Michael Jackson was no ordinary man. He was invited to the White House thrice and honored by the President of the USA.
He also lays claim to 30+ Guinness World Records, a Google doodle, the title of a titular king in the Ivory Coast, and a moon crater named after him.
I was lucky enough to watch Michael Jackson perform on his History Tour in 1997. An experience I’ll never forget. It’s hard to write this post without sounding like a “superfan” but I’m determined to try!
It would be an understatement to call Michael Jackson a famous singer, recording artist, or entertainer.
It’s hard to explain just how famous Michael Jackson was in the 80s and early 90s. No one has come close to this level in the 3 previous decades.
He was a supernova that exploded in the consciousness of the 80s. MJ had unbelievable success on the charts, sold millions of albums, and broke numerous records in his longstanding career.
But most of all, he is known for his all-around brilliance evident in his singing, dancing, showmanship, composing, and concerts.
He broke away from tradition and revolutionized song production, live performances, and song promotion with his maven and maverick ideas.
It is likely that millennials – the largest generation thus far – may not have witnessed the legendary breadth and depth of his influence. Worse yet, if you saw him mid-stride in his 40s or 50s – in the post-Michael world – he may appear as a celebrity embroiled in controversy.
But for those old enough to remember, MJ is an unparalleled music icon. That is why we wrote this article to help you explore the MJ-mania. And, to understand why the British Council of Cultural Relations named him one of the 80 most important moments of the 20th century.
So, let’s get to it.
What was Michael Jackson famous for?
Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, is one of the most famous cultural icons of the 20th century. As a musician, he has more chart-topping hits than any other male artist, ever. His singing, dancing, creativity, and musicianship make him one of the best entertainers of the 20th century. Lastly, Michael Jackson has more awards than any other pop recording artist in the world.
A bulk of Michael Jackson’s work is from the 70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. However, his catalog has a lot of depth and breadth. His album Thriller – the best-selling album of all time – sold over 70 million copies worldwide.
At Michaels’s peak In the mid 80’s, he won an incredible 8 Grammy Awards. Interestingly he won one Grammy for his voice-over work for the ET storybook and claimed of all the awards he received he was most proud of this one.
Take a look at this clip from the documentary called “The legend continues” on Youtube. This is well worth a watch if the full video which takes you on a journey from Michaels’s childhood right up until his “Bad” tour.
Even his concerts were always sold out, breaking all records in the highest-grossing and highest-audience categories. In fact, Michael Jackson holds the world record for the highest-grossing tour and for playing more dates in a stadium/arena than other artists.
But to truly understand his legacy, let’s dive into the reasons why Michael Jackson is famous:
Major Awards won by Michael Jackson:
- Awarded the Presidential Public Safety Commendation in 1984 by Ronald Reagan
- Awarded the “Artist of the Decade” award in 1990 by George H. W. Bush.
- Appointed as a “Point of Light Ambassador” in 1992 by George Bush
- Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters by Fisk University in 1988
- Most Successful Entertainer of All Time + 38 other Guinness World Records
- 3 Grammy Awards
- Grammy Legend and Lifetime Achievement Award
- Twenty-six American Music Awards,
- Artist of the Century and “Artist of the 1980s.
- Best Selling Pop Male Artist of the Millennium by World Music Awards
- Artist of the Millennium Award.
Michael Jackson, as a solo artist, was inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1984. Previously, MJ had been inducted onto the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1980 for his role in the Jacksons. He was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.
He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame (2002), Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame, and Black Music & Entertainment Walk of Fame. In fact, MJ is the first – and only – recording artist to be inducted into the Dance Hall of Fame.
In a word, Michael Jackson has won more awards than any other pop-music recording artist has.
MJ was the global leader in every list of bestselling artists in music history. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) acknowledges Michael Jackson as the biggest-selling music artist of all time worldwide.
He has sold over 750 million records worldwide (and counting) with 13 number-one singles and 47 songs on Billboard Hot 100. He continued his success even with his later releases like Past, Present, and Future Book I (1995) and Invincible (2001).
Michael Jackson’s Discography speaks to his versatility as a singer and composer. His journey with Jackson 5 is commendable in its own right. However, as a solo artist, MJ continued to experiment with genres and collaborated with rock, soul, RnB, and pop artists.
He traversed across genres with effortless ease, finding success with each experiment. He gave us timeless pop/dance songs like ‘The Way You Make Me Feel.’ On the other hand, he created soul-stirring songs like “Heal the World” and “They Don’t Really Care About Us.”
From soul numbers like “Dancing Machine” to the funk tracks in the ‘Off the Wall’ album and rock songs like “Dirty Diana,” Michael Jackson showed that his versatility had no bounds.
His catalog includes ten studio albums, thirty-nine compilations, ten video albums, three soundtrack albums, one live album, and eight remix albums. All his musical endeavors had a lasting impact on the chart records and pop culture, adding to his enviable list of achievements.
To truly understand why Michael was so famous I believe you had to watch him move.
Here’s a short video from YouTube showing Michael practicing dancing in his basement practice room at Neverland.
