Being a socially awkward black girl growing up in Orange County for a large portion of my adolescence, my best friend was Michael Jackson. In hindsight, my inability to connect with the people around me stemmed from my undiagnosed anxiety disorder – so obvious now! I could never explain this kinship I felt iwth MJ and his music but it felt real and genuine. This relationship with a stranger was evidence to my mother that I was star struck, another example of my strangeness to my brother and entertainment to my father. To me, however, Michael proved to me with his music videos and rare public appearances that he understood me in a way people I actually knew never would.
I’ve written about my love of MJ before and how Dangerous era Michael is my favorite iteration of the star. However, one of the reasons this is my favorite era of Michael’s career is because this is when, I feel, Michael decides to turn away from respectability and embrace himself as he is. For me, this connected and really helped me to embrace myself with all my flaws and eccentricities. Michael started this turn in his career however with the song Leave Me Alone from the album, Bad. Leave Me Alone really resonated with me – I was the original Chris Crocker, but my Britney was Michael.
The negative press that surrounded Michael and speculations about his personal life with no regard to how that affected him mentally and emotionally always bothered me. I was empathetic to what I perceived to be the hardships of his life and how his inability to escape public scrutiny since childhood must have inevitably played a huge role in his life and the negative impact it undoubtedly had on his personal and professional life. To me, Leave Me Alone signaled that MJ was no longer going to worry about how he was perceived by the public at large who did not care about his happiness or success. This gave me the hope that I would, one day, reach that level where I would no longer be worried about how I was perceived by those around me. Unfortunately I’m not there yet, but it’s a work in progress, I don’t know if Michael ever really reached the point of pure self acceptance before he left us but his pursuit of inner peace and self acceptance remains with me to this day.
Growing up as a true 90s kid, every August, VH1 would do an all day marathon of Michael’s music videos in honor of his birthday culminating in the screening of Moonwalker. As a huge fan of all of Michael’s work, but to me, Moonwalker is his opus.
This 1988 feature length film integrates his best songs and videos from Bad and beyond. It includes short story segments, concert footage and music videos. It’s a great way to relish in the genius of Michael but it also highlights what a complicated man he really was. Moonwalker showcases a Michael who is cocky and self assured as well as a sensitive and shy Michael who connects more with the optimistic innocence of the children in the Smooth Criminal segment than the adults. This would later make people uncomfortable and though I had looked forward to the annual MJ day, VH1 stopped airing the day long tribute in 1993 after the first allegations against Michael, Disneyland stopped screening Captain EO a few years later.
I felt ashamed that these major entities seemed to turn their back on Michael and abandoned him and the amazing art he had produced. However, Michael came back with a vengeance and released Dangerous, he doubled down on his embracing of who he was and seemed to say accept me or fuck off. This pursuit of self acceptance is an ongoing process for me, and I’m sure for many others, but whenever I feel down and unsure, I think about MJ. I think to Moonwalker and to Dangerous and I feel reassurance. Maybe Michael died without finding his peace, but for a time, I’d like to think he was happy with himself and didn’t feel the need to justify who he was to anyone. If you don’t like Michael Jackson, if you don’t like me, that’s fine, feel free to just Leave Me Alone.