MJ Studies Today XCIX

Abstract: Following the recent 2024 Grammy Awards ceremony, MJ Studies Today columnist Kerry Hennigan was prompted to look back at the year when Michael Jackson and his Bad album had been nominated in a number of categories, but failed to win all but one Grammy, and that in a technical category. Nevertheless, Jackson’s live performance at that year’s ceremony guaranteed it was a night that no-one would forget; a night when Michael Jackson reminded the world just how good he really was.


Column by Kerry Hennigan, editor of the free monthly newsletter A Candle for Michael, administrator of the fan group “Michael Jackson’s Short Film Ghosts” on Facebook, and an MJ blogger on WordPress. Kerry is a life-long student, has Certificates in the Archaeology of the Ancient World and the Archaeology of Ancient Britain from Cambridge University in the UK and is currently focused on the Viking Age.


REFERENCE AS:

Hennigan, Kerry. “MJ Studies Today XCIX: The Way He Made Us Feel: Michael Jackson’s Bad album and his night at the Grammy Awards 1988.” (14-03-2024). The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies Vol 10, No. 3 (2024). https://michaeljacksonstudies.org/mj-studies-today-xcix/


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The Way He Made Us Feel: Michael Jackson’s Bad album and his night at the Grammy Awards 1988.
By Kerry Hennigan

Photo montage © Kerry Hennigan

At the 30th Anniversary Grammy Awards ceremony held in1988 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, Michael Jackson performed “The Way You Make Me Feel” followed by “Man in the Mirror” along with the Andre Crouch Choir. It was his first live TV performance since the 1983 Motown special where he performed the moonwalk in public for the first time. [1] The Grammys provided the best promotional opportunity possible for Jackson’s latest album, Bad, which was a contender in five award categories that year.

At the 30th Anniversary Grammy Awards ceremony held in1988 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, Michael Jackson performed “The Way You Make Me Feel” followed by “Man in the Mirror” along with the Andre Crouch Choir. It was his first live TV performance since the 1983 Motown special where he performed the moonwalk in public for the first time. [1] The Grammys provided the best promotional opportunity possible for Jackson’s latest album, Bad, which was a contender in five award categories that year.

The night could have been another landmark in Jackson’s career in terms of awards won. Released 31 August 1987, the Bad album had sold 2.25 million copies in the first week. The multiple nominations made it a hot contender to add to Jackson’s personal Grammy tally, despite some stiff opposition. Not that Michael hadn’t overcome stiff opposition when he’d won a haul of seven awards related to the Thriller album – and another for the ET Storybook – at the 26th Grammy Awards ceremony in 1984. [2]

Jackson’s hopes for Bad had been high, his aim being to beat Thriller’s success. This was a goal that was almost impossible. However, Michael was one of those exceptional artists who, no matter how outstanding their success, always stove to do better next time. “We worked on Bad for a long time. Years,” he states in his 1988 autobiography, Moonwalk. “In the end, it was worth it because we were satisfied with what we had achieved, but it was difficult too. There was a lot of tension because we felt we were competing with ourselves. It’s very hard to create something when you feel like you’re in competition with yourself because no matter how you look at it, people are always going to compare Bad to Thriller. You can always say, ‘Aw, forget Thriller,’ but no one ever will.” [3]

Come the awards ceremony on March 2, 1988, Jackson didn’t win big for the Bad album. U2’s Joshua Tree won Album of the Year that night. At least U2 were far from one-hit-wonders, and that particular album is a cornerstone of their canon. So, no shame to Jackson there. But one could see the disappointment on his face during the telecast when he failed to win in any of the categories in which he was nominated.

Record of the Year went to Paul Simon’s “Graceland,” another classic track that still gets plenty of airplay. Michael didn’t even score a nomination in this category, nor in Song of the Year, nor in either of the music video categories. He had scored a nominated for Best Pop Male Performance for the Bad album, but lost to Sting for the single “Bring on the Night.”

