody just stop trippin’” together with the rest of the speech, implying that there is more than only one addressee, is evidence for this assumption. The “you” is thus to be understood as a plural second person pronoun. However, in order to find out the identity of the addressee, a closer examination of the subject-matter is required.

 

In his speech, the fictive speaker attempts to direct the fictive addressee’s focus away from him to a number of problems that exist in the world. In the first four lines of Verse 1 – “They say I’m different / They don’t understand / But there’s a bigger problem / That’s much more in demand” – the speaker says that a group of people (“they”) talk about the speaker being different because they do not understand him, but there are other matters that demand our immediate attention. In the following lines of the same verse, “You got world hunger / Not enough to eat / So there’s really no time / To be trippin’ on me”, he gives an example of a problem that requires our attention, namely world hunger, and thus there should be no time to harass the speaker because of his difference. Therefore, it can be said that the first verse begins with a strong, logical argumentation of the speaker. What remains to be determined, however, is the identity of the people who say that the speaker is different as well as the identity of the addressee. Because the lyrics do not provide us with any clues, Jackson’s biographical background needs to be considered. It follows then that “they” are the ones who speculate about the speaker’s difference, probably the media, and that “you” refers to the people believing those speculations, or rather people who believe the media. On the other hand, it is also possible to see it the other way round: people who believe speculations very often gossip about them and in turn perhaps create new rumors, which are then assimilated by media representatives and turned into stories again – it becomes a vicious circle. For this reason, it can be argued that the pronouns “they” and “you” actually refer to the same people: the media and the consumers of the media.[6]

 

In the rest of the verses, the lyric persona follows the structure of the second half of Verse 1 and enumerates more problems that are more important than him being different. For instance, in the lines “You got school teachers / Who don’t wanna teach / You got grown people / Who can’t write or read / You got strange diseases / Ah but there’s no cure / You got many doctors / That aren’t so sure” of Verse 2, the speaker mentions incapable, perhaps even lazy teachers, illiteracy, incurable diseases and incompetent doctors who do not know how to treat these diseases. In Verse 3, the speaker focuses on gang violence and homelessness: “You got gang violence / And bloodshed on the street / You got homeless people / With no food to eat”. Finally, in the lines “We’ve got drug addiction / In the minds of the weak / We’ve got so much corruption / Police brutality / We’ve got streetwalkers / Walking into darkness” of Verse 4, the speaker points out drug addiction, corruption, police misconduct and prostitution.

 

While the verses all seem to present a powerful speaker with strong arguments, it is in the choruses that the speaker shows his powerlessness. In the chorus, which appears after the second verse for the first time and is then repeated several times after the fourth verse, the speaker seems to ask: “Why do you have to trip on me when there are so many other matters that need our concern?” Furthermore, he tells the addressee – the media and the media consumers – to stop tripping. But what does the speaker mean by “trippin’”? The verb “to trip” means to “[c]atch one’s foot on something and stumble or fall” and is mostly used with the preposition “over” (“trip” n.d., online). However, a quick search using the Corpus of Contemporary American English reveals that “to trip” is also used with the preposition “on” in spoken language, though rather rarely. The image that is then evoked is that the speaker is sitting or lying helpless and powerless on the floor while people are stumbling over him, perhaps even trampling him almost to death. This interpretation would mean that the speaker, just like the speaker in “Leave Me Alone”, is in an extremely powerless position, or rather in a victim power position. However, “to trip” together with the preposition “on” also has a second meaning: in informal language “to trip on something” is frequently used with drugs and means to “[e]xperience hallucinations induced by taking a psychedelic drug, especially LSD” (“trip” n.d., online). This meaning evokes a completely different picture: the fictive speaker metaphorically becomes a hallucinogenic drug consumed by the addressee. The speaker is thus reduced to an object and is being taken advantage of by the addressee in order to get high. While the first interpretation is certainly possible, this second interpretation seems to make more sense: because the addressee is in a hallucinogenic state induced by the consumption of the speaker, the addressee does not see the problems in the world. The speaker, on the other hand, tries to make the addressee stop consuming him by directing the addressee’s attention to problems, such as world hunger, homelessness and incurable diseases. Seeing that this does not work, he cries out “Stop trippin’” and “Everybody just stop trippin’” in desperation in the choruses. It follows then that similar to the first interpretation of the chorus, in the second interpretation the speaker is utterly powerless as well.[7]

 

The song offers two more clues that the second meaning of “to trip” is primarily meant. Firstly, in the first two lines of the fourth verse, the fictive speaker explicitly mentions “[…] drug addiction / In the minds of the weak”. It could be argued that the speaker deliberately brings up drug addiction in order to allude to the way the chorus is to be understood. At the same time, this would mean that these two lines are a verbal attack on the addressee: since they are constantly tripping on the speaker, they are addicted to him, which, according to the speaker, makes them weak. Secondly, the way the background vocals are layered in the choruses also strongly suggests that the speaker refers to the second meaning of “to trip”. In fact, there are several layers of background vocals repetitively asking “Why?” and “Why you wanna trip on me?” while the solo vocals follow the lyrics. These background vocals sound rather psychedelic, as if they were inducing a trance: they are resonating and oscillating as if they were mirroring the acoustic perception of a drug user during a hallucinogenic trip.

 

All things considered, it can be said that the subject-matter of the speech is the speaker’s plea to stop consuming him like a drug only because he is different and to focus on problems that require our immediate attention. Furthermore, it can be argued that the speaker is in a victim power position again. Although he starts his speech in a strong way by enumerating argument after argument for problems that need more attention than his life, he discloses his weakness in the choruses of the song. The fact that the addressee consumes him like a drug and he cannot stop it – all he can do is to tell the addressee to “Stop trippin’” – makes him powerless. Over and over again, he asks the addressee “Why you wanna trip on me”, but he does not seem to get an answer and the consumption of him does not seem to stop either. The constant questions and pleas with the addressee to stop tripping on him convey the impression that he is really desperate for his suffering to end. However, there are more aspects which expose the speaker’s powerlessness: the music and the lyrics’ rhyme scheme and rhetorical devices.

 

4.2.3    Music, rhyme scheme and rhetorical devices

Similar to “Leave Me Alone”, the music of “Why You Wanna Trip On Me” seems to follow the progression of the lyrics very closely. The whole song is based around the following chords: the Dm7, the Dm11, the Bbdim7, the Dm, the Bb, the C#dim7 and the A7 chord. As the fictive speaker starts with his speech in a strong and composed way, the music starts with the Dm7 chord. In fact, the entire first verse consists of only the Dm7 chord, which gives the impression that the speaker is at ease and which has the side-effect that the music gives way to the speaker’s message, so that the focus is wholly on the lyrics. As the speaker moves on to the second verse, the music transitions into the Dm11 chord. It stays on the Dm11 chord for seven bars, again underlining the self-assured state of the speaker, before it transitions into the Bbdim7 chord in the last bar before the chorus, building up tension and revealing a hint of discomposure in the speaker. In the chorus, the chords move from the Dm to the Bb to the C#dm7 to the A7 to the Dm7 to the Bb to the C#dim7 to the A7 chord again. As can be seen, the number of chords increases in the chorus to a great extent, mirroring the speaker’s emotional breakdown due to his hopeless situation. In the third and fourth verses, which are identical to the first and the second verse, the speaker seems to escape his powerlessness again, but this escape is only temporary: since the song ends with several repetitions and a fade-out of the chorus, the speaker’s hopelessness and powerlessness prevail in the end (cf. Michael Jackson. Michael Jackson: Complete Chord Book: Song 99).

 

The rhyme scheme of the lyrics is further evidence for the speaker being in a powerless position. However, in contrast to the rhyme scheme in “Leave Me Alone”, the rhyme scheme in “Why You Wanna Trip On Me” appears to be more consistent. For instance, the first verse has the rhyme scheme abcbdefe. What becomes apparent very soon though is the fact that the rhymes are not always perfect rhymes. While “understand” in line two and “demand” in line four make a perfect rhyme, “eat” in line six and “me” in line eight form a vowel rhyme. The same can be observed in the second verse, in which the rhyme scheme is geheijkje: while “cure” in line four and “sure” in line eight result in a perfect rhyme, “teach” in line two and “read” in line four again only make a vowel rhyme. In addition, it is interesting that the second verse picks up two rhyme words (e) from the first verse, in a way connecting the two verses. Verse 3 picks up the same rhyme words (e) again, though this time the rhymes are not vowel rhymes, but perfect rhymes: “need” in line two rhymes with “street” in line four and they both rhyme with “eat” in line six and “feet” in line eight. The third verse thus has the rhyme scheme cemehene and is, as far as the rhyme scheme is concerned, the strongest verse of the speaker – it conveys the impression that the speaker is at his most powerful in Verse 3. The fourth verse sustains this impression with its first four lines of alternating rhymes at first, but then in the last four lines of Verse 4, before the song transitions into the final choruses, the rhyme scheme breaks down again, resulting in the following rhyme scheme: oeoepqerq. While “addiction” in line one and “corruption” in line three form a near perfect rhyme, “weak” in line two, “brutality” in line four and “me” in line seven make vowel rhymes. Additionally, a mosaic rhyme is formed by “darkness” in line six and “stop this” in line nine. As we have seen, all four verses are connected in a way through the e-rhymes. Furthermore, the rhyme scheme of the verses is more or less consistent at times, which gives the impression that the speaker in “Why You Wanna Trip On Me” is in a superior power position vis-à-vis the speaker in “Leave Me Alone”. However, the writer also often resorts to half rhymes and a mosaic rhyme in the end, perhaps revealing that the speaker is not as composed as he seems. Nevertheless, his powerlessness only truly comes forth in the choruses, which have the rhyme scheme eel or a variation thereof (for example, the second chorus which has the rhyme scheme eeeelll, or the outro, an extended chorus with the rhyme scheme llllllllelelelelll). In the choruses, the speaker repeats the same question and demand over and over again, resulting in nothing but identical rhymes – a sign of his lack of control and power just like in the chorus of “Leave Me Alone”. Therefore, it can be said that the desperation of the chorus triumphs again in the end.

 

Last but not least, the rhetorical devices further emphasize the speaker’s weakness. Firstly, two cases of anaphora can be found, namely (1) “you got” in line five of the first verse, line one, line three, line five and line seven of the second verse, line three and line five of the third verse, and (2) “we’ve got” in line one of the third verse as well as line one, line three and line five of the fourth verse. A closer look at the anaphora shows how the speaker slowly progresses from “you got” in the first three verses to “we’ve got” in the last verse. In doing so, he becomes less moralizing when enumerating the problems that need attention by showing that he is part of this “we” and that they are in this together. Moreover, by using “we”, he attempts to tell the addressee that he is the same as them, implying that it is wrong to consume him. Therefore, it can be argued that the speaker pursues a strategy of triggering empathy in the addressee, so that the addressee stops abusing him. Secondly, the “Stop trippin’” is strongly reminiscent of the “Just stop doggin’ me around” in “Leave Me Alone” – both lines are written in the imperative mood and both lines want the addressee to stop doing something to the speaker – and could be considered as an example of intertextuality. Perhaps the speaker uses such a similar statement in order to show that the same sense of desperation and powerlessness as in “Leave Me Alone” is prevalent in “Why You Wanna Trip On Me” as well. Thirdly and lastly, the constant repetition of the lines “Why you wanna trip on me” and “Stop trippin’” in the choruses, which is also reminiscent of the repetition of the line “Leave me alone” in the choruses of “Leave Me Alone”, further underlines the speaker’s despair and powerlessness. Since the tripping does not stop, he has to repeat his pleas and demands over and over again, but it seems that he does so to no avail. In the end, the tripping along with his pleas continues.

 

To summarize, it can be argued that the subject-matter of the speech, the music, the rhyme scheme and the rhetorical devices all expose a weak speaker who is the victim of the addressee – the media and the consumers of the media. Although the speaker in “Why You Wanna Trip On Me” appears to be stronger than the speaker in “Leave Me Alone”, which is expressed primarily in the regularity of the rhyme scheme, the rest of the discoveries demonstrate that he is nevertheless in a victim power position. Furthermore, it is also interesting how ambiguous and unclear the lyrics of the song actually are. Only with biographical background information, it is possible to uncover the fictive speaker, the fictive addressee and the subject-matter of the speech. The criticism of the media is thus still rather covert, which can be considered a reserved move by Riley and Jackson. Perhaps this accounts for why the speaker still does not manage to liberate himself from his powerlessness, and consequently, from the addressee in the song’s lyrics.

 

4.3       “Scream”

4.3.1    HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I

“Scream” is a song that appeared on Jackson’s first album since the child molestation allegations by the Chandlers. The result of these difficult times was MJ’s “most personal album”, as Vogel calls it (2011: 171). The album contains “all the turbulent emotions and struggles of the previous few years: it was his journal, his canvas, his rebuttal.” (Ibid.) Jackson began working on HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I after sorting out his personal life by settling the child abuse accusations out of court and marrying Lisa Marie Presley. He channeled all his negative experiences – his pain and anger – into his creativity, and together with his team consisting of Jimmy Jam, Brad Buxer, Bruce Swedien, Rene Moore, Steve Porcaro, Bill Bottrell and many others, he started recording new ideas. In order to avoid creating a replica of Dangerous, he moved away from the new jack swing of his previous album and mixed some new genres, such as industrial funk, orchestral pop and hip-hop on HIStory. At first the album was intended to become a collection of MJ’s greatest hits with a few new songs, but when more and more material kept being created, he decided to release a double-disc album instead. By 1995, more than 40 songs had been finished in the studio, but only 15 tracks made it on the album. Finally, the album was released on 16 June 1995 and reached number one on the Billboard charts immediately. However, it was pushed out of the Top Ten a few weeks later, resulting in numerous critics considering it a failure. Due to the child molestation allegations, Jackson’s popularity in the United States was fading. Nevertheless, HIStory was a commercial success everywhere else in the world: in only six weeks, approximately 16 million CDs were sold worldwide (cf. Vogel 2011: 171-184).

