Michael Jackson, often referred to as the “King of Pop”, was known for many things: his unparalleled musical talent, his exceptional dance moves, and his humanitarian efforts. However, in the summer of 1985, amidst the glamour of his career and in the backdrop of a global humanitarian crisis, a particular decision of his left fans and critics alike bewildered – his refusal to perform at Live Aid.
For those who might not be familiar, Live Aid was a dual-venue benefit concert held on July 13, 1985. It was, and still remains, one of the most ambitious and grand charitable events in the history of music. Organized by Sir Bob Geldof and Midge Ure to raise funds for the ongoing Ethiopian famine, the concert took place simultaneously at the Wembley Stadium in London and the John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia. Featuring a lineup that read like a who’s who of the music industry, with stars such as Queen, David Bowie, and U2, it was estimated to have reached a staggering global audience of 1.9 billion.
So, why did Michael Jackson, one of the most prominent stars of that era, decide to not be a part of this historical event?
The Recording of ‘Bad’ and Preparations for the World Tour
1985 was an incredibly busy year for Michael Jackson. While his groundbreaking album ‘Thriller’ was still riding high on its phenomenal success, Jackson was working tirelessly in the studio to record ‘Bad’, which would later be released in 1987. The pressure to match or surpass the success of ‘Thriller’ was immense. Collaborating once again with producer Quincy Jones, Michael was deeply engrossed in the creative process, working on tracks that would later become massive hits like “Smooth Criminal” and “Man in the Mirror”.
In addition to this, Michael was preparing for his first solo world tour. ‘The Bad World Tour’ which would span from 1987 to 1989, was an enormous undertaking, involving intricate choreographies, elaborate stage setups, and a grueling schedule.
For an artist known for perfectionism, the demands of recording an album and preparing for a tour of this scale simultaneously could have made it challenging to commit to another significant project, even one as significant as Live Aid.
Steering Clear of Politics
Michael Jackson always had a vision of uniting people through his music. He often shied away from overt political statements, preferring to let his music and humanitarian deeds speak for him. Some have speculated that the perceived political undertones of Live Aid, especially given the tensions of the Cold War era, may have been a deterrent for Jackson. Avoiding a politicized stage could have been a strategic move to ensure his message of love and unity remained undiluted.
The Organizational Aspect of Live Aid
Every artist, particularly one as influential as Michael Jackson, has a vision for how they want to present their art to the world. There have been speculations that Jackson might not have been entirely pleased with the organization and execution plan of Live Aid. Having previously performed for a benefit concert dedicated to the Ethiopian famine, he might have had certain expectations and reservations about the gravity with which the issue was being handled.
The Backlash and Redemption
Michael Jackson’s absence from Live Aid didn’t go unnoticed. Many were quick to label him as “selfish” or “uncaring”. However, these accusations were far from the truth. Michael, throughout his career, had demonstrated time and again his commitment to making the world a better place.
It is essential to highlight that while Michael might not have performed at Live Aid, his humanitarian efforts didn’t wane. He co-wrote “We Are the World” with Lionel Richie, another anthem for famine relief that raised more than $63 million for humanitarian aid in Africa and the US. Moreover, as mentioned earlier, he also performed at a benefit concert for the victims of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.
The decision of Michael Jackson to not perform at Live Aid remains enigmatic and multi-faceted. Much like the man himself, it’s a complex interplay of professional commitments, personal choices, and a broader vision of how he wanted to impact the world.
While it’s tempting to simplify the narrative into one of commitment or lack thereof, the truth, as always, lies in the gray areas. Michael Jackson’s legacy is one of unparalleled musical genius, matched with an unwavering commitment to humanitarian causes. The Live Aid chapter, though controversial, is just a small part of a much larger, more intricate tapestry that is Michael Jackson’s life and career.