Abstract: This 92nd edition of MJ Studies Today looks at the often-contentious issue of Michael Jackson’s legacy. Fans, the Michael Jackson Estate and critics all have opinions on the subject, often disagreeing on its health and potential for longevity. Our columnist Kerry Hennigan looks at official and unofficial projects celebrating Jackson, and the campaign by some to “cancel” him, to assess the current state of his legacy.
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, Early Medieval and Medieval History, Anthropology and Religious Studies and has Certificates in the Archaeology of the Ancient World and Ancient Britain from Cambridge University. Her current study focus is the Viking Era.
Hennigan, Kerry. “MJ Studies Today XCII: ’We’ve been together for such a long time…’ On the health and longevity of Michael Jackson’s Legacy.“ (14-08-2023). The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies Vol 10, No. 1 (2023). https://michaeljacksonstudies.org/mj-studies-today-xcii/
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“We’ve been together for such a long time…” On the health and longevity of Michael Jackson’s Legacy. By Kerry Hennigan
Photo montage © Kerry Hennigan
One UK newspaper declared of the fans of pop icon Michael Jackson: “They are the most fervent fans on the planet.”  While much that the tabloid media writes about Jackson doesn’t withstand close scrutiny, this statement, published in the immediate aftermath of the artist’s death in June 2009, was undeniably accurate. Now, 14 years after his passing, and on the eve of the 65th anniversary of his birth, let’s consider the state of his legacy from the perspective of official projects generated by his estate, as well as from the perspective of activities originating from his loyal audience – the fans.
This month, August 2023, the national tour of MJ: the Musical stage show opened in Chicago as part of a national tour, prompting one critic to write, “Once in a while, Chicago is blessed with a musical production that stands head and shoulders above all else; one that is jaw dropping. MJ is that musical.”  Anticipation has been high in the wake of the unprecedented success of the Broadway show, which scored a Tony award for its young star, Myles Frost who made his Broadway debut playing Jackson in the show. Frost is now to reprise that role for UK audiences when the musical opens next year in London’s famous West End theatre district.  Other new and emerging artists have stepped up for various roles in the show, which has continued to break records at Broadway’s Neil Simon Theatre irrespective of cast changes. 
Not all decisions made by Jackson’s estate and/or Sony Music have won such plaudits. In particular, the major misstep of including three tracks with dubious origins on the posthumous Michael album in 2010 and continuing to defend the tracks as “genuine” against the advice of Jackson family members and musical colleagues, angered many fans. (The tracks were removed as part of a settlement of a fan-launched legal case.) 
Nevertheless, even if not embraced by everyone, there have been some significant achievements since Jackson’s death: the This Is It hit movie and DVD releases, the two Cirque du Soleil collaborations: Michael Jackson the Immortal World Tour and Michael Jackson ONE, two posthumous albums of (mostly) unreleased material that sold well, a headline-grabbing “hologram” (Pepper’s ghost) performance at the Billboard Awards in 2014,  two Spike Lee documentaries, the first accompanying the impressive “Bad 25” package of re-mastered music, previously unreleased demos and a concert DVD. We’ve also had special edition picture discs, and a new Halloween-themed compilation that coincided with an animated MJ Halloween special.
In terms of special live events, in 2023 fans will again be heading to Las Vegas for the official celebration of Jackson’s birthday, attending Michael Jackson ONE and enjoying the free “immersive experience” being promoted by his record label. Following pandemic lockdowns and unsuccessful attempts at cancel culture from Jackson’s critics, events like this have proven to be remarkably resilient, and this is a credit to all concerned, but especially to the nature of Jackson himself as an artist and as someone who provides inspiration even from beyond the grave.
As well as the official projects, there are the fan-funded events, including the annual London “Kingvention” that has grown with each successive event. There are fan-produced MJ podcasts, crowd-funded documentary film projects, and even a whole series of statues of Jackson erected prominently throughout China. In Germany, Munich’s famous Michael Jackson street memorial has survived various attempts to remove it, including vandalism and wild weather, and has maintained its role as a focal point for fans to meet adjacent to the five-star Hotel Bayerischer Hof, where Jackson stayed while in the city. Fans gather annually on the anniversary of Jackson’s death at Forest Lawn in Glendale, California and/or at the gates of Neverland in the Santa Ynez Valley. The COVID 19 pandemic put a temporary halt to most of these activities, but unlike some things from the pre-pandemic age, they have regained their popularity since restrictions eased.
Promotion of Jackson’s humanitarian activities has been a priority for some of his supporters, and to this end books have been written about it and a podcast launched to promote it by offering first-hand accounts from some of those who have benefited from this aspect of the artist’s legacy.  Jackson fans support a variety of charities or even run them, providing aide through specialist agencies in the field, or funding for life-saving operations or emergency disaster relief.  
The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies is another example of fans – in this case academics – promoting the artist as a worthy subject for study under a number of headings, the most obvious being his artistry and his role in popular culture.  Other academic writers, e.g., Susan Fast, Isabelle Petitjean, Sylivia J. Martin, Joseph Vogel, and Susan Woodward, have authored books or articles for popular and academic publications that have further promoted the idea of “Michael Jackson Studies” to a broader audience.