Jackson was also nominated for Best R&B Male Performance for the “Bad” single, but lost to Smokey Robinson, who was at least a friend. If it was any consolation to Michael, other unsuccessful nominees included Stevie Wonder, and Wilson Pickett (for a re-recording of his 60’s classic, “In the Midnight Hour”). Jackson and Quincy Jones shared a nomination in the Producer of the Year – Non Classical category, but again, did not win. In the wrap up, Jackson’s Bad album won in only a single category that night  – Best Engineered Recording – Non-Classical, for the work of Bruce Swedien and Humberto Gatica. Jackson himself completely missed getting his name on an award.

Fortunately, the lack of awards did not detract from the impression Jackson’s live performance that night left on those who saw it. His friend, and fellow show business veteran Liza Minnelli, commented shortly afterwards that it had been “one hell of a performance,” and reminded everyone that “he just never lets you forget how good he really is.” [4] Jackson’s manager Frank Dileo said the performance in effect told everyone to forget “all the trash they read about him. As far as I’m concerned, his performance hushed up a lot of critics.” Dileo also said he hoped some of the Academy voters had watched it too. [5]

The following year the single release of “Man in the Mirror” scored a Grammy nomination, but again, Jackson failed to win. However, at the 1990 ceremony, Michael won the Best Music Video – Short Form Grammy for “Leave Me Alone,” and the movie “Moonwalker” was nominated for Best Music Video – Long Form, but did not win.

Happily, thanks to the music-buying public, pop albums have a life outside the awards system, both nationally and internationally. Like Thriller before it, Bad has certainly been one of those albums. Bad earned Jackson five number one hit singles on the Billboard Hot 100 chart at a time when people had to physically go out to a store and purchase the record. He was the first artist in history to achieve this milestone.

As for that show-stopping Grammys performance, The Hollywood Reporter recalled that, despite the awards snub, “Jackson remained victorious, delivering what’s considered one of his best award show performances when he took to the stage with a medley of ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’ and ‘Man in the Mirror.’ The L.A. Times called it ‘A dazzling and ultimately triumphant moment in Grammy history, one that overshadowed everything else on the program.’” [6]

Throughout his entire adult career Jackson was nominated 38 times for Grammys and won 13 of them. His most recent nomination was (posthumously) for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for “This Is It” in 2011, But lest we forget, the Grammys aren’t the only awards show in the US, and honours for which Michael Jackson was nominated or which he won began to increasingly come from outside his own country as his solo adult career progressed. [6]

The Bad album certainly did not launch him out into the wider world (that had happened with the success of the Jackson 5 way back in Michael’s childhood), but with its success and the global tour that he undertook to promote it – his first as a solo artist – the Bad album, its short films and world tour solidified the reputation Michael had legitimately earned for his multifaceted artistry. But, on the night of the Grammy Awards in 1988, that artistry was already evident to all who witnessed it.

Kerry Hennigan
14 March 2024

Sources:

[1] Gold, Todd. Michael Jackson: The Man in the Mirror. Pan Books 1989, page 200

[2] Grammy Awards. “The meaning of life is contained in every single expression of life.” Michael Jackson. https://www.grammy.com/artists/michael-jackson/13202. Retrieved 4 Mar 2024.

[3] Jackson, Michael. Moonwalk. Arrow paperback edition 2010. Pages 264-265.

[4] Gold, Todd. 1989, page 200.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Victorian, Brande. “The Top 27 Grammy Moments of all time.” The Hollywood Reporter. Published digitally 2 Feb 2024. https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/lists/top-grammy-moments-of-all-time/1990-milli-vanilli-wins-best-new-artist/. Retrieved 8 Mar 2024.

Illustration: “make that change!” compiled by Kerry Hennigan using PhotoScapeX Pro computer software and third-party photographs. No infringement of photographic copyrights is intended in this not-for-profit, educational exercise.