Because my kids are pop music junkies, YouTube has proved to be an excellent babysitter. My 8-year-old son loves to obsess over the plot points of particularly loopy videos from the '80s ("Why are they playing their instruments with a bunch of trash blowing around?"), and my 3-year-old daughter has become quite the decisive critic ("I don't like Sting.")
In a fit of nostalgia, I dragged some vintage Michael Jackson out of the vault last week. My daughter was immediately smitten by the image of this non-threatening (seeming) kid with the sweet smile and killer dance moves. Who was he? Could she dance with him? Could she BE him? It was a powerful reminder of how effortlessly appealing Michael Jackson was at the peak of his powers. Of course, I wouldn't let one of my kids within a mile of him now.
Pop culture critics currently are commenting on the 25th anniversary of "Thriller" and the seismic effect it had on the entertainment landscape. It's one of those generational you-had-to-be-there moments that's impossible to fully explain to someone who wasn't. As much as I like watching the Beatles' Ed Sullivan performance, I realize there's no way for me to fully understand what it meant. Michael Jackson has been ripped off so many times that it's hard to imagine a time when no one, absolutely no one, danced or sang that way. Usher and Chris Brown are fantastic dancers, but as Paste magazine writer Nick Marino points out in the current issue, it's just pathetic to watch any of them pay tribute to Jackson. It's depressing, because it only underscores how special his talent was and the degree to which it's been obscured by scandal and plastic surgery. As badly as I feel for Britney Spears, does anybody hear "Baby One More Time" or "Toxic" and mourn the demise of a musical genius?