 

While the first disk of HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I is a greatest-hits collection featuring songs such “Billie Jean”, “Bad”, “Man in the Mirror” and “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough”, the second disk consists of 15 new songs, namely “Scream”, “They Don’t Care About Us”, “Stranger in Moscow”, “This Time Around”, “Earth Song”, “D.S.”, “Money”, a cover of The Beatles’ “Come Together”, “You Are Not Alone”, “Childhood”, “Tabloid Junkie”, “2 Bad”, “HIStory”, “Little Susie” and “Smile” (cf. Michael Jackson. HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I). Five songs were released as singles: “Scream” debuted at number five on the Billboard Hot 100 and made it to the number-two position; “You Are Not Alone” hit number one immediately after its release; “Stranger in Moscow” only managed to reach number 91; “They Don’t Care About Us” only reached number thirty in the United States, but became a hit everywhere else in the world; similarly, “Earth Song” became an enormous hit worldwide except for the United States where it was not even released as a single (cf. Vogel 2011: 171,184-205; cf. “Stranger in Moscow” n.d., online). The themes on HIStory are rather heterogeneous; for instance, “They Don’t Care About Us” is a protest song against oppressive authorities; “Stranger in Moscow” deals with isolation and alienation; “Earth Song” laments the damage which humanity has done to the world; “Money” criticizes materialism; “Childhood” is a highly autobiographical song about Jackson’s childhood; “Scream” and “Tabloid Junkie” are an expression of Jackson’s outrage at media sensationalism (cf. Vogel 2011: 190-205; cf. Michael Jackson. HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I).

 

4.3.2    “Stop pressurin’ me”

“Scream” was written and composed by Michael Jackson, his youngest sister Janet Jackson, James Harris III and Terry Lewis, and produced by Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis and Michael Jackson. Keyboards and synthesizers are also the work of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. All lead and background vocals were done by Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson (cf. Michael Jackson. HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I. Booklet: 32; cf. Vogel 2011: 190). It was the first, highly-anticipated single off HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I and was released together with its seven-million-dollar video on 31 May 1995. Although the single had been leaked illegally two weeks prior to its official release, it still entered the Billboard charts on number five and peaked at number two. Despite being Jackson’s first lead single in his solo career that did not manage to peak at number one, it was nevertheless a successful comeback “for an artist many critics claimed was professionally finished” (Vogel 2011: 184).

 

Vogel writes in Man in the Music: The Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson that “[a]fter the intense scrutiny and demoralization of the previous few years, Jackson was ready to fight back with the most powerful weapon he possessed: his music.” (2011: 190) Therefore, “Scream” was Jackson’s answer to the media which had been tarnishing his reputation since the child molestation allegations by the Chandlers. Furthermore, Vogel continues by saying that “no other song in Jackson’s career has the kind of roundhouse punch of ‘Scream’, a furious expression of indignation.”, implying that “Scream” is one of Jackson’s strongest responses to his critics (ibid.). Another, unnamed critic agrees: “This is Michael fighting back. And he’s delivered what could be a knockout blow.” (Qtd. in ibid.) It is thus suggested that “Scream” is an extremely powerful counterattack by Jackson against the media and that, as a consequence, the fictive speaker must have assumed a high power position compared to the speakers in “Leave Me Alone” or “Why You Wanna Trip On Me”, who are still in a victim power position. Once more, whether the speaker has really managed to liberate himself from the powerlessness that was present in the previous two songs can only be found out by examining the communicative situation, the rhyme scheme and the rhetorical devices of the song’s lyrics.

 

To begin with, the extratextual level of the communicative situation in “Scream” needs to be established. On the productive side of the extratextual level, there are the real authors of the song, namely Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, James Harris III and Terry Lewis, and the rest Jackson’s team involved in the creation of the song’s music and lyrics. On the receptive side of the extratextual level, we can again find the real reader, the real listener and the real viewer, which includes everyone who has ever read the lyrics of “Scream”, listened to the music or watched the music video.

 

In order to determine who says what to whom – the intratextual level – in “Scream”, a closer look at the lyrics beginning with the speaker has to be taken. Since several deictic expressions referring to the first person can be found in the lyrics, the fictive speaker is definitely an overt speaker. Firstly, the personal subject pronoun “I” appears in the sixth line of the first verse (“I got to get up”), in the third (“You tell me I’m wrong”) as well as in the last three lines of the second verse (“I care about mine / I’ve got to get stronger / And I won’t give up the fight”), in the final three lines of the third verse (“While I keep playin’ the game / I can’t take it much longer / I think I might go insane”), in the first three lines of the bridge (“Oh my God, can’t believe what I saw / As I turned on the TV this evening / I was disgusted by all the injustice”) and in the eighth line of every pre-chorus (“‘Cause I just can’t take it”). Secondly, the personal object pronoun “me” is used in the fifth line of Verse 1 (“Kicking me down”), in the third line of Verse 2 (“You tell me I’m wrong”), in every line except for the last in Chorus 1 (“Stop pressurin’ me / Just stop pressurin’ me / Stop pressurin’ me / Make me wanna scream / […]”) and in every line of Chorus 2 and Chorus 3. Finally, the possessive pronoun “mine” can be found in the sixth line of the second verse (“I care about mine”). It is thus safe to say that the lyric persona is clearly discernible in the lyrics.

 

At this point, it needs to be added that the fact that “Scream” is a duet with Janet Jackson slightly confuses the determination of the fictive speaker. Because Michael sings the song together with Janet, two voices – one male and one female – appear in the song. What is sung by whom is also marked in the lyrics, so that even if one does not listen to the song, it is still clear that there are two voices in the song. It could then be argued that these two voices indicate that there are two fictive speakers instead of only one in the text. What would speak for this assumption is the question in the second line of every pre-chorus, namely “don’t it make you wanna scream?”. This line could be interpreted as one speaker asking another speaker. Line five of the first pre-chorus and the third pre-chorus would also underline this assumption: “You try to cope with every lie / they scrutinize” – maybe one speaker is uttering this statement to the other speaker. However, it also needs to be said that in the verses, the two voices are speaking of the same subject-matter in the same way. Other than the two different voices, there seems to be no transition from one speaker to another and therefore, there is no real clue for two different speakers in the lyrics. What is more, in the choruses, the two voices seem to become one and say “Stop pressurin’ me” and not “Stop pressurin’ us”, which makes it more likely that there is just one lyric persona. It is thus also possible to argue that there is only one single fictive speaker in the lyrics. Why the two voices then? The fact that there are two voices in “Scream” could be interpreted as an expression of the speaker’s weakness again: the speaker needs the support of a second voice because he does not have the strength to speak up alone. Perhaps this second voice simply comes from deeper within the speaker.

 

A number of deictic expressions referring to the second person indicate that the fictive addressee is manifest in the lyrics as well. For instance, the personal pronoun “you” is used in line three, four and five of Verse 2 (“You tell me I’m wrong / Then you better prove you’re right / You’re sellin’ out souls but”), in line one (“Tired of you tellin’ me the story your way”), line three and line four of Verse 3 (“You think it’s okay / You keep changin’ the rules”) and in line five of Pre-chorus 2 (“You find your pleasure / scandalizin’ every lie”).[8] Additionally, the possessive adjective “your” can also be found in line one of the third verse (“Tired of you tellin’ me the story your way”) and in line three of every pre-chorus (“Your bash abusin’”). The imperative mood in the second line of Verse 2 (“Come into the light”) and in almost every line of the choruses (“Stop pressurin’ me”) is further evidence for an explicit fictive addressee.

 

The subject-matter of the speech of “Scream” is more or less straightforward, but only from the second verse onward does it become clear that it is about the fictive speaker’s outrage at the actions of the addressee. In the first six lines of Verse 1, which are “Tired of injustice / Tired of the schemes / The lies are disgusting / So what does it mean / Kicking me down / I got to get up”, the speaker does not seem to restrain himself and immediately begins to show his indignation, although he does not specify yet who or what the reason for his indignation is. He has had enough of the “injustice”, the “schemes” and the “lies” about him; he has grown weary of constantly being kicked down and is determined to finally get up. However, despite the speaker’s determination to change his situation for the better, these lines also imply that the speaker is still down, and thus in a victim power position, at the moment of the utterance of the speech. The last two lines of the first verse – “As jacked as it sounds / The whole system sucks” – further emphasize the speaker’s fury at the way he is being treated. The lines “Peek in the shadow / Come into the light / You tell me I’m wrong / Then you better prove you’re right / You’re sellin’ out souls but / I care about mine” of Verse 2 address the fictive addressee for the first time and as a consequence, it becomes apparent that the first verse must refer to the addressee, too. In the second verse, the speaker calls out the addressee who hides or perhaps lurks in the darkness, which shows his/her cowardice, but at the same time his/her omnipresence and danger. The speaker tells the addressee to come out of the dark. Furthermore, the speaker also claims that the addressee is “sellin’ out souls” – that he/she has no humanity left and does not care about humanity – but that he does not want to lose his soul because he cares about it; in other words, he tells the addressee to leave his soul alone. The following lines “I’ve got to get stronger / And I won’t give up the fight” of Verse 2 are reminiscent of the line “I got to get up” of Verse 1 and underline once again that the speaker is still in a victim power position. On the other hand, these lines also reveal that he will not just accept his fate and that he is determined to get stronger in order to win the struggle. It looks as if the speaker has finally become self-confident enough to get out of his victim power position.

 

In order to see what the pre-choruses are about, a closer examination of them is required because they appear rather ambiguous due to their language. The first two lines of Pre-chorus 1, namely “With such confusions / don’t it make you wanna scream?”, are about the fictive speaker admitting that “such confusions” – the “injustice”, “lies” and “schemes” of Verse 1 – make him want to scream, by means of a rhetorical question. While the first two lines of Pre-chorus 2 are almost exactly the same as Pre-chorus 1 – the “confusions” becomes “confusion” – in the first two lines of Pre-chorus 3, the speaker asks “With such collusions / don’t it make you wanna scream?”. The noun “collusion” stands for “[s]ecret or illegal cooperation or conspiracy in order to deceive others”, so once again the speaker refers to the “schemes” against him of Verse 1 (“collusion” n.d., online). The following two lines are the same in every pre-chorus and it is in these lines that the language becomes slightly ambiguous: “Your bash abusin’ / victimize within the scheme”. It seems as if the speaker is using “abusin’” as a noun and that he wants to say “your bashing and abusing”, referring to the victimization the speaker has to suffer at the hands of the addressee. This makes sense with the following line and together, they seem to say “your bashing and abusing bullies within the system”, which can be interpreted as criticism of the system that permits the constant bashing of the speaker. The next two lines of Pre-chorus 1 and Pre-chorus 3 are “You try to cope with / every lie they scrutinize”. While in these two lines, the speaker refers to himself again and explains that he tries to live with every lie that is spread by the addressee, in the lines of the second pre-chorus – “You find your pleasure / scandalizin’ every lie” – he refers to the addressee and points out that the addressee takes pleasure in turning every lie into a scandal. The last two lines of the pre-choruses, namely “Somebody please have mercy / ‘Cause I just can’t take it” in Pre-chorus 1, “Oh father, please have mercy / ‘Cause I just can’t take it” in Pre-chorus 2, and “Oh brother, please have mercy / ‘Cause I just can’t take it” in Pre-chorus 3 show the speaker in a victim power position again: he is begging for mercy and saying that he cannot take the actions of the addressee anymore (italics my emphasis).

