Abstract: In this month’s MJ Studies Today column, Kerry Hennigan looks at Michael Jackson’s 2008 compilation collection “King of Pop” which was released in many countries, but not the United States. With its various editions and different track listings, many of which were chosen for inclusion by the fans in their respective countries, the album is considered in the context of the scope of Jackson’s international fan base and his on-going impact on popular culture.
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 LXXIII: Michael Jackson’s King of Pop 2008 compilation album as a measure of his global audience and cultural influence” (14-1-2022). The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 8, No. 3 (2022). https://michaeljacksonstudies.org/mj-studies-today-lxxiii/
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Michael Jackson’s King of Pop 2008 compilation album as a measure of his global audience and cultural influence. By Kerry Hennigan
Officially announced in Australia in June 2008, the Michael Jackson compilation CD King of Pop first went on sale in the Netherlands and Germany/Switzerland on August 22 of that year. Releases in many other countries quickly followed. The collection comprised the artist’s greatest hits plus fan favourites (chosen by them from lists provided by Jackson’s record company Sony BMG) that commemorated his fiftieth birthday.
Editions of King of Pop varied in content from one country of release to another and some countries got two discs or a deluxe edition of three discs. The most curious, but not surprising aspect of the album’s discography is that there was never a USA edition. Despite the US being the country of Jackson’s birth and the place where his fame was first forged, his American fans, not for the first time, missed out. Canadian fans were similarly deprived.
We should probably not be surprised at this. By the mid-90s, overseas markets were dominating Jackson’s record sales. Singles like “Earth Song” considered by many to be a modern masterpiece, remained merely an album track in the US.  Negativity surrounding Jackson’s image thanks to false allegations and tabloid media exaggerations (or outright falsifications) had dampened the industry’s enthusiasm for an artist it saw as “controversial” and probably “uncontrollable.”
Since the end of his contract with Quincy Jones, Jackson’s music refused to stay confined to the successful niche he had carved for himself in the 1980s. I suspect label executives would have loved him to repeat the formulae that, with Off the Wall and Thriller had made him the darling of the masses. But Jackson was first and foremost an artist, and artistic integrity was of vital importance to him. If he went over budget, missed deadlines, or changed his mind (giving us Dangerous instead of Decade, for example) it was in the cause of perfecting new material to his exacting standards.
Of course, the US did get the other collections – Number Ones in 2003, which has continued to make and break records of late in the UK charts, and the Ultimate Michael Jackson box set in 2004 (which included previously unreleased material and demos) and the Essential Michael Jackson in 2005, just a month after his acquittal at the Arvizo trial, which had devastated him physically and emotionally. When it came to the release of King of Pop in 2008, perhaps the US market was considered already saturated with Jackson compilations for the new millennium.
Consequently, when Jackson died suddenly in June 2009 and his back catalogue and greatest hits compilations were snapped up by those newly-introduced to his genius, the US missed out on a spike in sales for the King of Pop collection simply because it didn’t have one of its own to sell. It is perhaps a reflection of what often seems to be a disconnect between marketers of music and the consumers, especially for “legacy” artists like Jackson. In countries where King of Pop had been released (China holding out until 2009, after Jackson’s death) it went on to score multiple gold, platinum and diamond certifications from the respective national recording industry trade groups.
Michael Jackson fans have had the last laugh, however, with sales through international websites and eBay providing the means to negate record label shortcomings. It would have been interesting though, to see what tracks would have appeared on a US release. Would we have seen such a variety as chosen by fans in France, whose version included “Ghosts,” “One More Chance,” “Speechless,” and “Got the Hots” for example? Germany chose “Speechless”, “We’ve Had Enough” and “Whatever Happens,” while Australia chose “Ghosts,” “Give In To Me,” “Will You Be There” and “Butterflies.”
Like some other countries, Australia got two versions: a special 50th Anniversary Edition which had what were labelled “From the Closet” tracks like “State of Shock” and “You Can’t Win” from the Wiz, “In the Back” and his “We Are The World” solo demo. The other less elaborately packaged edition was titled King of Pop: The Australian Collection which had an identical track listing for disc one, but a different selection on disc 2 apart from the first three songs.  Meantime, some countries (e.g. UK, France and Singapore) got deluxe editions containing three discs of music from the Jackson vault. For new fans, the album provided an excellent introduction to the artist, containing all his most recognisable hits while highlighting favourite tracks chosen by existing fans and some additional rarities. 
What does all this mean in the broader context of Jackson’s popularity? Firstly, it bears remembering that because the record industry was pioneered and long dominated by the US and its home-grown artists, much of the commentary we read even today comes from a narrow view of the world that is hereditary in the music industry. It is a view which anticipates current American chart-toppers and trend-setters being admired just as fervently the world over as in the pages of Billboard magazine, the source most cited by the media. But this is a myopic view of an industry that is truly international and has been for decades.
So, when someone suggests that “so and so” is greater than Michael Jackson, or has had more impact on popular culture, we should perhaps query the size of the global audience for that artist, their longevity in the industry, and then wait and see if they’re still creating headlines and getting fans excited to see them at age 50. Not to mention the YouTube and TikTok clips showing fans from toddlers to baby boomers dressing up and/or dancing like their icon more than a decade after his passing. That’s a litmus test few other artists would pass.
 Vogel, Joseph. Earth Song: Inside Michael Jackson’s Magnum Opus. BlakeVision Books, 2011
 From the author’s personal collection.
 Discogs website: King of Pop listings. https://www.discogs.com/master/195990-Michael-Jackson-King-Of-Pop-German-Edition
Illustration: “We are the World” photo compilation by Kerry Hennigan using her own photograph of copies of the “King of Pop” album and a professional photograph (photographer unknown) of Michael Jackson. No copyright infringement is intended in this not-for-profit, educational exercise.