Abstract: In this month that marks the twelfth anniversary of the death of King of Pop, Michael Jackson, MJ Studies Today columnist Kerry Hennigan focuses the spotlight back on the music. In a discussion of anniversary issues of his albums, she looks at what has been released to date, e.g., Thriller 25 and Bad 25, while significant anniversaries for albums like Dangerous and HIStory pass with only minor official acknowledgement.
Column by Kerry Hennigan, editor of the monthly newsletter, A Candle for Michael, administrator of the widely-subscribed Facebook group “Michael Jackson’s Short Film ‘Ghosts’” and MJ blogger. Student of Ancient History, Archaeology and Anthropology.
Hennigan, Kerry. “MJ Studies Today LXVI: “Keep daring to motivate.” Concerning anniversary reissues of Michael Jackson’s iconic albums, released and anticipated.” (14-06-2021).” The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 7, No. 4 (2021). https://michaeljacksonstudies.org/mj-studies-today-lxvi/
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“Keep daring to motivate.” Concerning anniversary reissues of Michael Jackson’s iconic albums, released and anticipated. By Kerry Hennigan
June 2021 marks the twelfth anniversary of the death of the King of Pop, Michael Jackson. How the fans continue to celebrate their idol during pandemic-caused restrictions on travel and mass gatherings is indicative of the ingenuity of Jackson’s fans the world over. They celebrate his life and art with the available technology including, for example, simultaneous global “streaming parties” of his albums. Organized by the Twitter account @MJChartData, these are not confined to significant anniversaries in the pop icon’s life. Each month, a different album is targeted, and most recently it was the turn of his 1997 release, Bad. For an extended experience, it was decided to focus on the Bad 25 reissue of 2012. This brings us to the subject of anniversary re-issues, those that have occurred and those that are anticipated by fans impatient for rare or unreleased “bonus tracks” from the respective stages (eras) of the artist’s adult career.
Granted, many fans would prefer to have albums of previously unreleased material, but thus far this path has been a minefield of controversy for Jackson’s estate – because of disputed vocals on three tracks on the Michael album, and the contemporizing of tracks on the Xscape album. There was little demand for further compilations, like 2017’s Halloween-themed Scream which gave us songs heard in the animated TV special “Michael Jackson’s Halloween”. The previous decade had already given us Number Ones and the King of Pop compilations, and This Is It again contained most of Jackson’s best-known hits which he had rehearsed for inclusion in his London concert residency and was seen performing in the film compiled from his rehearsal footage.
However, anniversary re-issues provide opportunities to give the fans rare or unreleased music and demos, which can be listened to in context with the album for which they might have been intended. In 2008, Jackson himself had been persuaded to release a Thriller 25 anniversary edition that included some collaborative re-mixes of the album’s hits and the sublime Dangerous era track, “For All Time”. A Deluxe Edition provided more bonus tracks and remixes. Regardless of any lack of enthusiasm Jackson might have felt for dealing with his previously estranged record company, the Thriller 25 project brought new publicity and new sales for the singer’s best-ever-selling album which remains the biggest selling album of any artist the world over. Thriller 25 started the trend of reminding listeners of Jackson’s brilliance – and dominance – of popular music.
Released in 2012, Bad 25 similarly included outtakes and demos, and was the subject of a specially commissioned documentary by Spike Lee. The celebrated filmmaker had famously directed Jackson’s “They Don’t Care About Us” music videos for his 1995 album HIStory, Past, Present & Future, Book 1. Bad 25 also boasted a live concert DVD featuring Jackson’s performance at Wembley Stadium in 1988 while on his Bad World Tour. While there were complaints about the quality of the footage, for many fans it was an absolute gift to have such a performance on disk, in their hands, to watch at their leisure. They can be forgiven for thinking that Bad 25 was the shape of things to come, imagining the Dangerous and HIStory albums and tours being the focus of similar anniversary packages, as well as the critically underrated Invincible, released 2001, Jackson’s 30th anniversary year as a solo recording artist.