 

The choruses, the third verse and the bridge are rather unambiguous again and finally reveal who the fictive addressee of the speech might be. In the choruses, the speaker repeats the line “Stop pressurin’ me / Just stop pressurin’ me / Stop pressurin’ me / Make me wanna scream” over and over again. Only once, namely in the last line of the first chorus, he uses a variation of “Make me wanna scream”: “Make you just wanna scream”. The choruses are rather self-explanatory – the speaker demands that the addressee stop putting pressure on him and he says that all this pressure makes him want to scream, which implies that the speaker considers screaming a valve in order to get rid of the pressure. In the sixth line of Chorus 2, the speaker even results to vulgarity, perhaps to show how serious he is about wanting to be left alone by the addressee. In a moment of fury, the speaker’s demand “Stop pressurin’ me” almost becomes a warning: “Stop fuckin’ with me”.[9] In the lines “Tired of you tellin’ me the story your way / It’s causin’ confusion / You think it’s okay” of Verse 3, the speaker picks up the “lies” of Verse 1 again and repeats that although they are causing confusion, the addressee thinks that his/her behavior is not wrong. In the subsequent lines, “You keep changin’ the rules / While I keep playin’ the game / I can’t take it much longer / I think I might go insane”, the speaker reveals his powerlessness again. Whereas the addressee is a game master who can change the rules to his/her liking, the speaker seems to be a simple player of the game who has no control of the outcome because he cannot adapt to the rules that are constantly changing. In the last two lines, he discloses that he is at the point of snapping and going insane – another example of his weakness. In the bridge of the song, the speaker finally gives a clue about who the addressee might be. In the lines “Oh my god, can’t believe what I saw / As I turned on the TV this evening / I was disgusted by all the injustice / All the injustice / All the injustice”, the speaker mentions that he saw “injustice” on television. It is very probable that the “injustice” alludes to the “injustice” of Verse 1; therefore, it can be said that the speaker is harassed by people appearing on television, or rather representatives of the media. For the first time, it is possible to figure out the fictive addressee only by following the textual clues and without resorting to Jackson’s biographical background. Naturally, this can be considered a powerful move by the fictive speaker. However, at the same time the speaker’s temporary self-empowerment is immediately attenuated by what is being said by a reporter in the background of the bridge: “A man has been brutally beaten to death by police / After being wrongfully identified as a robbery suspect / The man was an 18 year old black male …”. This short news report conveys the impression that the speaker’s entire speech has been misinterpreted; that it is not about the speaker at all, but rather about the suffering of someone else; that the “lies”, “injustice” and “schemes” do not refer to the speaker, but to somebody else. Considering the rest of the lyrics, this would not make any sense though – the fact that the speaker mentions that he is being kicked down, that he has to get up and get stronger and that he wants the pressure to stop, shows that the speech is definitely about him and not about a black man beaten to death by the police. After having revealed the addressee of the speech in the bridge, the speaker is thus deliberately being misleading, perhaps to conceal his divulgement of the addressee’s identity again, or to provide a – fatal – analogy to his case.[10]

 

To summarize, it can be said that the subject-matter of the speech is the fictive speaker’s indignation at the addressee’s – the media’s – lies and injustice. While the speaker seems to be more determined than ever to liberate himself from the victim power position, as shown in the fact that the addressee is finally mentioned explicitly for the first time and in the speaker’s words in Verse 2, in which he says that he will not give up, he is nevertheless still powerless. The fact that there are two voices in the song; the fact that the speaker says that he has to get up, that he has to get stronger, implying that he is still in a weak position; the fact that the speaker begs for mercy and exclaims that he cannot take it anymore; the fact that after the revelation of the addressee, the speaker immediately tries to conceal the addressee’s identity, is all evidence for the persisting powerlessness of the speaker. This is further underlined by the samples of Jackson’s glass-shattering screams and the lyrics’ rhyme scheme and rhetorical devices.[11]

 

4.3.3    Samples, rhyme scheme and rhetorical devices

In Man in the Music: The Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson, Vogel claims the following about “Scream”:

The track begins with Jackson’s screaming as if trapped in a glass box. It is a brilliant aural effect that captures the entrapment and suffocation he feels as a dehumanized media subject. The guttural scream contains a sense of desperation, anguish, and rage, and as he lets it out, the imprisoning glass shatters. Instead of being a spectacle or victim, he is empowered. His music, once again, provides a sense of liberation. (Vogel 2011: 190)

 

He is certainly right by saying that the samples of the glass-shattering scream seem to have a liberating effect on the speaker. As mentioned above, the speaker sees screaming as a valve in order to get rid of the pressure caused by the addressee. However, Vogel forgets to mention that the beginning of the song is not the only time the scream can be heard. In fact, the sound of Jackson’s scream appears several times throughout the song (0:16, 0:26, 0:35, 0:40, 1:02, 2:19, 3:08) and what is more, the song’s music is concluded with a scream at 4:29 (cf. Michael Jackson. HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Part I). Therefore, if, as Vogel says, the speaker was truly liberated and empowered after the first scream and the first shattering of the glass, there would be no need for further screams. The fact that there are more glass-shattering screams shows that there are several layers of glass that have to be destroyed before the speaker can escape from his victim power position. The speaker tries to do so and manages to penetrate a few layers of glass, which indicates the speaker’s determination to gain control of his life, but as the song’s music finishes, he is still heard screaming, revealing that he is still trapped in a victim power position at the end of the song.

 

The rhyme scheme of the lyrics mirrors the speaker’s struggle for control, too. For instance, Verse 1 has a rather consistent rhyme scheme with alternate rhymes: ababcdcd. The speaker rhymes “injustice” with “disgusting”, “schemes” with “mean”, “down” with “sounds” and “up” with “sucks”, which shows how the speaker resorts to slant rhymes in order to maintain a consistent rhyme scheme. Although the rhymes are not perfect, the speaker nevertheless appears composed and in control. In the second verse, the rhyme scheme already begins to break down slightly: efgfhfif. The rhyme scheme is not as consistent as in the first verse anymore, but more perfect rhymes can be found, for example “light” in line two, “right” in line four and “fight” in line eight. The first four lines of the first and third pre-chorus begin consistently again, but as the pre-choruses continue, the rhyme scheme breaks down, resulting in the following rhyme scheme: jbjbkklm. In the first four lines, Jackson’s pronunciation of “confusions” (and “collusions” in Pre-chorus 3) in line one and “abusin’” in line three, and “scream” and “scheme” result in perfect rhymes – again a sign of the speaker’s battle for control. Then the speaker rhymes “lie” with “scrutinize” – a vowel rhyme – and after that the rhyme scheme disintegrates once again. Over and over again, the speaker seems to gain control, but as soon as he does so, he loses it again. The same observations can be made in Verse 3 and Pre-chorus 2: Verse 3 has the rhyme scheme ojopqiq and rhymes “way” with “okay” and “game” with “insane” and Pre-chorus 2 has the rhyme scheme jbjbrklm and has even less consistency than Pre-chorus 1 in its last four lines. It is in the choruses, however, that the lack of control and power of the speaker becomes apparent. Similar to “Leave Me Alone” and “Why You Wanna Trip On Me”, the speaker’s despair and powerlessness express themselves in the identical rhymes of the chorus, which are the result of the constant repetition of the same statement: “Stop pressurin’ me / Just stop pressurin’ me”. The consequence of this is the following rhyme scheme: nnnbnnnb in the first two choruses and nnnb in the final chorus. Since it is the final chorus which concludes “Scream”, the powerlessness of the speaker prevails again in the end.

 

Finally, a number of rhetorical devices further stress the victim power position of the speaker. Firstly, the anaphora “tired of” in line one and line two of Verse 1 and in line one of Verse 3 emphasizes that the speaker is truly worn out and exhausted by the injustice, schemes and stories of the media. Secondly, Jackson’s pronunciation of “pressurin’” in the choruses, during which the /ɛ/ vowel sound is almost entirely omitted and the /ʃ/ sound of the double “ss” is strongly emphasized, turns it into an onomatopoeic word. The effect of this is that every time the word “pressurin’” is pronounced, the sound of a valve releasing pressure is mimicked, indicating the great amount of pressure that the speaker feels because of the addressee. Thirdly, a progression in the penultimate lines of the pre-choruses can be observed, namely from “Somebody please have mercy” to “Oh father, please have mercy” to “Oh brother, please have mercy”. These cases of epistrophe show that when the speaker is not granted mercy by “somebody”, he desperately attempts to find it somewhere else. He does not seem to care who grants him mercy as long as somebody does. The “father” and “brother” could stand for the speaker’s real family, but he could also be using the terms in a religious sense, that is, the “father” stands for God and the “brother” for the co-members of his religion; therefore, when no one grants him mercy, he turns to his family or to the members of his religion for it. Fourthly, the line “Stop pressurin’ me” is rather reminiscent of the line “Stop trippin” in “Why You Wanna Trip On Me” and the line “Just stop doggin’ me around” in “Leave Me Alone”. Not only are they all written in the imperative mood, but they also demand that the addressee stop doing something. For this reason, “Stop pressurin’ me” could be considered as an example of intertextuality, which conveys that the same sense of powerlessness and despair as in “Leave Me Alone” and “Why You Wanna Trip On Me” is present in “Scream”. Finally, the constant repetition of the speaker’s demand, namely “Stop pressurin’ me / Just stop pressurin’ me” shows how desperate he is for the pressure to stop and, at the same time how powerless he is because he cannot make it stop.

 

All things considered, it needs to be said that the subject-matter of the speech, the samples of Jackson’s scream, the rhyme scheme and the rhetorical devices suggest a fictive speaker who is still in a victim power position. However, it must also be repeated that despite his exasperation, the speaker at least attempts to change his situation for the better and to gain control of his life. In Verse 2, he reveals that he is determined not to give up and in the bridge, he finally exposes the identity of the addressee for the first time. Unlike the speaker in “Leave Me Alone” who concealed his message with a love story, or the speaker in “Why You Wanna Trip On Me”, who remained ambiguous about the addressee throughout the entire lyrics, the speaker in “Scream” has had enough of the victimization and is ready to fight. This determination to break out of his miserable situation is also mirrored in the violent, glass-shattering screams in the song’s music and in the sometimes regular rhyme scheme of the lyrics.

 

4.4       “Tabloid Junkie”

4.4.1    “You’re so damn disrespectable”

“Tabloid Junkie” is the eleventh track and the second ‘media-critical’ song on HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I.[12] The song was written, composed and produced by Michael Jackson, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Keyboard and synthesizers are the work of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, and lead and background vocals were done by Michael Jackson (cf. Michael Jackson. HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I. Booklet: 39; cf. Vogel 2011: 201). While many critics dismissed “Tabloid Junkie” as an example “of Jackson’s persecution complex and self-pity” when the album came out and thus neglected it, Rolling Stone critic James Hunter praised it for its sound (Vogel 2011: 201; cf. Hunter 1995, online). Vogel, on the other hand, praises the song as an accomplished counterattack against the media and calls it “a full-fledged indictment of the news media and its increasing penchant for sensationalism, exploitation, and misinformation.” (2011: 201) He thus seems to suggest that the fictive speaker successfully attacks the media and that, consequently, the fictive speaker has assumed a position of power compared to the previous fictive speakers. Whether this is truly the case will once again be discovered by examining the communicative situation, the rhyme scheme and the rhetorical devices of the lyrics.

 

Again, the extratexual level of “Tabloid Junkie” looks as follows: on the productive side of the extratextual level, there are Michael Jackson, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis – the real authors – whereas on the receptive side of the extratextual level, there is the real reader and the real listener, that is, everyone who has ever read the song’s lyrics or listened to the music.

 

In order to establish the intratextual level of the song, or who says what to whom, first the fictive speaker needs to be scrutinized. Due to the fact that there are barely any deictic expressions referring to the first person, it can be argued that in contrast to “Leave Me Alone”, “Why You Wanna Trip On Me” and “Scream”, the fictive speaker in “Tabloid Junkie” is covert. In the entire lyrics, there is neither a personal subject pronoun “I” nor a possessive pronoun or possessive adjective referring to the first person. The only deictic expression indicating a fictive speaker is the personal object pronoun “me” in the ninth line of the second verse (“Stab me in the back”) and the plural first person pronoun “we”, for example in the final line of the first pre-chorus (“So why do we keep foolin’ ourselves?”), the final line of the second and the third pre-chorus (“Then why do we keep foolin’ ourselves?”) and the eighth line of the third pre-chorus (“Why do we keep foolin’ ourselves?”). This already shows that the focus of the lyrics will definitely not be on the fictive speaker and his feelings as was the case in the previous songs.

 

Compared to the fictive speaker, the fictive addressee appears to be much more manifest in the lyrics of “Tabloid Junkie”. For example, the personal pronoun “you” is used in line two (“The one you hate”), line four (“You confiscate”) and line nine of Verse 1 (“For you to resurrect”), in lines two to line six of Pre-chorus 1 (“You say it’s not a sword / But with your pen you torture men / You’d crucify the Lord / And you don’t have to read it / And you don’t have to eat it”), in line one and line five of Chorus 1, Chorus 2, Chorus 3 and Chorus 4, and line one, four and seven of Chorus 5 (“Just because you read it in a magazine”), in line two (“Frame him if you could”) and line four of Verse 2 (“To blame him if you will”), in line two (“With the words you use”), line three (“You’re a parasite in black and white”) and line five of Pre-chorus 2 (“And you don’t go and buy it”), in the same lines as well as in the tenth and eleventh line of Pre-chorus 3 (“You say it’s not a sin / But with your pen you torture men”) and in the final line of Chorus 5 (“You’re so damn disrespectable”). Furthermore, the possessive adjective “your” can be found in line fourteen of Verse 1 (“In all your glory”), in line three of Pre-chorus 1 and line eleven of Pre-chorus 3 (“But with your pen you torture men”) and in line fourteen of Verse 2 (“Of all your glory”). Finally, the imperative mood, which implies a fictive addressee, is also used in the first line (“Speculate to break”), the third line (“Circulate the lie”) and the fifth line of Verse 1 (“Assassinate and mutilate”) and in the second (“Frame him if you could”), third (“Shoot to kill”), fifth (“If he dies sympathize”) and ninth line of Verse 2 (“Stab me in the back”). As can be seen, the speaker is thus clearly perceptible in the lyrics. Moreover, these lines already reveal a great deal about the addressee’s identity.

 

When further scrutinizing the lines that refer to the addressee, it becomes clear that there is not only one, but rather two addressees. Firstly, there are numerous lines which refer to the media, such as “It’s slander / You say it’s not a sword / But with your pen you torture men / You’d crucify the Lord / And you don’t have to read it / And you don’t have to eat it” in Pre-chorus 1, “It’s slander / With the words you use / You’re a parasite in black and white / Do anything for news” in Pre-chorus 2, and “Speculate to break / The one you hate / Circulate the lie / You confiscate / Assassinate and mutilate / The hounding media/ In hysteria” in Verse 1. The content of these lines makes it evident that the first fictive addressee is the media. The speaker even mentions the “hounding media” in the sixth line of the first verse, so that it becomes even more apparent that one fictive addressee is the media. Secondly, a number of lines also refer to the consumers of media. For instance, “Just because you read it in a magazine / Or see it on a TV screen” in the choruses, and “If you don’t go and buy it / Then they won’t glorify it / To read it sanctifies it” in Pre-chorus 2, are definitely not addressed to the media, but rather to the people consuming what is produced by the media. Moreover, the title “Tabloid Junkie”, too, refers to someone who is addicted to tabloids, that is, a consumer of tabloids. It needs to be said then that in no other ‘media-critical’ song so far, the fictive addressee was as exposed as the fictive addressees in “Tabloid Junkie”. This might already indicate that the fictive speaker has finally found the strength to liberate himself from his victim power position.

