Halftime Show Adjacent
In case you haven’t heard, tomorrow is the Super Bowl. It seems like that is the only thing anyone is talking about on daytime shows, nighttime shows, entertainment shows, political shows. While one singer’s possible appearance to watch her boyfriend play in the game seems at times to be eclipsing the Super Bowl Halftime show’s headliner, it’s Usher that I want to talk about. Well, it’s actually Michael Jackson that I want to talk about, but that will bring us back to Usher.
I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries lately, and hands-down, one of my favorites of the past couple of months is Thriller 40, which celebrates the 40th anniversary of the iconic album from Michael Jackson. What I liked most about the film was that while it touched oh, so briefly on Michael Jackson’s relationship with his father and his brothers, the true focus of the film was the evolution of Jackson as a performer and the creation of this seminal album. The documentary doesn’t shy away from showing Jackson as someone who wants to be on top, and stay on top, and includes many examples of how that drive, combined with Jackson’s unending creativity, continues to put its stamp on music today.
The majority of the film is centered on creating Thriller and the immediate impacts that had on Michael Jackson, and in turn, he had on much of the world. Chock-full of archival audio, film footage, and present-day interviews, the documentary takes a deep dive into the album’s music- from the creation of iconic musical progressions and hooks to the concepts behind some of the best known videos. John Landis gives a very entertaining look at the creation of the iconic Thriller video, and there are interviews with celebrities sprinkled throughout. What I found most interesting though were the interviews with the people who were intimately involved in the creation of the music. The engineers, the musicians, and the backup singers. I also found the inclusion of interviews with choreographers Rich and Tone Talauega and dancers like Misty Copeland and Usher (told you we’d circle back) gave the story of Thriller even more depth. So many years out, we forget that before Michael Jackson, no one had taken the vast array of dance steps and genres and combined them the way that he did, and in a way that performers continue to do today.
His incredible talent as a dancer was on display when Michael Jackson headlined Super Bowl XXVII’s 1993 halftime show (you can find this performance online) and I imagine we’ll see reflections of that when Usher takes the stage tomorrow night. Jackson’s personal struggles may have eclipsed some of his musical brilliance in later years, but Thriller 40 was an enjoyable reminder that before all that, there was a young man with a creative vision for his music, his videos, and his career and he wasn’t going to let anyone stop him. Check out Thriller 40 and to paraphrase the immortal words of Vincent Price, “No mere mortal can resist the “music” of the Thriller!”