Instead, Off the Wall (1979) was chosen as the next re-issue project, released in 2016, a curious thirty-seven years after its original appearance. Given that the Off the Wall sessions predated Jackson’s predilection for recording more songs than could be included on each album, there were no previously unheard tracks on the 2016 Off the Wall package. It did, however, have another Spike Lee-directed documentary, “Michael Jackson’s Journey from Motown to Off the Wall” which premiered out of competition at the Sundance Film Festival that year ahead of its television release.
To the disappointment of many, the twenty-fifth anniversaries of Dangerous and HIStory passed without significant acknowledgement, except for some merchandising and on-line activities that barely made a ripple beyond Jackson fan circles. Many were understandably left feeling disappointed and frustrated. At the official celebration of what would have been Jackson’s sixtieth birthday in Las Vegas in 2018, personnel from the singer’s estate revealed they had a ten-year plan which would cater for a lot of the fan community’s hopes and expectations. Giving us everything we wanted NOW would leave nothing in the vault for those who came after us, and the estate’s aim was to encourage longevity for Jackson’s legacy.
However, in 2019 the estate and Jackson’s global fanbase were blindsided by a four-hour HBO special that threatened to destroy Jackson’s artistic legacy and personal integrity. “Leaving Neverland” was a broadside that gained maximum publicity and calls for the King of Pop’s music to be cancelled. Merchandising sold by major chains like Cotton On and a Jackson-inspired line by Louis Vuitton, were pulled from stores. The estate’s plans were placed on hold while it focused on what legal means were available to it in a country that has no laws against libelling deceased persons or inflicting distress on their families.
Nevertheless, in late 2019 Jackson’s estate and Sony Records pushed ahead with its tenth anniversary package of the This Is It compilation album, originally released to accompany the film which, while appearing to be rushed out following the singer’s passing in June 2009, had won critical praise and became the biggest-earning concert film of all time. The principal product of the This Is It anniversary was an expensive, limited edition boxed set containing the vinyl double album and a photo book. A sound-activated LED speaker was built into the box lid – a spectacular product but with an exorbitant price tag. This was one of the “high end” items that had been alluded to in the Estate’s 2018 chat with fans at the Las Vegas birthday event.
We have now arrived at 2021 – the thirtieth anniversary year for Jackson’s immensely popular Dangerous album, which gave us some of his most imaginative short films and his second solo world tour. Fans are more than anxious to celebrate Dangerous, preferably not just with their own online streaming party and other activities, but with something official that is not targeted to “high end” collectors but is nevertheless worth spending money on. With “MJ: The Musical” currently scheduled to open on Broadway in December 2021 and having the rehearsals for the Dangerous tour as the springboard for its story, perhaps a Dangerous anniversary album will be part of the promotion for the new musical?
Whatever is forthcoming, there is one thing that can be said for all Michael Jackson fans: taking their cue from the artist himself, they have the highest expectations. As Jackson stated in his 1988 autobiography: “Just doing as well as you did last time is not good enough.”
 MJ Chart Data on Twitter https://twitter.com/MJChartData
 Hennigan, Kerry. “One night in Hollywood – MJ Scream LA, 24 October 2017.” Published electronically 28 Oct 2017. https://kerryhennigan.wordpress.com/2017/10/28/one-night-in-hollywood-mj-scream-la/
 MJVibe, Michael Jackson Discography https://www.mjvibe.com/mj-discography/
 Hennigan, Kerry. “Let us eat (birthday) cake – the Michael Jackson Diamond Celebration, Las Vegas 2018.” Published electronically 4 Oct 2018. https://kerryhennigan.wordpress.com/2018/10/04/let-us-eat-birthday-cake-the-michael-jackson-diamond-celebration-las-vegas-2018/
 Hennigan, Kerry. “MJ Studies Today LXV: “With your pen you torture men.” Michael Jackson, trial by media, cancel culture, and the suspension of presumption of innocence.” (14-05-2021).” The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 7, No. 4 (2021). https://michaeljacksonstudies.org/mj-studies-today-lxv/
 Jackson, Michael. Moonwalk. Originally published 1988. Arrow paperback edition. 2010: p.181.
Illustration: Photo montage compiled by Kerry Hennigan. No infringement of photographic copyright is intended in this not-for-profit, educational exercise.