 

The subject-matter of the speech is rather unambiguous as well. The speaker begins his speech by criticizing the media. In the first seven lines of the first verse, the speaker seems to convey the message “you keep spreading rumors to destroy the one you hate” – “the one you hate” probably referring to himself. This shows that although the speculation is like mutilation or assassination to the speaker, he is strong enough to endure it and what is more, he even manages to call out the cause for his suffering: “the hounding media”. The following lines “Who’s the next / For you to resurrect / JFK exposed the CIA / Truth be told / The grassy knoll / The blackmail story / In all your glory” go on to mock the media. These lines seem to comment on the conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination of the former president of the United States: John F. Kennedy. The speaker ridicules the fact that many people still believe that John F. Kennedy was killed by CIA agents from a “grassy knoll” on Elm Street where Kennedy’s vehicle was passing when he was shot (cf. “Who killed JFK? A guide to the Kennedy conspiracy theories” 2017, online). “The blackmail story” could be an allusion to J. Edgar Hoover’s alleged blackmail attempts and sabotage of Kennedy’s presidential campaign (cf. Livingstone 2004: 48f.). As a matter of fact, Hoover, the former director of the FBI, is also believed by many conspiracy theorists to have killed Kennedy in order to save his own career (Schmidt 2013, online). The fact that people are still believing in those stories and speculating about Kennedy so many years after his death makes the speaker wonder: “Who’s the next / For you to resurrect?”. In the first six lines of the first pre-chorus, the speaker then exclaims that the media’s constant speculations are slander and compares them to torture. In addition, he claims that the reporters do not “have to read it” – they do not have to bear the consequences of their speculations. This is repeated by the speaker in the second and third pre-chorus, in which the speaker compares the media to parasites and scoffs at them for their willingness to do anything for news.

 

In the second verse, the speaker continues to discredit the media by alluding to their hypocritical methods of covering news about African Americans. This can be deduced from the fact that the speaker talks about the “hood”, which is an informal American word for “[a] neighbourhood, especially one in an urban area” where high concentrations of African-American populations are often found (“hood” n.d., online; cf. United States Census Bureau 2011, online). The speaker claims that first African Americans are framed and blamed, and when they are dead, the media sympathize with them. He calls the media “false witnesses” or, in other words liars, and condemns them for their “self-righteousness”. He then proceeds to imply that they are cowards because they hide in the dark and stab the speaker in the back in the following lines: “In the black / Stab me in the back / In the face / To lie and shame the race”. These lines are to be understood metaphorically: the media stab him in the back by spreading rumors about him. Not only do they stab him in the back, but they also stab him in the face in order to shame his race – an allusion to the hurtful speculations about Jackson’s lightening skin.[13] In the final three lines of the second verse, which are “Heroine and Marilyn / The headline stories / Of all your glory”, the speaker probably alludes to Marilyn Monroe, whose love life has been the subject of endless media speculations and whose death has also been surrounded by several conspiracy theories (cf. Thornton 2012, online; cf. History.com Staff 2009, online). In doing so, he mocks the media again by saying that all their glory consists of headline stories that are either lies, or rumors and scandals. In the final line of Chorus 3, the speaker seems to allude to Marilyn Monroe once again: “She’s blonde and she’s bisexual”. This line probably refers to Monroe’s alleged affairs with women, which have caused numerous headlines over the years (cf. Thornton 2012, online).

 

In the penultimate line of the first pre-chorus, the fictive speaker starts to focus on the consumers of the media: “To buy it is to feed it”. He explains that the consumers are as accountable for his suffering as the media because they support the media, for example by buying their magazines. He repeats the same message in the fifth, sixth and seventh line of the second and the third pre-chorus and specifies that the buying of these stories facilitates the creation of more and more speculations: “And you don’t go and buy it / Then they won’t glorify it / To read it sanctifies it” – if the people did not consume these news, they would not be accepted and consequently, the media would stop producing them. Therefore, the media consumers are to be held responsible for the creation of these stories, too. In the choruses, the speaker then attempts to persuade the media consumers over and over again that reading something in a magazine or seeing something on television does not make it a fact, so that they should always question what they see on the news. Finally, after repeatedly stating the chorus’s message, he concludes the lyrics with the powerful line “You’re so damn disrespectable”, referring to the consumers of the media as well as the media at once.

 

All in all, it can be argued that the subject-matter of the speech is the speaker’s criticism of the media as well as the media consumers who are both responsible for the constant circulation of untrue speculations about the speaker. The fictive speaker appears to be stronger than ever – he is determined to regain control of his life and he seems to be quite successful. For the first time, the speaker foregrounds the addressee by pushing himself and his feelings into the background. He is more direct than ever and makes clear to whom his speech is addressed right from the start. He does not hide behind a love song like the speaker in “Leave Me Alone”; he does not plead with the addressee to stop consuming him like the speaker in “Why You Wanna Trip On Me”; he does not need the support of a second voice, which helps him convey his demand to stop pressuring him, like the speaker in “Scream”. As a consequence, the speaker seems to have begun liberating himself from the victim power position. He does not seem as weak and powerless as the speakers in the previous songs, and this is mirrored in the song’s samples as well as the lyrics’ rhyme scheme and rhetorical devices.

 

4.4.2    Samples, rhyme scheme and rhetorical devices

“Tabloid Junkie” begins with the sample of a reporter announcing the following: “In the news today, from the strange and weird fact file: singer Michael Jackson sleeps in an oxygen chamber. The singer says that the hyperbaric chamber has the benefits of reversing the aging process.” (Michael Jackson: HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I: 00:00-00:12) While the reporter is still in the process of presenting the news, another reporter starts to speak: “From the news desk: singer Michael Jackson has a shrine to Elizabeth Taylor.” (00:07-00:13) The voices of more and more reporters join the initial two reporters and everything becomes intermingled, indistinct and incomprehensible. The only discernible words are “Michael Jackson” (00:09-00:17). This shows that the stories about Jackson are spread so fast that it is not even possible to focus on the details anymore – the media do not care about the details anymore, but about mindless entertainment and ratings (cf. Vogel 2011: 201). As soon as the percussive intro of the music enters, voices of other reporters speaking about Michael Jackson in various languages, showing how the speculations spread even beyond the borders, as well as the sounds of animals, such as elephants and birds, can be heard (00:17-00:27). According to Vogel, these animal sounds represent “so-called journalists” – their sensationalism is thus compared to the behavior of wild animals (2011: 201). As a matter of fact, this interpretation is confirmed by the fact that Jackson originally wanted to call the song “Tabloid Jungle” instead of “Tabloid Junkie” (cf. ibid.). A number of snare hits stop the voices and the animal sounds, the beat of song finally sets in and Jackson on behalf of the fictive speaker begins to sing the first verse. As can be seen, Jackson’s music manages to silence the voices (00:28). As the first chorus ends, two transitional bars lead the song into the second verse. One of these two bars is instrumental; the other bar is full of incomprehensible voices of reporters that try to interrupt the song, but Jackson holds his own – he does not allow the interruption and continues to sing the second verse (01:39-01:43). During an instrumental transitional passage, the voices of the reporters start getting louder again and in order to prevent them from gaining control, Jackson starts ad-libbing (02:53-03:22).[14] As the song transitions into the third pre-chorus, the voices of the reporters continue pushing forward, but Jackson manages to stand his ground and does not let the voices overwhelm the song – he continues to deliver the lyrics of Pre-chorus 3 while the sample of a voice of a reporter speaking about Michael Jackson is heard in the background. Shortly before the fourth chorus begins, Jackson gains the upper hand again: the voices are gone and Jackson can continue to spread the message of his chorus (03:23-03:47). However, during the last chorus, the voices of a few reporters find their way into the music again (04:06-04:23). As Jackson repeats the lines “Just because you read it in a magazine / Or see it on a TV screen / Don’t make it factual, actual” one last time, the voices of the reporters get louder and louder and almost threaten to overwhelm him, but Jackson stays in control and has the final say: “You’re so damn disrespectable” (04:29-04:32). As can be observed, there is a constant struggle between Jackson on behalf of the speaker and the samples of the voices of the reporters in the song. Nevertheless, Jackson manages to gain control – he does not let the voices overwhelm him and succeeds in silencing them in the end. In doing so, the first step of the self-empowerment of the speaker is demonstrated.

 

The rhyme scheme of “Tabloid Junkie” suggests a powerful speaker who is in control, too. Vogel states that the King of Pop uses “the vehicle of hip-hop to deliver a political message” expressed in “short, biting rhymes” (2011: 201). This can immediately be observed in the first verse, which has the rather consistent rhyme scheme aabaaccddeffgg. The speaker uses six rhyming couplets in order to get his message across – “break” in line one rhymes with “hate” in line two, “confiscate” in line four and “mutilate” in line five; “media” rhymes with “hysteria”; “next” rhymes with “resurrect”; “told” rhymes with “knoll”; “story” rhymes with “glory”. However, most of the rhymes are not perfect rhymes, but rather vowel rhymes, for instance “break” and “hate”, “media” and “hysteria”, “next” and “resurrect”, “told” and “knoll”, which perhaps alludes to the speaker’s struggle to stay in control. Furthermore, there are two lines, namely the third line and the tenth line, which do not have an end-rhyme with any of the other lines. Nevertheless, the speaker manages to remain in a position of power by using internal rhymes in these lines: the “circulate” in line three rhymes with “speculate”, “break”, “hate”, “confiscate”, “assassinate” and “mutilate”, and the “CIA” in line ten rhymes with “JFK”. This consistency seems to continue throughout the whole song. In the first pre-chorus, the rhyme scheme is hijikkkl. The “sword” in line two forms a perfect rhyme with “Lord” in line four and “read it” in line five rhymes perfectly with “eat it” in line six and “feed it” in line seven. Even the lines which do not have an end-rhyme, often find rhymes elsewhere: “slander” in line one rhymes with “scandal” in the first line of the third pre-chorus and “men” in line three rhymes with “pen” in the same line.

 

The choruses have a quite regular rhyme scheme as well: the rhyme scheme of the first and the third chorus is mmnommnn and the other choruses have a variation thereof, for example mmnommno in the second and the fourth chorus or mmnmmnmmnn in the final chorus. The speaker rhymes “magazine” with “TV screen” and “factual” with “actual” and “homosexual” in the first chorus, “bisexual” in the third chorus and “disrespectable” in the final line of the last chorus. Similar to the first verse, the second verse consists mostly of rhyming couplets as well, resulting in the following rhyme scheme: ppqqrssttaaugg. The “hood” in line one and “could” in line two, “kill” in line three and “will” in line four, “witnesses” in line six and “self-righteousness” in line seven, “black” in line eight and “back” in line nine and “face” in line ten and “race” in nine eleven all form perfect rhymes. The “stories” in line thirteen and “glory”, on the other hand, form a slant rhyme. Even the lines that would break the rhyme scheme find internal rhymes again, so that the rhyme scheme is somewhat fixed: “sympathize” in line five rhymes with “dies” in the same line and “Marilyn” in line twelve rhymes with “Heroine” in the same line. The same can be observed in the second pre-chorus (as well as in the third pre-chorus, which is an extended variation of the first and second pre-chorus and which substitutes the lines “You say it’s not a sword / But with your pen you torture men” of the first pre-chorus with “You say it’s not a sin / But with your pen you torture men” in the tenth and eleventh line of the third pre-chorus in order to form another rhyming couplet) – the rhyme scheme of Pre-chorus 2 is the following: hvwvxxxl. The speaker rhymes “use” in line two with “news” in line four and “buy it” in line five with “glorify it” in line six and “sanctifies it” in line seven. Since line three does not have an end-rhyme with any other line, the speaker fixes the consistency of the rhyme scheme by using an internal rhyme, so that “white” rhymes with “parasite”. As a matter of fact, the only lines which seem to indicate that the speaker is not entirely in a position of power yet is the third line of Verse 2, “Circulate the lie”, as well as the lines “Though everybody wants to read all about it” (and variations thereof) in the choruses and “So why do we keep foolin’ ourselves?” (and variations thereof) in the pre-choruses. These are the only lines whose final words do not find any other words to rhyme with in the entire lyrics.

 

Finally, there seems to be a larger number of rhetorical devices in “Tabloid Junkie” than in the other songs, which renders the speech of the fictive speaker more powerful. Firstly, several instances of intertextuality can be found in the text. The title “Tabloid Junkie”, for instance, seems to take up the idea of “Why You Wanna Trip On Me”, namely that the consumption of (tabloid) news is similar to the consumption of drugs. The lines “You say it’s not a sword / But with your pen you torture men” in Pre-chorus 1 refers to the saying “the pen is mightier than the sword” first used by Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839 (cf. Gee 2015, online). By referring to the saying, the speaker emphasizes that it is possible to be wounded by words, perhaps even more than through violence. The line that follows, “You’d crucify the Lord”, is a reference to the Bible or, to be more precise, to the Crucifixion of Jesus. The implication of this line is that the media are as evil as the people who were responsible for the death of Jesus. Secondly, with the anaphora in the lines “And you don’t have to read it / And you don’t have to eat it” in Pre-chorus 1, the speaker stresses that it is not the media who have to put up with the speculations, but that it is him – in a way, he seems to ask them for their understanding. Finally, the speaker uses several metaphors in order to effectively convey his message. For instance, in the lines “And you don’t have to eat it / To buy it is to feed it”, the speaker compares the media consumer’s act of buying the media’s products to the cruelty of being force-fed by the consumers. Because the consumers support the media financially by buying their products, the speaker has to eat the fake stories about him against his will. In the third line of Pre-chorus 2 and Pre-chorus 3, which is “You’re a parasite in black and white”, the speaker combines a metaphor and circumlocution: he uses the metaphor of “parasites” to refer to the reporters, who are living at the expense of his misery, and he describes them as “in black and white”, a periphrasis for suits, which indicates their high social status. Therefore, the speaker seems to imply that the reporters have become rich by exploiting him.

