The song that became problematic … Michael Jackson – Billie Jean
The helter-skelter, rigidly propulsive foundation of Michael Jackson’s 1983 hit is one of the most danceable, iconic basslines in pop music, and a staple of my childhood. At every wedding and family party, among the Motown and Bollywood hits, there would be Billie Jean: guaranteed crowd-pleaser. It was one of the main inspirations for me taking up the drums, to replicate that beat. As I got older and the media frenzy surrounding Jackson’s sexual abuse trials began to seep into my consciousness, I noticed a slight unease about his music and the running jokes that would go along with it. Nonetheless, come every gathering, Jackson would still be front and centre of the playlist; his death in 2009 only seemed to induce a temporary amnesia towards his alleged wrongdoings. So when the Leaving Neverland documentary aired in 2019, examining over four hours the horrifyingly detailed testimony of Jackson’s continual abuse of children, it came as a shock. Not merely Jackson’s behaviour, but mine and many of my peers’ wilful ignorance to it in favour of nostalgia. Now, that nostalgia has been worn away, and despite the musical genius of that song, it seems increasingly untenable to separate the art from the artist. I’ll just stick on Janet instead.
Read the feature in the Guardian.
[This piece was published on 11/02/20]