MJ’s intriguing persona was evident in his unconventional but exceptional fashion sense. In general, MJ loved to dress outrageously with a generous sprinkling of sparkle. His dressing style blossomed in the 1980s and became a detectable part of pop culture.
MJ’s clothes embraced his slim silhouette – short pants, t-shirts, and jackets with emblems or patterns. He also wore trademark white gloves embedded with rhinestones.
The quintessential ‘MJ look’ includes a white t-shirt with a zippered jacket or overshirt, high-waisted cropped black trousers, white socks, and black shoes. The look is accessorized with a black fedora, sequined gloves, and oversized black-gold aviator sunglasses.
The Billie Jean outfit was designed by Bill Whitten.
I actually got to see this iconic “Billie Jean” outfit that Michael wore when he first debut the moonwalk at Motown 25. This outfit was situated in City Walk in Orlando Universal Studios. I’m sure you can see how happy I am with this short clip!
Jackson invariably wore shades and kneepads to protect his knees during rehearsals. He also sported military-style zippered jackets with broad shoulders and sequined embroidery. The jacket was specially designed for MJ by costume designer Michael Bush.
Michael Jackson’s fashion moments were generally unconventional and otherworldly. His fashion choices in music videos, award ceremonies, and public appearances set global trends. He had a prolific influence on fans and inspired people on every continent.
Take a look at Michaels’s performance from Motown 25 here on YouTube, note how he is out there alone. No backing dancers or complicated lighting, just one man with raw talent who knew how to take an audience on the journey with him.
Signature Dance Moves
The King of Pop was a legendary entertainer that won many hearts with his fluid and bedazzling dance moves. From kicks, spins, slides, and the eccentric crotch grab – Michael Jackson’s iconic dance moves were heart-winning moments that fans awaited eagerly during his performances.
Here are a few iconic Michael Jackson dance moves in more detail:
Michael Jackson never claimed to have invented the Moonwalk. He had seen it performed on the streets.
The Moonwalk was invented by Jeffery Daniel (from the R&B group Shalamar).
Daniel later taught the move to MJ and the rest is history. Michael Jackson took this ‘backslide’ and made it his own. He became famous for his gliding dance moves like the circle slide, side slide, and other iterations.
The moonwalk set off a flurry of screams from audiences at all his live performances. Every kid in town was attempting this the very next day at school! It was quite a scene!
Let’s take a look at the evolution of the Moonwalk throughout the years with the help of this video from YouTube. As Katherine Hepburn once said “He can do it and you can’t help looking at him”
The 45-degree Lean:
The anti-gravity lean was another example of Michael Jackson’s athleticism and dance prowess. In the Smooth Criminal music video, MJ leaned forward to a 45-degree angle with his feet flat against the floor. He used a combination of cables, a harness, and special shoes to pull this move in the video. The anti-gravity lean became a mainstay of his live performances.
People watched in disbelief when MJ did the toe-stand for several seconds, which is no easy feat. Luckily, MJ’s white or brightly colored socks and cropped trousers added to the impact of this iconic dance move.
It continues to enthrall audiences even today. In fact, MJ’s “toe stand” pose on the song “Bad” was one of 2021’s biggest TikTok dance trends.
MJ’s trademark noises in songs:
Michael Jackson was famous for his high-pitched singing voice. He loved to pepper his songs with groans, moans, and other weird noises like ‘Aow,’ ‘Baow,’ and ‘Chamone.’ One particularly famous sound is ‘Hee Hee’ – from “The Way You Make Me Feel.”
But that’s not it. MJ was known for the idiosyncratic sounds in the studio and spontaneous adlibs during live concerts. You can hear these vocal tics in songs like “Blood on the Dance Floor” (She got your number… ehh!), hiccups in “Man in the Mirror”, and grunts in “Smooth Criminal.”
Michael Jackson’s trademark noises range from screams to percussive sounds and high-pitched yelps. He often used laughter in intros, heavy breathing in the background, and squeals or yelps to mark the end of a vocal phrase or dance move. Moreover, no one does it like the King of Pop.
Check out this supercut of every noise Michael Jackson made in his recording career.
MJ’s Award-winning music videos
If singing, dancing, and entertaining were not enough, MJ brought a completely new level of innovation to the industry with his music videos.
Michael was a visionary according to all the music directors that worked with him. He was a perfectionist that treated every video as a film.
The music video for the song Thriller embodies Michael Jackson in his element. The chart-topping song won the People’s Choice Award, Grammy for Best Video, and a USA National Film Preservation Board award. It also won four MTV Video Music Awards.
It was after Thriller – the song and album – that Michael Jackson was elevated to the status of a mega superstar. He continued to enthrall the music industry with extraordinary music videos.
The video for Man in the Mirror featured visuals of Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela, and Mahatma Gandhi. It spoke of the human condition, suffering, and war through evocative visuals of children in Africa.
He showed the gruesome side of war in ‘Heal the World, calling on people to come together by rising above violence for the sake of the children affected by it.
These are just a few examples of what MJ did He made highly produced and meaningful music videos throughout his career working with highly acclaimed directors.