 

In summary, the subject-matter of the speech, the samples of the news reporters, the rhyme scheme and the rhetorical devices of “Tabloid Junkie” all point at a fictive speaker who has liberated himself from the victim power position and who is finally fighting the addressee for control. The speaker does not restrain himself anymore: he addresses the addressee of the speech right from the beginning and delivers a message that could not be more direct; he stands his ground as the samples of the voices of the reporters attempt to overwhelm him and he puts an end to them at the end of the song; he asserts his dominance by taking control of the rhyme scheme; he strengthens his message by the use of several rhetorical devices. Although the samples of the reporter’s voices always find their way back into the music and threaten to overpower the speaker over and over again, and although he loses control of the rhyme scheme a few times, it can still be argued that the speaker in “Tabloid Junkie” has at least partially assumed a higher position of power; that he has become a more or less self-empowered being.

 

4.5       “Privacy”

4.5.1    Invincible

“Privacy” is a track on Michael Jackson’s last studio album, titled Invincible. The King of Pop began working on his final album in 1997. He acted as executive producer again and collaborated with Rodney Jerkins, Bruce Swedien, Brad Buxer, Teddy Riley, Babyface, R. Kelly, Will Smith and Puff Daddy amongst many others – Invicible was thus a collaborative effort which was monitored by Jackson. Once again he did not want to recreate any of his previous albums. For this reason, he envisaged Invincible to sound more futuristic while still retaining his vintage tunes. The album was scheduled to be released in 1999; however, due to Jackson’s high expectations and his perfectionism, due to the fact that he had two children to care for and due to several lawsuits he had to deal with, the release date of the album was postponed several times. When it was finally released on 30 October 2001 – two years later than the initial schedule – it soared to number one in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, Japan and almost everywhere else in the world. In only five days, it sold approximately three million units worldwide. Invincible thus seemed to become a success and Jackson seemed to be able to demonstrate once again that he was still relevant after such a long career. However, after a few months, album sales began declining and the album quickly fell down the charts again. In fact, Jackson’s label Sony had stopped all promotion because of a number of disputes between Jackson and the head of Sony, Tommy Mottola. As a consequence, Invicible became Michael Jackson’s least commercially successful album. To date, roughly eleven million copies have been sold (cf. Vogel 2011: 219-232).

 

Invincible consists of 16 songs, namely “Unbreakable”, “Heartbreaker”, “Invincible”, “Break of Dawn”, “Heaven Can Wait”, “You Rock My World”, “Butterflies”, “Speechless”, “2000 Watts”, “You Are My Life”, “Privacy”, “Don’t Walk Away”, “Cry”, “The Lost Children”, “Whatever Happens” and “Threatened” (cf. Michael Jackson. Invincible). Of these 16 tracks, only one was officially released as a single by Sony: “You Rock My World”. The single was accompanied by a music video and reached only number ten in the United States; however, it was more successful abroad, for example, in the United Kingdom, where it reached number two, or in France, where it peaked at number one. “Butterflies” was the second track that was planned to be released as a single, but the release together with the promotion of the album was cancelled by Sony (cf. Vogel 2011: 231-247). Invincible offers everything from a song about a seductive woman (“Heartbreaker”), to a song about unrequited love (“Invincible”), a track about music technology with a lot of sexual innuendo (“2000 Watts”), a lamentation about all the suffering in the world (“Cry”), and a song about neglected children (“The Lost Children”). Finally, Invincible also features Michael Jackson’s ultimate counterattack against the media: “Privacy” (cf. Michael Jackson. Invincible; cf. Vogel 2011: 236-247).

 

4.5.2    “So paparazzi, get away from me”

“Privacy” is the eleventh track on Jackson’s final album Invicible. It was written and composed by Michael Jackson, Rodney Jerkins, Fred Jerkins III, LaShawn Daniels and Bernard Bell, and produced by Michael Jackson and Rodney Jerkins. In addition, it was recorded by Rodney Jerkins, Jean-Marie Horvat and Brad Gilderman, and mixed by Jean-Marie Horvat and Rodney Jerkins. Digital editing was done by Harvey Mason Jr. and Paul Cruz, the string arrangement by David Campbell, guitars by Michael Thompson, the bass by Nathan East and the drums by Gerald Hayword and Emanuel Baker. Solo vocals were done by Michael Jackson and background vocals by Jackson and LaShawn Daniels (cf. Michael Jackson. Invincible. Booklet: 11f.; cf. Vogel 2011: 242). As can be seen, never before had Jackson assembled such a huge team in order to create a ‘media-critical’ song.

 

In Man in the Music: The Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson, Vogel describes “Privacy” as follows:

“Privacy” has Jackson on the attack, as he growls about the increasingly unethical tactics of the media over a grinding beat and the sound of flashing cameras. The song hits as hard as anything on the album, its aggressive tone supplemented by symphonic strings and Slash’s ripping guitar fills. (Vogel 2011: 242)

 

He thus seems to consider the song an extremely powerful and effective counterattack by Michael Jackson against the media. Consequently, he seems to suggest that the fictive speaker in “Privacy” assumes a position of power in the lyrics. In order to see whether the speaker has really progressed from “Tabloid Junkie” and assumed a position of power or whether he has regressed to a victim power position again, the communicative situation of the lyrics as well as the rhyme scheme and rhetorical devices need to be examined.

 

As in previous chapters, the following can be said about the extratextual level of the song: on the productive side, there are the real authors of the song, namely Michael Jackson, Rodney Jerkins, Fred Jerkins III, LaShawn Daniels, Bernard Bell and the rest of Jackson’s team who was involved in the song’s creation process. On the receptive side, there is everyone who has ever read or listened to the song’s lyrics or music – the real reader and the real listener.

 

As for determining who says what to whom – the intratextual level – in “Privacy”, the lyrics need to be scrutinized, starting with the fictive speaker. In contrast to the fictive speaker in “Tabloid Junkie”, the fictive speaker in “Privacy” is an overt speaker. Several deictic expressions referring to the first person indicate that the speaker is manifest in the lyrics. For instance, the personal object pronoun “me” can be found in line four (“So you can bury me”) and line seven of the first verse (“You try to get me to lose”), in line one (“You keep on stalking me”) and line three of the second verse (“Won’t you just let me be”) and in line four of the choruses (“Get away from me”). Additionally, the personal subject pronoun “I” is used in line eight of the first verse (“The man I really am”), line one and line two of the choruses (“I need my privacy / I need my privacy”) and in line six of the third verse (“Like many others I knew”). Last but not least, the possessive adjective “my” also appears in line two of the second verse (“Invading my privacy”), in line one and line two of the choruses (“I need my privacy / I need my privacy”), in line two (“One of my friends had to die”), line five (“My friend was chased and confused”) and line eight of the third verse (“My pride was snatched away”), in line six of the fourth verse as well as in line three of the curtailed fifth verse (“Stop maliciously attacking my integrity”).

The fictive addressee is clearly perceptible in the lyrics of “Privacy”, too. As a matter of fact, there are several deictic expressions referring to the second person in the lyrics. Firstly, the fictive addressee is addressed by the use of the personal pronoun “you”, for example in lines two to line seven of Verse 1 (“Why do you go through so much / To get the story you need / So you can bury me / You’ve got the people confused / You tell the stories you choose / You try to get me to lose”), in line one (“You keep on stalking me”), line three (“Won’t you just let me be”) and line six of Verse 2 (“That you’ll even sell your soul”), and in line one (“Some of you still wonder why”) and line four of Verse 3 (“That yet you haven’t heard”). Secondly, the possessive adjective “your” can be found in the fourth (“’Cause your cameras can’t control”) and sixth line of the second verse (“That you’ll even sell your soul”). Finally, the imperative mood is used in the fourth line of the choruses (“Get away from me”), in the third (“Please tell me why”) and sixth line of the fourth verse as well as in the third line of the fifth verse (“Stop maliciously attacking my integrity”). Furthermore, the identity of the fictive addressee is also revealed, namely in the third line of the choruses: “So paparazzi”. In fact, this is the first time that a fictive speaker states the identity of the fictive addressee so explicitly. While even in “Tabloid Junkie” the entire lyrics had to be considered in order to determine the identity of the fictive speaker, the fictive speaker in “Privacy” does not hold back. Therefore, this directness of the speaker can be interpreted as a demonstration of the speaker’s high position of power. Furthermore, the fact that the fictive speaker addresses paparazzi because he feels stalked by them also discloses the speaker’s identity: he is definitely a celebrity – and most likely an alter ego of Jackson again.

 

The subject-matter of the first half of the speech is rather transparent and does not seem to leave much room for interpretation. In the first four lines of Verse 1 – “Ain’t the pictures enough / Why do you go through so much / To get the story you need / So you can bury me” – the fictive speaker immediately confronts the paparazzi and asks them why they do almost anything to get a story about him. Additionally, he also asks if the photos of him are not enough and says he feels that the addressee wants to ruin him. In the next four lines of Verse 1, which are “You’ve got the people confused / You tell the stories you choose / You try to get me to lose / The man I really am”, the speaker claims that the paparazzi confuse the public by only telling the stories they choose to tell, which implies that they fail to tell the whole story and that their stories are biased. In addition, the speaker feels that by telling their one-sided stories, the paparazzi attempt to erase his humanity and to turn him into a product, or rather to commodify and to dehumanize him. In the first three lines of Verse 2 – “You keep on stalking me / Invading my privacy / Won’t you just let me be” – the speaker further specifies the dishonorable behavior of the paparazzi: he reveals that they are obsessively persecuting him and intruding into his privacy. What is more, he also tells them to leave him in peace. In the lines which follow, “’Cause your cameras can’t control / The minds of those who know / That you’ll even sell your soul / Just to get a story sold”, the speaker states that the paparazzi’s cameras cannot influence the people who know what kind of people they are, namely that they do not care about honor, but rather only about money. In the lines of Chorus 1 (as well as the other choruses), which are “I need my privacy / I need my privacy / So paparazzi / Get away from me”, he reinforces the message that he wants to be left alone by the paparazzi by telling them to get away. It can thus be argued that the first half of the speech is rather transparent and direct and that the fictive speaker appears to be composed and powerful due to his bluntness.

 

Despite being more enigmatic, the second half of the subject-matter of the speech is more or less straightforward as well. In the first six lines of Verse 3 – “Some of you still wonder why / One of my friends had to die / To get a message across / That yet you haven’t heard / My friend was chased and confused / Like many others I knew” – the fictive speaker reveals that one of his friends died because she (the gender of his friend is revealed in Verse 4) was “chased and confused”, implying that someone from whom she was fleeing was responsible for her death. He also states that it needed her death in order to convey a message, but he does not specify what the message was. Futhermore, he claims that more people he “knew”, which implies that he does not have contact with these people anymore or that they are dead as well, were “chased and confused”, too. The fact that the speaker does not explicitly state who his deceased friend was conveys the impression that the paparazzi must know who he is talking about. Therefore, since the speaker already mentioned in the first two verses that the paparazzi do anything to get a story, that is, they invade the privacy of famous people by stalking them, it is safe to assume, in spite of the lack of explicit information, that his friend was famous and that the paparazzi were responsible for her death because they chased her. Moreover, Vogel suggests that these lines allude to “the senseless death of Lady Diana, who was, notoriously, being chased by tabloid reporters when her car fatally crashed in 1996.” (2011: 242) The assumption of the speaker’s friend being an alter ego of Lady Diana also solves the mystery of the “message” her death conveyed: after Lady Diana’s death, the public felt that the paparazzi were going too far to get their photos and stories of celebrities (cf. Von Glinow 2012, online). Finally, the speaker concludes Verse 3 with the lines: “But on that cold winter night / My pride was snatched away”. These lines could refer to the night that his friend died; however, since Lady Diana died on 30 August 1997 and since it does not make sense that the pride of the speaker was snatched away because of this incident, the “cold winter night” probably alludes to another event, namely the humiliating strip search that Jackson had to endure after the child molestation allegations of the Chandlers in December 1993 (cf. Biography.com Editors 2016, online).

 

The first three lines of Verse 4 continue to deal with the fictive speaker’s deceased friend: “Now she get no second chance / She just ridiculed and harassed / Please tell me why”. In these lines, the speaker emphasizes that she had to endure a lot of harassment and ridicule while she was alive and that she does not get a second chance at life because she is now dead. Furthermore, he seems to ask the paparazzi: “Why did you have to do it? Was it worth it?”. In the final three lines of Verse 4 – “Now there’s a lesson to learn / Respect’s not given, it’s earned / Stop maliciously attacking my integrity” – the speaker states the morale of his friend’s story: “Respect’s not given, it’s earned”. The speaker thus seems to imply that he will not respect the paparazzi unless they earn his respect. In the last line, the speaker then tells them to stop viciously attacking his integrity. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “integrity” as the “firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values : INCORRUPTABILITY” or as “the quality or state of being complete or undivided : COMPLETENESS” (“integrity” n.d., online). It follows then that the speaker implies that the paparazzi’s attacks are in vain because he is incorruptible and complete. Finally, in the lines of Verse 5, which are “Now there’s a lesson to learn / Stories are twisted and turned / Stop maliciously attacking my integrity”, the speaker repeats once again that the paparazzi should stop attacking his integrity. In addition, he teaches the paparazzi another lesson, namely that their stories are distorted and full of lies.

