Last night in London an electrified audience packed into Earl’s Court, ostensibly for the World Music Awards, but really for only one reason: Michael Jackson’s first performance since being cleared of child molestation charges in 2005! Whatever hits his reputation has taken over the years, people are still ape-shit in love with the guy. Well it is the man who did Thriller, after all. Kinda tough not to be.
So MJ was there to accept the Diamond Award for selling over 100 million copies of said album (congrats Jacko, you won a real award this time!) and we were promised that Jackson would perform its title track. Performers and presenters were viewed as annoyances delaying Jacko’s appearance and were booed (including a line-flubbing Lindsay Lohan!). But when they cued up “Thriller” and introduced the performer it was not Michael but Chris Brown. But he wore a perfect replica red-leather jacket, and he could dance, so people didn’t riot. Go here for some grainy vid of Brown’s zombie dance from last night, and here to hear the crowd’s cheers.
Jackson did appear to accept his award, driving the crowd into hysterics. But after Beyoncé’s performance, the show came to a stand-still for thirty minutes. During that time, according to the Times, the 48-year-old Jackson was paralyzed by stage fright, comforted and finally convinced by Beyoncé to get out there for “We Are The World.” Much to the audience’s rapture, that’s just what he did, joining a choir of 50 kids to a backing track of the tune he co-wrote with Lionel Richie. He only sang on a verse and a chorus or two — and by some accounts it was horribly out of tune — but that didn’t bother this slice of the crowd! Check this vid for some audience perspective, to hear a few notes of vocals, and to watch MJ throw his black coat into the crowd (about which every review wanted you to know).
Similar quality video of MJ stepping out on stage for “WATW” here (check it at 1:35 when he makes his way out ? people lose their fucking minds) — and this one is the best quality audio you’ll find. But what was the response beyond the first few rows of screaming maniacs? Well, media reviews were varied. USA Today made it sound like the evening was glitch free, saying: “With a few thrilling bars of We Are the World, Michael Jackson made a triumphant return to the spotlight at the World Music Awards Wednesday.” Meanwhile, BBC titled their piece “Jackson Disappoints At Award Show” and assembled a series of less-than-pleased fan quotes (like “He sounded really out of tune” and “…the half-assed attempt at singing was really, really disappointing.”) But he did throw his black jacket into the crowd, proving that he’s still got that showman’s touch!
So, absent conclusive video proof, who’s right: those in glowing praise or those in outright disappointment? Well, like everything in Jacko’s recent past, it probably comes down to who you want to believe — and how much you love Thriller.
UPDATE: Some better audio/video of MJ’s performance available here.