Why is Michael Jackson called the ‘King of Pop’?
Michael Jackson earned the King of Pop title during the 1989 Soul Train Awards. He received an “Artist of the Decade” award from his good friend Elizabeth Taylor, who introduced him as “the true king of pop, rock, and soul.” MJ’s publicists embraced the title and Michael became the King of Pop.
MJ’s fame and influence were unparalleled. His groundbreaking creativity, artistic innovation, and phenomenal talent had a huge influence on budding and established artists.
Not only did he have raw talent, but he also knew how to package it in ways no one else could think of.
In addition to his contributions to the music industry, Michael Jackson was recognized for his humanitarian endeavors, helping disadvantaged children, and strong stance against racial inequity. He connected with audiences to project that age, class, and race were not barriers.
That being said, the ‘King of pop’ mantle is have been previously used for other mega-stars like Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, and Elvis Priestley among others. Nevertheless, Michael Jackson continues to reign as the true King of Pop and one of the greatest artists in the history of showbiz.
Take a look at this YouTube video to find out who Michael Jackson really was.
Which song made Michael Jackson famous?
Michael Jackson, as a solo artist, first appeared on the US Billboard Hot 100 with the song “Got to be there.” A year later, in 1972, the song ‘Ben’ from his second studio album became his first number-one Billboard hit.
MJ had more number-one hits than any other artist did during the 1980s. It is the decade when he came to be known as a mega superstar and the King of Pop.
However, some critics feel that Michael Jackson truly became famous on a global scale after releasing the album Thriller. It features tracks like is best known for his mega-hit songs like “Billie Jean,” “Beat It,” “P.Y.T (Pretty Young Thing),” and “Wanna be Startin’ Something.”
Ironically, Michael Jackson’s success on the charts does not truly represent his success among fans. MJ fans consider other singles to be his most famous songs. He is celebrated for songs like Earth Song, Scream, Black or White, Bad, We Are the World, and Dirty Diana, among others.
It would be wrong to not include a live performance from a tour in the post so here’s my personal favorite. Man In The Mirror from the Bad tour, taken from the hit movie Moonwalker.
Many of these songs never hit No.1 on the charts but were defining moments of his career.
It is hard to put a finger on the song that defined his career because he had more number-one singles in the US than any other male artist did in the Billboard Hot 100. However, here are top five picks for the songs that made Michael Jackson famous:
#1 “Rock With You” from the album Off the Wall
This song was released in 1979 and was the second single from “Off the Wall,” MJ’s fifth studio album.
It is a precursor of a fruitful future MJ would have by collaborating with the record producer Quincy Jones. It shot to the top of the pop and R&B charts and stayed there for weeks. Billboard even named it the fourth biggest single of the 80s.
#2 “Billie Jean” from the album Thriller
This song, released in 1983, is one of Michael Jackson’s greatest vocal performances.
It is a unique amalgam of disco-pop, funk, and RnB. The song became the biggest selling single of MJ’s career and won several honors including two Grammys. The song is most frequently voted as the “best Michael Jackson song” in magazine and radio polls.
#3 “Beat it” from Thriller
“Beat It,” released in 1983, was from MJ’s sixth studio album – Thriller. It is a quirky blend of pop and rock songs with Eddie Van Halen on the guitars.
It peaked at No.1 on the Billboard hot 100 and won MJ several awards in 1984, including a Grammy for Record of the Year and Best Male Rock Vocal Performance. Beat it is included in the ‘500 Greatest Songs of All Time’ and ‘500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll’ by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
#4 “Man in the Mirror” from the album “Bad”
This song was released in 1988 as the fourth single from MJ’s seventh solo album called ‘Bad.’ It was a career-defining hit for MJ – his 10th number-one single.
On one hand, it was a triumphant single that shows MJ’s matchless musicianship and creativity. On the other hand, it became an ironic foreshadowing of an artist in constant struggle with his self-image.
#5 “Jam” from the album “Dangerous”
The song Jam from Dangerous was another milestone in MJ’s career. The music video featured the basketball legend Michael Jordan. It was also featured in “Untouchabulls” – the 1992 Chicago Bulls’ NBA Championship video.
Michael Jackson later embarked on the ‘Dangerous World Tour’ and used the song as his opening number.
MJ peaked in the 80s but it is impossible to ignore Michael Jackson’s contribution and influence on pop culture. He was one of the greatest singers, dancers, and performers to grace a studio or stage. The King of Pop passed away on 25 June 2009, much to the world’s dismay.
At the time, he was preparing for ‘This is It’ – a comeback tour at the O2 Arena in London.
Michael Jackson sadly died of a cardiac arrest due to a lethal concoction of an anesthetic and sedatives administered by Dr. Conrad Murray, his personal physician. Upon investigation, was ruled a homicide, and Murray was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
I would like to personally thank Michael and his family for being fantastic role models for me during my early years. I just thought it would be nice to remember Michael for his music and world-class entertainment in this post.
I was truly inspired by Michael Jackson and still am to this day. I miss him very much.