 

Overall, it can be said that the subject-matter of the speech is the speaker’s demand to be left alone by the paparazzi. Throughout the entire lyrics, the speaker is extremely plain-spoken: he tells the addressee explicitly what he wants, namely his “privacy”; he recounts the story of his friend who died with a strong accusatory undertone; he tells the addressee the morale of his story like a teacher to a student; he does not hold back and states that he will disrespect the paparazzi as long as they do not respect him and his wish to be left alone by them. Therefore, the speaker seems to be rather composed and in control – he seems to be in a position of power. This is further underlined by the fact that he considers himself incorruptible and complete, no matter what the paparazzi attempt to do. However, in order to see whether the fictive speaker is really in a position of power, the lyrics’ rhyme scheme and rhetorical devices as well as Jackson’s ad-libs towards the end of the song require further examination.

 

4.5.3    Rhyme scheme, rhetorical devices and ad-libs

The strength of the speaker is indeed reflected in the rhyme scheme of “Privacy”. The first verse, which has the rather consistent rhyme scheme aabbcccd, immediately demonstrates the control of the speaker. The consistency of the rhyme scheme is not even impaired by the last line, which does not seem to have an end-rhyme with any other line. As a matter of fact, the speaker fixes this slight inconsistency by using an internal rhyme, so that “am” rhymes with “man”. Another internal rhyme can be found in the third and the fourth line of the first verse, namely “story” and “bury”. Therefore, it seems that the fictive speaker begins his speech from a position of power. However, it must also be added that the speaker uses mostly slant rhymes in order to maintain the consistency of the rhyme scheme, which perhaps reveals that he is not as composed as he shows: “enough” in line one and “much” in line two, “need” in line three and “me” in line four as well as “confused” in line five and “choose” in line six, or rather “lose” in line seven are all slant rhymes. The only perfect rhymes in the first verse are found in line six and line seven, namely “choose” and “lose”. As the speaker continues his speech with the second verse, the regularity of the rhyme scheme even increases, which shows that the speaker manages to retain his composure. The speaker rhymes “me” in line one with “privacy” in line two and “be” in line three and “control” in line four with “know” in line five, “soul” in line six and “sold” in line seven, resulting in the following rhyme scheme: bbbeeee. The rhymes in most of the lines are perfect rhymes, except for “know” and “sold” which form vowel rhymes with “control” and “soul”. In the choruses, the speaker finally uses only perfect rhymes and the rhyme scheme is perfectly consistent: bbbb. The speaker rhymes “privacy” in line one and two with “paparazzi” in line three and “me” in line four. The choruses can thus be considered as the speaker’s moments of complete control. In the third and fourth verse, however, as the speaker tells about his deceased friend, the rhyme scheme loses some of its consistency again. Perhaps the speaker’s emotions – his sadness and his anger at the paparazzi – take hold of him as he remembers his friend, which results in slight irregularities in the rhyme scheme. The third verse has the rhyme scheme ffghccij: the speaker rhymes “why” in line one with “die” in line two and “confused” in line five with “knew” in line six whereas the other lines do not rhyme with any line at all. The beginning of the fourth verse, which is still about the speaker’s friend, continues with an irregular rhyme scheme, but as the speaker starts to teach the paparazzi a lesson, the rhyme scheme becomes more consistent again: klfmmb. The speaker rhymes “learn” with “earned” and establishes a link between the fourth verse and the first verse, the second verse as well as the chorus by using another word which rhymes with the b-rhyme words, namely “integrity”. What is also interesting is the fact that the speaker connects the lines “Some of you still wonder why / One of my friends had to die” of the third verse with the line “Please tell me why” of the fourth verse by picking up the same rhyme word (f), which stresses that he blames the paparazzi for her death. The shortened fifth verse, in which the speaker teaches the paparazzi his second lesson, remains consistent by having the same rhyme scheme as the last three lines of the fourth verse: mmb – this shows that these lines belong together. This time the speaker rhymes “learn” in line one with “turned” in line two and “integrity” in line three. As can be seen, the fictive speaker remains in control of the rhyme scheme throughout most of the lyrics. Only when he remembers his friend’s death caused by the paparazzi, he loses his composure and the rhyme scheme starts to break down. However, when he reveals the morale of the recounting of his story, the rhyme scheme becomes more consistent again. In the end, the speaker manages to sustain his position of power by concluding the song with three repetitions of the chorus, in which he is at his strongest.

 

A great number of rhetorical devices further emphasize the fictive speaker’s position of power. Firstly, the speaker uses a lot of alliteration to underline his message. For instance, in line four of the second verse – “’Cause your cameras can’t control” – the speaker uses many words beginning with the /k/ sound, and in lines six and seven of the same verse – “That you’ll even sell your soul / Just to get a story sold” – he uses several /s/ sounds in order to get his message across. The “sell” and the “sold” in these two lines are also a polyptoton, which further stresses the speaker’s message. More alliteration can be found in the first two lines of the last verse: “Now there’s a lesson to learn / Stories are twisted and turned”. In these lines, the speaker repeats the /l/ sound and the /t/ sound to strengthen his message. Secondly, an example of intertextuality can be found in the sixth line of the second verse: “That you’ll even sell your soul”. With this line, the speaker seems to refer to the line “You’re sellin’ out souls but / I care about mine” in “Scream”. In doing so, the speaker repeats the idea that in contrast to the paparazzi, he cares about his soul. Thirdly, there are several examples of parallelism in the first verse, namely “You’ve got the […]” in the fifth line, “You tell the […]” in the sixth line and “You try to […]” in the seventh line. The speaker uses the device of parallelism in order to show in three consecutive sentences the actions of the paparazzi and what power they possess. That way, the speaker is able to illustrate that whom he is up against is extremely powerful and influential. Fourthly, a metaphor is also used to demonstrate the power of the paparazzi, namely in the fourth line of the second verse: “’Cause your cameras can’t control”. In this line, the word “cameras” is compared to a mind-controlling machine, which shows the paparazzi’s power. However, at the same time, the speaker also reveals their weakness in the line that follows: “The minds of those who know”. The weakness of the paparazzi is knowledge – if the people know how the paparazzi operate, they cannot be controlled. This is where the speaker’s speech (and his story about his deceased friend) comes in: it provides information on the way paparazzi operate and thus negates their influence.

 

There is only one aspect in the song which reveals that the fictive speaker is still not entirely empowered, namely the ad-libs of the song. Although the ad-libs are not part of the official lyrics of the song, these spontaneous interjections by Jackson on behalf of the speaker still give away information about the speaker’s state of mind. It needs to be added that it is rather difficult to understand these interjections and that sometimes they even do not make sense at all, which is called scatting; however, sometimes they do make sense.[15] In the first repetition of the chorus, between “So paparazzi” and “Get away from me”, the speaker interjects the word “mercy”. Therefore, it seems as if the speaker is still begging the addressee for mercy. In the final choruses following the last verse, interjections such as “Oh no”, “Stop your walking, talking, stalking”, “It’s gotta be me” amongst others are repeated over and over again (cf. Michael Jackson. Invincible). Most of them seem to have a plaintive undertone, as if the speaker was pleading with the addressee to stop bothering him. Finally, after the lyrics of the chorus are repeated for the last time and the beat continues, the speaker seems to repeat the phrases “Why’d you do it?”, “Please don’t do it” and “You just let it” a few times. Again the speaker appears to be pleading with the paparazzi, showing a hint of powerlessness.

 

All in all, it can thus be said that the subject-matter of the speech, the rhyme scheme and the rhetorical devices of “Privacy” all suggest a fictive speaker who is in control and who is in a position of power. The speaker is extremely straightforward and he does not embellish his words at all: he reveals the identity of the addressee immediately, delivers a clear message and shows his composure through his control of the rhyme scheme and his use of rhetorical devices. Only the ad-libs towards the end of the song reveal that the speaker still has temporary moments of weakness. Nevertheless, he remains in a position of power throughout most of the song, which demonstrates that he has become a more or less self-empowered being.

 

 

5. Conclusion

In the course of this thesis, the ups and downs of Michael Jackson’s historical 40-year long career were examined. On the one hand, we have taken a glimpse at what the King of Pop would certainly like to be remembered for: the young Michael Jackson joining his brothers’ band The Jackson 5 and winning talent contest after talent contest; The Jackson 5 playing the chitlin’ circuit and getting signed to Motown Records; The Jackson 5 releasing their first number-one singles and the following madness of Jacksonmania; the Jacksons leaving Motown Records and signing with Epic Records in hope for more independence; Michael Jackson’s first movie performance in The Wiz; MJ’s success with his first solo album for Epic Records, Off The Wall, which was the best-selling album ever by a black artist when it was released; him topping the success of Off The Wall by releasing the best-selling album of all time, Thriller; him revolutionizing the medium of the music video with his first short films for “Billie Jean”, “Beat It” and “Thriller”; his career-defining performance and the birth of the moonwalk at Motown 25: Yesterday, Today and Forever; the release of Bad and his first tour as solo artist; him becoming the most successful artist and entertainer of all time and one of the most famous people who has ever lived; the international success of Dangerous and HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book 1, which still is the best-selling multiple-disc album of all time; the release of Blood on the Dance Floor: History in the Mix and Invincible; the surprise of the success of his intended comeback; his humanitarian contributions throughout the years; his unconditional love for his three children, Prince Michael Jackson, Paris Katherine Michael Jackson and Prince Michael II; the rediscovery of his music even after his death.

 

On the other hand, we have also seen Michael Jackson’s difficult relationship with the media, which resulted in his professional and personal downfall. We have looked at the bad moments of his career which have overshadowed his success to a large extent: the speculations about his sexuality and his changing appearance; his first publicity miscalculations with the stories about the hyperbaric chamber and the remains of the Elephant Man; the creation of “Wacko Jacko” and the following ceaseless speculations about his eccentricities; the child molestation allegations of the Chandlers in 1993 and the 17 million dollar settlement; his drug addiction; Bashir’s controversial documentary Living with Michael Jackson followed by the child abuse allegations of the Arvizos in 2003; the People v. Jackson trial in 2005. These are the moments that many people remember Michael Jackson for – they do not remember his creative work and his important contributions to music, but rather the image that was constructed by the media.

 

However, Michael Jackson did not simply accept being a target of sensational media reporting – he also fought back against the media in the form of his music. Songs such as “Leave Me Alone” off Bad, “Why You Wanna Trip On Me” off Dangerous, “Scream” and “Tabloid Junkie” off HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I and “Privacy” off Invincible were the result of Jackson’s counterattack against the media – his ‘media-critical’ songs. Because every album since Bad (except for Blood on the Dance Floor: History in the Mix) features such a song critical of the media, an analysis of the lyrics’ progression, specifically an analysis of the development of the power position of the fictive speaker in these highly autobiographical lyrics became the focus of this thesis. By taking a look at the lyrics’ communicative situation, rhyme scheme and rhetorical devices as well as aspects of the music, it was possible to show how Jackson’s fictive speaker progresses from victim in “Leave Me Alone” to a more or less self-empowered being in the course of the songs.

 

The fictive speaker’s progress from “Leave Me Alone” to “Privacy” is remarkable. In “Leave Me Alone”, the speaker appears extremely powerless: he disguises his criticism of the media as a love song, reveals that he is a victim to his feelings in his speech and does not manage to bring in consistency into the rhyme scheme. The music and the rhetorical devices further emphasize the speaker’s insecurity and weakness. In “Why You Wanna Trip On Me”, the fictive speaker is still in a victim power position: he begs the addressee to stop consuming him like a drug and tries to direct the addressee’s focus away from him. Furthermore, the ambiguity of the speaker about the addressee, the inconsistent rhyme scheme with its many slant and identical rhymes, the chord progression of the music and the rhetorical devices stress the speaker’s powerlessness. In “Scream”, the speaker has finally had enough of the victimization and is ready to fight the addressee for control. His struggle for control is mirrored in the samples of Jackson’s glass-shattering screams and the sometimes consistent rhyme scheme of the lyrics. However, the fact that he needs the support of a second voice, the fact that the speaker begs for mercy, the fact that he reveals the identity of the addressee, but immediately tries to conceal it again, the repetition of the sample of Jackson’s scream and the rhetorical devices suggest a speaker that is still in a victim power position. In “Tabloid Junkie”, the speaker finally attempts to assume a position of power: the identity of the addressee is revealed right from the start, the message of the speech is extremely straightforward, the samples of the voices of news reporters cannot overwhelm the speaker, and the rather consistent rhyme scheme as well as the numerous rhetorical devices show a speaker that has liberated himself from the victim power position. Finally, in “Privacy”, the speaker is more powerful than ever: he is extremely plain-spoken and delivers a speech that could not be more direct, he makes sure that the addressee is known right from the start and he takes control of the lyrics’ rhyme and rhetorical devices. Only during the ad-libs of the song, which are not part of the official lyrics, does the speaker disclose a moment of powerlessness. For this reason, he can only be considered a more or less self-empowered being in the end.

 

In conclusion, it needs to be added that the analysis of the fictive speakers in Jackson’s ‘media-critical’ songs potentially provides us with interesting insights into Jackson’s state of mind concerning the media and himself over the years. Because the lyrics of these songs are highly autobiographical and because the speakers seem to be alter egos of Jackson, it is perhaps possible to grasp how Jackson felt when the media started damaging his image in the years preceding the release of Bad and how his feelings changed by the release of Invincible. Maybe Jackson felt victimized by the media at first, but over the years he got stronger and stronger. Of course, such assumptions can only be of a purely speculative nature, but perhaps they are not too far-fetched. It would have been interesting to see the direction in which Jackson’s next ‘media-critical’ songs would have gone, but unfortunately “Privacy” is the last song critical of the media released by Jackson himself. Nevertheless, an analysis of how “Breaking News” – a song which was recorded in 2007 and released on the posthumous album Michael in 2010 and which caused a lot of controversy because of its vocals – fits into the scheme of Jackson’s ‘media-critical’ songs would be extremely informative (cf. Vogel 2011: 267).