While all that is mentioned above is the result of a lot of work and dedication from groups and individuals, it is just scratching the surface. But it is indicative of the healthy state of Michael Jackson’s legacy, whether judged by the most successful of his estate’s projects, or the ingenuity and persistence of his broad fanbase. His music continues to rate highly on various charts, whether for streaming or actual purchases; his short films continue to pass viewing milestones on YouTube.  None of this would be possible without his loyal fanbase which, as it did during the artist’s life, has continued to believe in – and defend – his integrity as a human being.
Since early 2019 when the Dan Reed-directed “Leaving Neverland” 4-hour television special was launched on the world, receiving backing from heavy influencers like Oprah Winfrey (who suggested it was time to say farewell to Neverland for good), Jackson’s reputation has been savaged mercilessly. This sparked not only legal action from his estate (currently on-going) but rebuttal videos from fans and independent filmmakers like Danny Wu, Jin Chohan and Liam McEwan. Concerted attempts to “cancel” anything positive on Jackson from all forms of media have merely sparked a determined backlash from the artist’s family, friends, supporters and especially his loyal public.  All have continued to defend Jackson’s innocence, ensure his music is still played, his short films still watched, and his tribute artists and official shows like Cirque’s Michael Jackson ONE and MJ: the Musical continue to attract appreciative audiences.
Because of the devotion Jackson engendered in his global following when alive, and has inspired since his death, his fans have proven to be the most powerful means of carrying his legacy forward for future generations. But, as most will tell you, it’s nothing less than Michael deserves.
14 August 2023
Note: The quote in the title of this month’s column comes from the song “Music and Me” recorded by Michael Jackson and released 1973 on his third solo album on the Motown label. Written and composed by Don Fenceton, Mike Cannon, Jerry Marcellino and Mel Larson. 
 The Mirror. “Michael Jackson tribute: ‘I give my fans hugs and kisses. I love them all’” 29 Jun 2009 updated 4 Feb 2012 https://www.mirror.co.uk/3am/celebrity-news/michael-jackson-tribute-i-give-403233 retrieved 3 Aug 2023.
 WGN Radio, Chicago “It’s a Thriller. MJ: the Musical comes to Chicago.” https://wgnradio.com/wgn-plus/paul-lisnek-behind-the-curtain/its-a-thriller-m-j-the-musical-comes-to-chicago-meet-roman-banks-who-plays-the-king-of-pop-through-september-2nd/ retrieved 12 Aug 2023.
 Broadway World. “Tony Winner Myles Frost Will Reprise His Role in MJ in London” by Stephi Wild 22 May 2023. https://www.broadwayworld.com/article/Myles-Frost-Will-Reprise-His-Role-in-MJ-in-London-20230522 retrieved 6 Aug 2023.
 Broadway World. Backstage Live with Richard Ridge. 26 May 2023. Video: Elijah Rhea Johnson Is Stepping Into MJ’s Shoes. https://www.broadwayworld.com/article/Video-Elijah-Rae-Johnson-Is-Stepping-Into-MJs-Shoes-20230526 retrieved 6 Aug 2023.
 Savage, Mark. “Three contested Michael Jackson songs removed from streaming services.” BBC News 6 July 2022. https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-62068017 retrieved 13 Aug 2023.
 Gallo, Paul. “Michael Jackson Hologram Rocks Billboard Music Awards: Watch & Go Behind the Scenes.” Billboard 18 May 2014. https://www.billboard.com/music/music-news/michael-jackson-hologram-billboard-music-awards-6092040/#! Retrieved 13 Aug 2023.
 Dwyer, Paul. Humanitarian – the Real Michael Jackson. Book and podcast. https://www.humanitarianmj.com/ retrieved 8 Aug 2023.
 Michael Jackson’s Legacy. MJL is a charitable organisation dedicated to continuing Michael Jackson’s humanitarian legacy. UK Registered Charity 1149088. https://www.michaeljacksonslegacy.org/ retrieved 6 Aug 2023.
 Michael Jackson Fans for Change. MJFFC is a FAN MADE not-for-profit charitable organisation inspired by Michael Jackson and is not associated with The Michael Jackson Estate™, Jackson Family, Sony Music or any of the charities or beneficiaries listed. https://www.mjffc.org/home retrieved 6 Aug 2023.
 The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies. “FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)” https://michaeljacksonstudies.org/about/ retrieved 12 Aug 2023.
 Tony Sandoval on The Breeze. “Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’ Video hits Historic Milestone!” 18 Jun 2021. https://981thebreeze.iheart.com/featured/tony-sandoval-on-the-breeze/content/2021-06-17-michael-jacksons-billie-jean-video-hits-historic-milestone/ retrieved 6 Aug 2023.
 Vogel, Joseph. “What You Should Know About the New Michael Jackson Documentary.” Forbes 29 Jan 2019. https://www.forbes.com/sites/joevogel/2019/01/29/what-you-should-know-about-the-new-michael-jackson-documentary/ retrieved 8 Aug 2023.
 MJ Tunes. Music Database. “Michael Jackson – Music and Me.” http://www.mjtunes.com/modules/mydownloads/singlefile.php?lid=14 retrieved 6 Aug 2023.
Illustration: Photo montage “legacy” compiled by Kerry Hennigan. No infringement of photographic copyright is intended in this not-for-profit, educational exercise.