MJ Studies Today LXXXVII

Abstract: With another Grammy Awards ceremony behind us, MJ Studies Today columnist Kerry Hennigan looks at the role of the Grammys in Michael Jackson’s artistic legacy and the relevance of such awards today. She contrasts Jackson’s success at the 1984 Grammys with the 1988 ceremony where he took home no awards, but received a standing ovation for his live performance of “The Way You Make Me Feel” and “Man In The Mirror.”

Column by Kerry Hennigan, editor of the free monthly newsletter, A Candle for Michael, administrator of the widely subscribed Facebook group “Michael Jackson’s Short Film ‘Ghosts’” and an MJ blogger on WordPress. Kerry is a student of Ancient and Medieval History, Archaeology, Anthropology and Religious Studies and has a Certificate in Archaeology from Cambridge University.


Hennigan, Kerry. “MJ Studies Today LXXXVII: Michael Jackson’s Grammy legacy – more than just awards won or lost.” (14-03-2023). The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies Vol 9, No. 3 (2023). https://michaeljacksonstudies.org/mj-studies-today-lxxxvii/

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Michael Jackson’s Grammy legacy – more than just awards won or lost.  By Kerry Hennigan

Photo collage © Kerry Hennigan

As was reported in the media, the 2023 Grammy Awards ceremony ranked with 2021 and 2022 as the least watched Grammys in history. [1] Despite all the advance publicity surrounding Beyonce’s pending record number of wins, and other current popular stars nominated for awards by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS), interest in the ceremony and the status of the award itself have suffered commensurate with greater diversification of music platforms and the many ways people now have of experiencing their favourite performers.

Back in the 1980s, the Grammys had prestige. Although it still remains a mystery why Jackson’s Off the Wall album was largely ignored by the Academy in 1980, except for the single “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” which won him Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male. However by 1984, the impact of Michael Jackson on the record-buying public, and hence the recording industry, could not be ignored. That year, Michael became the first solo artist to win eight Grammys in a single night thanks to his Thriller album and its hit singles, plus his narration of the ET Storybook. (The latter was his favourite award of the night. “I’m most proud of this one,” he said.) [2]

In the 65 year history of the awards, Jackson’s record haul of Grammys in one year has never been beaten by another individual and has only been equalled by one group (Santana in 2000). [3] We are also reminded that the 1984 Grammys broadcast, in a year dominated by Jackson and Thriller, rated its highest ever television audience at 50 million viewers. [4] The nearest this century was 39 million in 2012, compared to only 12.4 million in 2023. Over the years, many fans of artists other than Jackson have reached a similar conclusion – that the Grammy Awards, like other entertainment industry ceremonies – had lost its relevance in the eyes of many who bothered to sit through the proceedings hoping against hope for their personal favourites to win (assuming they had even been nominated). Very much like the Motion Picture Industry Academy Awards (the Oscars), there is a suspicion that “the best,” is not always the one that gets the award; that industry politics often outweigh artistic merit.

It’s easy to be wise in retrospect, and while U2’s Joshua Tree album (which beat out Michael Jackson’s Bad album for the Album of the Year Grammy in 1988 as well as albums by Whitney Houston and Prince) remains a classic, the overall failure of the Academy to duly reward Michael for the Bad album has not been forgotten (or forgiven). Out of four nominations, the album scored only a single Grammy that year – for the Best Engineered Recording, Non-Classical category, for the work of Bruce Swedien and Humberto Gatica. The short film for the CD bonus track “Leave Me Alone” would score a Best Music Video Grammy two years later, in 1990.

Overall, the 1988 ceremony was an opportunity lost on a night when Jackson performed a two-song set that concluded with a standing ovation from fellow artists and industry personnel in attendance. His performance of “The Way You Make Me Feel” and (especially) “Man in the Mirror” with the Andraé Crouch Choir and the song’s lyricist Siedah Garrett, remains a Grammys highlight to this day, even being described in one press review as “spellbinding.” [5][6] Curiously, this same Press-Courier article reported the winning Producer of the Year, Non Classical, Narada Michael Walden (for Whitney Houston’s second album) explaining his beating Jackson and Quincy Jones in that category as due to the world wanting new faces. “Quincy’s won so many awards anyway, this is good,” Walden reportedly said. “And he told me in private that he voted for me.” [7] We can only speculate how Jackson, as Jones’ co-producer on Bad, and co-nominee in the category, felt about that.

The achievements of other artists, then and now, should not be slighted. Success does not come easily for most in an increasingly competitive industry. At the same time, the platforms available for people to hear or see without buying have grown astronomically since the days when artists had to depend on radio airplay, MTV and other music video programs. Now, old records are broken, and new ones created almost every year; the artists on top now will be surpassed by others, some of them more speedily than their rapid rise to fame. But making comparisons between winners of today and those from the pre-digital media era, is nonsensical. Nevertheless, as a celebration of the achievements in the recording industry, Jackson fans expect the Grammys to at least acknowledge an artist’s work that continues to achieve substantial sales decades after its release. Yet in 2023, there was no mention of the 40th anniversary of Jackson’s Thriller album and its re-issue as Thriller 40, which certainly generated sufficient publicity for NARAS and the Grammy show’s organisers to know about it.

Perhaps they’re waiting for the 2024 ceremony, which will mark the 40th anniversary of the night Jackson and Thriller dominated the Grammys. Jackson’s fans live in hope he will get what he’s due – a few words of acknowledgement for creating the biggest selling album of all time (which continues to sell in digital, CD and vinyl formats) and for still being the winner of the biggest haul of Grammys in a single night by any solo artist.

“I believe in wishes and in a person’s ability to make a wish come true. I really do.”

– Michael Jackson. [8]

Kerry Hennigan
March 2023


[1]  AP News. “Grammys rebound from COVID years, reach 12.4 million viewers.” Published digitally February 7, 2023. https://apnews.com/article/grammys-2023-ratings-4d61b64118c069cf8526f96ecc481761

[2] “Michael Jackson big Grammy winner”. Spartanburg Herald-Journal. February 29, 1984. Retrieved Feb 2023 from https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=OW4sAAAAIBAJ&pg=6904,6865310&dq=grammy+awards+eligibility&hl=en

[3] @andjusticeforsome Twitter post 6 Feb 2023. https://twitter.com/andjustice4some/status/1622627971583574016

[4] @MJSportify2015 Twitter post 6 Feb 2023 https://twitter.com/MJJSpotify2015/status/1622635819776282626

[5] YouTube Michael Jackson – Grammys 1988 Live (unofficial 4K 60fps upload) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m_7ql1tf-eA

[6] New, Old Musicians Win Awards at Grammys”. The Press-Courier. 2 March 1988. Retrieved 1 May 2011. https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=Wr1dAAAAIBAJ&sjid=Nl4NAAAAIBAJ&pg=6925,444107&dq=grammy&hl=en

[7] Ibid.

[8] Jackson, Michael. Moonwalk. Arrow paperback edition. 2010:180.

Illustration: Photo collage created by Kerry Hennigan. No infringement of photographic copyright is intended in this not for profit, educational exercise.