 

 

6. Works Cited

 

  1. Primary Texts

1.1 Discography and lyrics

Michael Jackson (1987). Bad. Epic Records.

Michael Jackson (1991). Dangerous. Epic Records.

Michael Jackson (1995). HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I. Epic Records.

Michael Jackson (2001). Invincible. Epic Records.

 

1.2 Lyrics and chords

Michael Jackson (1997). “Leave Me Alone” [1987]. In: International Music Publications Ltd, ed. Michael Jackson: Complete Chord Book. London: Faber Music Ltd. [no page]. Song 53.

Michael Jackson (1997). “Why You Wanna Trip On Me” [1991]. In: International Music Publications Ltd, ed. Michael Jackson: Complete Chord Book. London: Faber Music Ltd. [no page]. Song 99.

Michael Jackson (1997). “Scream” [1995]. In: International Music Publications Ltd, ed. Michael Jackson: Complete Chord Book. London: Faber Music Ltd. [no page]. Song 75.

Michael Jackson (1997). “Tabloid Junkie” [1995]. In: International Music Publications Ltd, ed. Michael Jackson: Complete Chord Book. London: Faber Music Ltd. [no page]. Song 83.

 

  1. Secondary Literature

2.1 Printed Sources

Braheny, John (2007). The Craft and Business of Songwriting: a practical guide to creating and marketing artistically and commercially successful songs. 3rd ed. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books.

Ebmeier, Jochen (1999). Michael Jackson: Das Phänomen. Mainz: Atlantis Musikbuch-Verlag.

Fast, Susan (2014). Dangerous. 33 100. New York: Bloomsbury.

Faulstich, Werner (1978). Rock-Pop-Beat-Folk: Grundlagen der Textmustik-Analyse. Literaturwissenschaft im Grundstudium 7. Tübingen: Gunter Narr Verlag.

Jackson, Michael (2010). Moonwalk [1988], re-issued edition. London: Arrow Books.

Jones, Aphrodite (2012). Michael Jackson Conspiracy. n.p.: Aphrodite Jones Books.

Knopper, Steve (2015). MJ: The Genius of Michael Jackson. New York: Scribner.

Livingstone, Harrison E. (2004). The Radical Right and the Murder of John F. Kennedy: Stunning Evidence in the Assassination of the President. Victoria, BC: Trafford Publishing.

Ott, Bill (2003). “Making Sense of Michael Jackson”. American Libraries. 34.3: 92.

Swenson, John (1992). “Michael Jackson”. In: Anthony DeCurtis and James Henke, eds. The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll: The Definitive History of the Most Important Artists and Their Music., rev. and updated revision. London: Plexus Publishing Ltd. 648-655.

Taraborrelli, J. Randy (2010). Michael Jackson: The Magic, The Madness, The Whole Story, 1958-2009 [1991], rev., expanded, and updated edition. New York: Grand Central Publishing.

Vogel, Joseph (2011). Man in the Music: The Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson. New York: Sterling.

Yuan, David D. (1996). “The Celebrity Freak: Michael Jackson’s ‘Grotesque Glory’”. In: Rosemarie Garland Thomson, ed. Freakery: Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body. New York: New York UP. 368-384.

 

2.2 Electronic Sources

2.2.1 Articles

Baila, Morgan (2016, Aug. 26). “8 Of Michael Jackson’s Most Iconic Dance Moves”. Refinery29. [Online]. http://www.refinery29.com/2016/08/120661/michael-jackson-dance-moves-king-of-pop#slide [2017, Jan. 25].

Biography.com Editors (2016, Nov. 30). “Princess Diana Biography”. Biography.com. [Online]. http://www.biography.com/people/princess-diana-9273782 [2017, Jan. 25].

Fernandes, Darren (2011, May 6). “The Style Autopsy of the King Of Pop”. NOT JUST A LABEL. [Online]. https://www.notjustalabel.com/editorial/style-autopsy-king-pop [2017, Jan. 25].

Gee, Alison (2015, Jan. 9). “Who first said ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’?”. BBC News. [Online]. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-30729480 [2017, Jan. 25].

Gritt, Emma (2016, July 18). “Michael Jackson ‘given hormone injections to delay puberty and keep his voice high’”. The Sun. [Online]. https://www.thesun.co.uk/tvandshowbiz/1461191/michael-jackson-given-hormone-injections-to-delay-puberty-and-keep-his-voice-high/ [2017, Jan. 25].

Henley, Tim (2013, May 16). “Quincy Jones says Michael Jackson didn’t want to be black”. NEWSOK. [Online]. http://newsok.com/article/3816610 [2017, Jan. 25].

History.com Staff (2009). “Marilyn Monroe is found dead”. History. [Online]. http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/marilyn-monroe-is-found-dead [2017, Jan. 25].

Hunter, James (1995, Aug. 10). “Michael Jackson: HIStory: Past, Present, Future: Book I”. Rolling Stone. [Online]. http://www.rollingstone.com/music/albumreviews/history-past-present-future-book-i-19950810 [2017, Jan. 25].

Marshall, Rick (2009, June 26). “Michael Jackson’s Death Overloads Google, Twitter: Myspace, Facebook and Wikipedia Also Bombarded With Visitors After News”. MTV news. [Online]. http://www.mtv.com/news/1614812/michael-jacksons-death-overloads-google-twitter/ [2017, Jan. 25].

Morris, Meagan (2011, Mar. 24). “Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson: Friends in life and death”. sheknows. [Online]. http://www.sheknows.com/entertainment/articles/826921/elizabeth-taylor-and-michael-jackson-friends-in-life-and-death [2017, Jan. 25].

“Most Successful Entertainer of All Time-Michael Jackson sets world record” (2009, June 27). World Record Academy. [Online]. http://www.worldrecordacademy.com/entertainment/most_successful_entertainer_of_all_time-Michael_Jackson_sets_world_record%20_90258.htm [2017, Jan. 25].

Schmidt, Volker (2013, Nov. 19). “Wer hat JFK wirklich erschossen?”. Zeit Online. [Online]. http://www.zeit.de/wissen/geschichte/2013-11/verschwoerungstheorien-ermordung-john-f-kennedy [2017, Jan. 25].

Stanley, Alessandra (2003, Feb. 6). “TELEVISION REVIEW; A Neverland World Of Michael Jackson. The New York Times. [Online]. http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/06/arts/television-review-a-neverland-world-of-michael-jackson.html [2017, Jan. 25].

Thornton, Michael (2012, July 20). “The ultimate sex symbol for men. But did Marilyn Monroe only love women? Fifty years after her death, an author who met the star questions her sexual identity”. Mail Online. [Online]. Daily Mail. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2176657/Marilyn-Monroe-The-ultimate-sex-symbol-men-But-did-love-women.html [2017, Jan. 25].

United States Census Bureau (2011, Sept. 29). “2010 Census Shows Black Population has Highest Concentration in the South: People Who Reported as Both Black and White More than Doubled”. United States Census Bureau. [Online]. https://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/2010_census/cb11-cn185.html [2017, Jan. 25].

Von Glinow, Kiki (2012, Aug. 31). “Princess Diana’s 15-Year Death Anniversary Puts Paparazzi Laws Under Microscope”. The Huffington Post. [Online]. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/31/princess-dianas-death-15-year-anniversary-paparazzi-laws_n_1837025.html [2017, Jan. 25].

Weinraub, Bernard (1995, June 15). “In New Lyrics, Jackson Uses Slurs”. The New York Times. [Online]. http://www.nytimes.com/1995/06/15/arts/in-new-lyrics-jackson-uses-slurs.html [2017, Jan. 25].

“Who killed JFK? A guide to the Kennedy conspiracy theories” (2017, Jan. 19). The Week. [Online]. http://www.theweek.co.uk/55933/who-killed-jfk-a-guide-to-the-kennedy-conspiracy-theories [2017, Jan. 25].

 

2.2.2 Wikipedia articles, Online dictionary entries and Youtube videos

“ad-lib” (n.d.). Merriam-Webster Online. [Online]. Merriam-Webster. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ad%E2%80%93lib [2017, Jan. 25].

“Bad (tour)” (n.d.). Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. [Online]. Wikimedia Foundation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bad_(tour) [2017, Jan. 25].

Bashir, Martin (2003). Living with Michael Jackson. [Youtube Video]. Uploaded as “Michael Jackson Documentary ‘living with michael jackson’” by Luis Padron on 27 May 2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gqqipytDeuM [2017, Jan. 25].

“collusion” (n.d.). English Oxford Living Dictionaries. [Online]. Oxford Dictionaries. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/collusion [2017, Jan. 25].

“dog” (n.d.). Merriam-Webster Online. [Online]. Merriam-Webster. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dog [2017, Jan. 25].

Fine Brothers Entertainment (2016, Nov. 3). KIDS REACT TO MICHAEL JACKSON [Youtube Video]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=maVR5RNIs_o [2017, Jan. 25].

“hood” (n.d.). English Oxford Living Dictionaries. [Online]. Oxford Dictionaries. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/hood [2017, Jan. 25].

“integrity” (n.d.). Merriam-Webster Online. [Online]. Merriam-Webster. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/integrity [2017, Jan. 25].

Jackson, Michael (1989). Michael Jackson – Leave Me Alone (Official Video). [Youtube Video]. Uploaded by michaeljacksonVEVO on 2 October 2009. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crbFmpezO4A [2017, Jan. 25].

“Presumption Of Innocence” (n.d.). Nolo’s Plain-English Law Dictionary. [Online]. Nolo. http://www.nolo.com/dictionary/presumption-of-innocence-term.html [2017, Jan. 25].

“Sampling (music)” (n.d.). Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. [Online]. Wikimedia Foundation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sampling_(music) [2017, Jan. 25].

“Scat singing” (n.d.). Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. [Online]. Wikimedia Foundation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scat_singing [2017, Jan. 25].

“Stranger in Moscow” (n.d.). Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. [Online]. Wikimedia Foundation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stranger_in_Moscow [2017, Jan. 25].

“trip” (n.d.). English Oxford Living Dictionaries. [Online]. Oxford Dictionaries. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/trip [2017, Jan. 25].

“Vitiligo” (n.d.). Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. [Online]. Wikimedia Foundation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitiligo [2017, Jan. 25].

 

 7. Appendix: Lyrics

 

  1. “Leave Me Alone”

 

Aaow! Hoo! Hoo![16]                                                                                    Intro

 

I don’t care what you talkin’ ‘bout baby                                                    Verse 1

I don’t care what you say

Don’t you come walkin’ beggin’ back mama

I don’t care anyway

Time after time I gave you all of my money

No excuses to make

Ain’t no mountain that I can’t climb baby

All is going my way

 

(‘Cause there’s a time when you’re right                                                    Pre-chorus 1

And you know you must fight)

Who’s laughing baby, don’t you know?

(And there’s the choice that we make

And this choice you will take)

Who’s laughin’ baby?

 

So just leave me alone girl                                                                            Chorus 1

Leave me alone

(Leave me alone)

Leave me alone

(Leave me alone)

Leave me alone, stop it!

Just stop doggin’ me around

(Just stop doggin’ me)

 

There was a time I used to say girl I need you                                            Verse 2

But who is sorry now

You really hurt, you used to take and deceive me

Now who is sorry now

You got a way of making me feel so sorry

I found out right away

Don’t you come walkin’ beggin’ I ain’t lovin’ you

Don’t you get in my way

 

(‘Cause there’s a time when you’re right                                                    Pre-chorus 2

And you know you must fight)

Who’s laughing baby, don’t you know?

(And there’s the choice that we make

And this choice you must take)

Who’s laughin’ baby?

 

So just leave me alone girl                                                                            Chorus 2

Leave me alone

(Leave me alone)

Leave me alone

(Leave me alone)

Leave me alone, stop it!

Just stop doggin’ me around

(Just stop doggin’ me)[17]

 

(‘Cause there’s a time when you’re right                                                    Pre-chorus 3

And you know must fight)

Who’s laughing baby, don’t you know, girl?

(It’s the choice that we make

And this choice you will take)

Who’s laughin’ baby?

 

So just leave me alone girl                                                                            Chorus 3
Leave me alone
(Leave me alone)
Leave me alone girl
Leave me alone
(Leave me alone)
Stop it!
Just stop doggin’ me around
Leave me alone girl
Leave me alone
(Leave me alone)
Leave me alone girl
(Leave me alone)
Leave me alone–stop it!

 

Just stop doggin’ me around                                                                       Outro

(Just stop doggin’ me)

Don’t come beggin’ me

Don’t come beggin’

Don’t come lovin’ me

Don’t come beggin’

I love you

I don’t want to

I don’t…

I don’t…

I don’t…

I don’t…

I…, I…, I…, aaow!

Hee hee!

Don’t come beggin’ me

Don’t come beggin’

Don’t come lovin’ me

Don’t come beggin’

I love you

I don’t want it

I don’t need it

 

  1. “Why You Wanna Trip On Me”[18]

 

They say I’m different                                                                                Verse 1

They don’t understand

But there’s a bigger problem

That’s much more in demand

You got world hunger

Not enough to eat

So there’s really no time

To be trippin’ on me

 

You got school teachers                                                                               Verse 2

Who don’t wanna teach

You got grown people

Who can’t write or read

You got strange diseases

Ah but there’s no cure

You got many doctors

That aren’t so sure

So tell me

 

Why you wanna trip on me                                                                        Chorus 1

Why you wanna trip on me

Stop trippin’

 

We’ve got more problems                                                                           Verse 3

Than we’ll ever need

You got gang violence

And bloodshed on the street

You got homeless people

With no food to eat

With no clothes on their back

And no shoes for their feet

 

We’ve got drug addiction                                                                             Verse 4

In the minds of the weak

We’ve got so much corruption

Police brutality

We’ve got streetwalkers

Walkin’ into darkness

Tell me

What are we doing

To try to stop this

 

Why you wanna trip on me                                                                        Chorus 2

Why you wanna trip on me

Why you wanna trip on me

Why you wanna trip on me

Stop trippin’

Yeah stop trippin’

Everybody just stop trippin’

 

Why you wanna trip on me                                                                        Chorus 3

Why you wanna trip on me

Why you wanna trip on me

Why you wanna trip on me

Stop trippin’

 

Why you wanna trip on me                                                                        Chorus 4

Why you wanna trip on me

Why you wanna trip on me

Why you wanna trip on me

Ooh stop trippin’

Yeah stop trippin’

Everybody just stop trippin’

 

Stop trippin’                                                                                               Outro

Stop trippin’

Stop trippin’

Stop trippin’

Stop trippin’

Stop trippin’

Stop trippin’

Stop trippin’

Why you wanna trip on me

Stop trippin’

Why you wanna trip on me

Stop trippin’

Why you wanna trip on me

Stop trippin’

Why you wanna trip on me

Stop trippin’

Stop trippin’

Stop trippin’

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. “Scream”[19]

 

Michael                                                                                                      Verse 1

Tired of injustice

Tired of the schemes

The lies are disgusting

So what does it mean

Kicking me down

I got to get up

As jacked as it sounds

The whole system sucks

 

Janet                                                                                                           Verse 2

Peek in the shadow

Come into the light

You tell me I’m wrong

Then you better prove you’re right

You’re sellin’ out souls but

I care about mine

I’ve got to get stronger

And I won’t give up the fight

 

Michael                                                                                                      Pre-chorus 1

With such confusions

don’t it make you wanna scream?

Your bash abusin’

victimize within the scheme

Janet

You try to cope with

every lie they scrutinize

Both

Somebody please have mercy

‘Cause I just can’t take it

 

Stop pressurin’ me                                                                                      Chorus 1

Just stop pressurin’ me

Stop pressurin’ me

Make me wanna scream

Stop pressurin’ me

Just stop pressurin’ me

Stop pressurin’ me

Make you just wanna scream

 

Michael                                                                                                      Verse 3         

Tired of you tellin’ me the story your way

It’s causin’ confusion

You think it’s okay

Janet

You keep changin’ the rules

While I keep playin’ the game

I can’t take it much longer

I think I might go insane

 

Michael                                                                                                      Pre-chorus 2

With such confusion

don’t it make you wanna scream?

Your bash abusin’

victimize within the scheme

Janet

You find your pleasure

Scandalizin’ every lie

Both

Oh father, please have mercy

‘Cause I just can’t it

 

Stop pressurin’ me                                                                                      Chorus 2

Just stop pressurin’ me

Stop pressurin’ me

Make me wanna scream

Stop pressurin’ me

Just stop pressurin’ me

Stop fuckin’ with me

Make me wanna scream

 

Janet                                                                                                           Bridge

Oh my god, can’t believe what I saw

As I turned on the TV this evening

I was disgusted by all the injustice

Michael

All the injustice

News Man

A man has been brutally beaten to death by police

After being wrongfully identified as a robbery suspect

The man was an 18 year old black male . . .

 

Michael                                                                                                      Pre-chorus 3

With such collusions

don’t it make you wanna scream?

Your bash abusin’

victimize within the scheme

Janet

You try to cope with

every lie they scrutinize

Both

Oh brother, please have mercy

‘Cause I just can’t take it

 

Stop pressurin’ me                                                                                      Chorus 3

Just stop pressurin’ me

Stop pressurin’ me

Make me wanna scream                                                                              Rep. to fade

 

  1. “Tabloid Junkie”[20]

Intro

Speculate to break /                                                                                     Verse 1

The one you hate

Circulate the lie /

You confiscate

Assassinate and mutilate

The hounding media /

In hysteria

Who’s the next /

For you to resurrect

JFK exposed the CIA

Truth be told /

The grassy knoll

The blackmail story /

In all your glory

 

It’s slander                                                                                                   Pre-chorus 1

You say it’s not a sword

But with your pen you torture men

You’d crucify the Lord

And you don’t have to read it

And you don’t have to eat it

To buy it is to feed it

So why do we keep foolin’ ourselves?

 

Just because you read it in a magazine                                                        Chorus 1

Or see it on a TV screen

Don’t make it factual

Though everybody wants to read all about it

Just because you read it in a magazine

Or see it on a TV screen

Don’t make it factual, actual

They say he’s homosexual

 

In the hood                                                                                                  Verse 2

Frame him if you could

Shot to kill

To blame him if you will

If he dies sympathize

Such false witnesses

Damn self-righteousness

In the black

Stab me in the back

In the face

To lie and shame the race

Heroine and Marilyn

The headline stories /

Of all your glory

 

It’s slander                                                                                                   Pre-chorus 2

With the words you use

You’re a parasite in black and white

Do anything for news

And you don’t go and buy it

And they won’t glorify it

To read it sanctifies it

Then why do we keep foolin’ ourselves?

 

Just because you read it in a magazine                                                        Chorus 2

Or see it on a TV screen

Don’t make it factual

Though everybody wants to read all about it

Just because you read it in a magazine

Or see it on a TV screen

Don’t make it factual

See, but everybody wants to believe all about it

 

Just because you read it in a magazine                                                        Chorus 3

Or see it on the TV screen

Don’t make it factual

See, but everybody wants to believe all about it

Just because you read it in a magazine

Or see it on the TV screen

Don’t make it factual, actual

She’s blonde and she’s bisexual

Bridge

Scandal                                                                                                         Pre-chorus 3

With the words you use

You’re a parasite in black and white

Do anything for news

And you don’t go and buy it

Then they won’t glorify it

To read it sanctifies it

Why do we keep foolin’ ourselves?

Slander

You say it’s not a sin

But with your pen you torture men

Then why do we keep foolin’ ourselves?

 

Just because you read it in a magazine                                                        Chorus 4

Or see it on a TV screen

Don’t make it factual

Though everybody wants to read all about it

Just because you read it in a magazine

Or see it on a TV screen

Don’t make it factual

See, but everybody wants to read all about it

 

Just because you read it in a magazine                                                        Chorus 5

Or see it on TV screen

Don’t make it factual

Just because you read it in a magazine

Or see it on a TV screen

Don’t make it factual

Just because you read it in a magazine

Or see it on a TV screen

Don’t make it factual, actual

 

You’re so damn disrespectable

 

  1. “Privacy”[21]

 

Ain’t the pictures enough /                                                                          Verse 1

Why do you go through so much

To get the story you need, /

So you can bury me

You’ve got the people confused, /

You tell the stories you choose

You try to get me to lose /

The man I really am

 

You keep on stalking me /                                                                           Verse 2

Invading my privacy

Won’t you just let me be

‘Cause your cameras can’t control /

The minds of those who know

That you’ll even sell your soul /

Just to get a story sold

 

CHORUS                                                                                                    Chorus 1

I need my privacy /

I need my privacy

So paparazzi, /

Get away from me

 

Some of you still wonder why /                                                                  Verse 3

One of my friends had to die

To get a message across /

That yet you haven’t heard

My friend was chased and confused /

Like many others I knew

But on that cold winter night /

My pride was snatched away

 

Now she get no second chance /                                                                  Verse 4

She just ridiculed and harassed

Please tell me why

Now there’s a lesson to learn /

Respect’s not given, it’s earned

Stop maliciously attacking my integrity

 

CHORUS                                                                                                    Chorus 2

 

Now there’s a lesson to learn /                                                                    Verse 5

Stories are twisted and turned

Stop maliciously attacking my integrity

 

CHORUS x 3                                                                                               Chorus 3

                                                                                                                     Fade-Out

[1] Michael Jackson: the phenomenon (my translation)

[2] “The text of a pop song needs to be regarded as a communicative situation. In this respect, after considering the content, we are confronted with the problem of identifying the verbal person or people involved: Who speaks to whom?” (my translation)

[3] “[the] how of the speech” (my translation)

[4] More examples of “you” can be found in the first, second and fifth line of every pre-chorus; however, considering the meaning of the rest of the lyrics, these do not seem to refer to the addressee. Rather they seem to be used in a universal sense, as if saying “There is a time when one is right and one must fight”, or to refer to the speaker himself in the sense of “The time has come that I am right and I now know that I must fight”, which perhaps accounts for the stylistic choice of the lyrics being in brackets and in italics in order to not confuse the reader.

[5] The lyrics of “Why You Wanna Trip On Me” do not offer a great deal of information about the fictive speaker. It is thus unclear whether the speaker is male or female. While a female speaker would certainly be possible, we will assume that the speaker is male. Despite the lack of information about the speaker, it is still Michael Jackson who performed the song, giving the speaker a male voice. Besides, since the lyrics are also highly autobiographical, a male persona is simply more likely. Whenever the gender of the speaker seems unclear in the following analyses of the rest of the songs, the same approach will be taken.

[6] It needs to be stressed again that Jackson’s songs critical of the media are extremely autobiographical. This makes it possible to consult Jackson’s biographies in order to understand aspects of his lyrics. As a matter of fact, just as the fictive speaker in “Leave Me Alone”, the lyric persona in “Why You Wanna Trip On Me” is an alter ego of Jackson once again.

[7] In the liner notes of the booklet of HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I, Steven Spielberg’s tribute to Michael Jackson indirectly confirms this interpretation: “It must be hard for Michael to know how much the world wants to know him, to be like him, to consume him.” (Qtd. in Michael Jackson. HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I. Booklet: 5; my emphasis) Assuming that the fictive speaker is an alter ego of Jackson, this statement can be applied to the speaker of the song as well.

[8] As has already been mentioned above, more instances of “you” are used in the second line of every pre-chorus (“don’t it make you wanna scream?”), in line five of Pre-chorus 1 and Pre-chorus 3 (“You try to cope with every lie / they scrutinize”) as well as in line eight of Chorus 1 (“Make you just wanna scream”); however, in the context of the entire lyrics, these do not seem to refer to the fictive addressee, but rather to the fictive speaker himself – assuming that there is only one speaker.

[9] According to Vogel, Jackson was averse to using the F-word in “Scream” because he was not used to swearing; however, the fact that he did use it, although he sang it in a rather percussive way, shows how serious he was about getting the message of his song across (cf. 2011: 190).

[10] Vogel gives another possible interpretation of the news report during the bridge: “As with most songs on the album, Jackson attaches his personal struggles to larger social concerns. The injustice he has experienced is only a small part of a larger system of deceit and corruption. […] This subtle allusion to another victim of the system—in this case, of racial profiling, police brutality, and media exploitation—is a testament to Jackson’s sharp cultural awareness. ” (2011: 191).

[11] According to Wikipedia, “[…] sampling is the act of taking a portion, or sample, of one sound recording and reusing it as an instrument or a sound recording in a different song or piece.” There are several types of samples: loops, musical instruments, spoken words and unconventional sounds, such as “[…] sirens and klaxons, locomotive whistles, natural sounds […], cooing babies […]” and screams (“Sampling (music)” n.d., online).

[12] For information about the album HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I, see 4.3.1 of this thesis.

[13] There is, in fact, another allusion to media speculations about Jackson, namely in the final line of Chorus 1: “They say he’s homosexual”. This line alludes to the speculations about Jackson’s sexuality and shows once again that the lyrics of the song are highly autobiographical.

[14] The verb “to ad-lib” is a term often used in music and means “to deliver spontaneously” or “to improvise especially lines or a speech” (“ad-lib” n.d., online).

[15] Scatting is a singing technique that originated in jazz music. It is “vocal improvisation with wordless vocables, nonsense syllables or without words at all.” (“Scat singing” n.d., online).

[16] Due to a typographical error and a rather impractical layout of the lyrics in the booklet of Bad, the first part of the lyrics has been taken from Michael Jackson: Complete Chord Book.

[17] Because the lyrics in Michael Jackson: Complete Chord Book end at this point, the rest of the lyrics has been taken from the booklet of Bad and adapted to the layout of the lyrics in Michael Jackson: Complete Chord Book.

[18] See the official album booklet of Dangerous for the lyrics of “Why You Wanna Trip On Me”.

[19] Because the official album booklet of HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I does not include the lyrics, the lyrics have been taken from Michael Jackson: Complete Chord Book. The layout of the lyrics has been slightly reorganized due to the fact that in Michael Jackson: Complete Chord Book they are structured according to who is doing which vocal part and not according to verses and choruses.

[20] For the lyrics of “Tabloid Junkie”, see Michael Jackson: Complete Chord Book. The layout of the first and second verse has been slightly adapted, so that the line breaks make more sense for a lyrical analysis. These changes are indicated by the use of a slash (/). Furthermore, the break between the first two and the following lines of the first chorus has been deleted because the separation of these lines suggests that they do not belong together, which does not make sense.

[21] For the lyrics of “Privacy”, see the official CD booklet of Invincible. Since the lyrics of (pop) songs are often condensed for the sake of economizing space in the CD booklets, this compacting affects the layout of the lyrics. In order to make more sense for a lyrical analysis, several line breaks have been added to the lyrics and the capitalization of the first words has been adapted accordingly. These changes are again indicated by the use of a slash (/).

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