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Michael Jackson Essays

“She’s going Hollywood” – Michael Jackson’s ‘Hollywood Tonight’ short film recalled through the rise of its star performer

In June 2011, Michael Jackson’s posthumously released track Hollywood Tonight became his first #1 single on Billboard’s chart since “Scream”.

The single, a different version of the song from that released on the Michael album six months earlier, was blessed with a music video starring Sofia Boutella as a young dancer aiming for stardom in Hollywood. (1)

Six years later, June 2017, sees the mesmerising Ms Boutella (now a full-time actress) in the title role of The Mummy, the latest incarnation of the cinema classic, also starring Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe and Annabelle Wallis.  Boutella doesn’t dance in this film, she’s slithers, crawls, creeps and stalks as Ahmanet, a recalled to life Egyptian princess on a vengeful mission. (2)

Born in 1982 in Algiers, Sofia Boutella is the Algerian-French daughter of a jazz musician and architect mother.  She began dancing at the age of five.  After moving with her family to France, she took up rhythmic gymnastics and then hip hop and street dance.  In 2007, she was selected for the Nike Women’s advertising campaigns, choreographed by Jamie King. (3)

Yes – the same Jamie King who toured as part of Michael Jackson’s dance troupe on the Dangerous World Tour, and who also choreographed for Prince and Madonna.  Jamie went on to write and direct both of Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson tribute shows – Immortal and MJ ONE.  (4)

Boutella’s execution of King’s choreography for Nike scored her dance gigs with both Madonna and Rihanna.  In fact, she was locked into the extended Confessions tour with Madonna at the time Michael Jackson’s O2 residency shows would have taken place.

Sofia had auditioned for the This Is It concerts, and Michael really liked her and wanted her to be a part of his greatest show ever.  When the Madonna tour was extended Sofia was obligated to fulfil her contract through to the final performance.  Responding to Sofia’s disappointment, and probably his own, Michael reputedly said to a couple of his collaborators “I used to date Madonna.  I should call her.” (5)

In February 2012 Sofia spoke to Nicola Rayner of Dance Today who asked if she got to meet Michael.  Sofia replied “No, but I spoke to him on the phone.  He called me, he said, ‘You’re an amazing dancer.  God bless you.  I really want you on my show.’  And I said, ‘I will do my best.’  Then I was on the phone to his stage director, Kenny Ortega, and he told me: ‘When you’re done with Madonna, come and join us,’ and I said, ‘OK, I will.’  And then he passed.”

It seems only fitting that Boutella was given the opportunity to pay Michael the ultimate tribute – by performing his iconic dance moves in an official Michael Jackson music video.  In the 2012 interview she explained that “He always inspired me; and when he felt I could give him something I could not give it to him, when he gave to me a whole life, you know what I mean?  So then the video came up and I got the chance to do it and I felt better about myself; I felt I did something for him.” (5)

The video, directed by Wayne Isham, follows the narrative of the song – the story of a girl who leaves her home and family to go to Hollywood in the quest for stardom.  It’s not easy; she attends auditions by day when not slinging hash, and pole dances in a night club at night.  But this version of the story has a happy ending.  She gets her break, and she’s on her way to the big time.

1zmjyg8Of course, references to MJ are everywhere throughout the film – in the kids dancing in the streets, on billboards and street signs, and in Boutella’s outfit when she performs his iconic moves in front of Pantages Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard.  [Pantages is known to MJ fans as the location for Michael’s on-stage scenes in the You Are Not Alone video, also directed by Isham.]

Boutella’s performance is stunning, infusing the footage with “infectious energy and talent” in the words of Joe Vogel. (7)

The short film for Hollywood Tonight reflected Michael’s vision for what a music video should be – it should tell a story, it should be cinematic in its production values, it should have all the attention to detail of any big screen, big budget movie.

The single release and video version of the song Hollywood Tonight differed from the album track in a number of ways.  The spoken bridge (which Michael never got to record, and for which he had written darker lyrics) was removed and instead, Vogel reveals “Sony…used his beatboxing, his idea of swelling horns and strings, and his operative vocal (pulled from a tape left running during a recording session in a hotel room).” (8)

Happily, in response to complaints from fans about the over-processing of Michael’s vocals on the album version, for the single (and video) they are left un-processed and the production is scaled back, resulting in what Vogel describes as “a rawer, funkier, but less finished feel than the album version.” (9)

To quote Vogel again: “The video also reminds — along with recent MJ tributes on American Idol and Glee — how profound Jackson’s influence continues to be on new generations (many of whom only ‘discovered’ him after his tragic death in 2009).” (10)

Since Vogel wrote those words (in 2011) the Michael Jackson tributes have continued on stages and screens both large and small, as well as on street corners throughout the globe.

Meanwhile, having taken up acting full time, Sofia Boutella no longer dances.  But, in true fairy-tale Hollywood fashion, her star has continued to rise.

Kerry Hennigan
July 2017



  3. A sampling of Nike Women commercials starring Sofia Boutella:
  4. Jamie King on how he got the job of dancing with Michael:
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.

Photo montage of Michael Jackson flanking Sofia Boutella from “Hollywood Tonight” short film compiled and photoshopped by Kerry Hennigan 2017.

Photo of Sofia Boutella from “Hollywood Tonight” video and CD single cover artwork © MJJ Productions Inc 2011.  Distributed by Sony Music Entertainment.



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Precursors to Michael Jackson’s Egyptian Magician and other historic references in the “Remember the Time” short film

Michael Jackson’s short film for the single release of his song Remember the Time (1992) has been referred to as an Egyptian fantasy or extravaganza.  Certainly in design, depiction and execution, it appears more indebted to classic Hollywood musicals than to actual history.  Its primary focus was, of course, as a promotional vehicle for the single release of the song – the second from the Dangerous album.

In researching the Remember the Time short film, we invariably read about Michael’s love for ancient Egypt, and how director John Singleton (Boyz N the Hood) agreed to helm the project if he could have an all-black cast.  However, not usually mentioned – but of more interest to me as a student of ancient history, are possible historical precursors to the character Michael plays in the film.

Some sources on Remember the Time refer to Michael’s character as “a black-robed wizard”. (1)  However, “wizard” is a title derived from the Middle English word “wys” (meaning wise) and the suffix “ard” and only after the mid-16th Century AD did it gain its present meaning of describing someone with magical abilities. (2)

We should therefore more correctly refer to Remember the Time’s mysterious visitor as a “magician”.  “Michael said, ‘We have to put Magic in this video.’ I’ll always remember that” Singleton recalled in 2009. (3)

In reality, the magicians of ancient Egypt had, prior to the first millennium BC, been both priests and magicians, performing ceremonies and casting spells. (4)  We can even draw an analogy here if we look at Michael’s big production performances as “ceremonies” and the way in which he “casts a spell” on his audience (i.e. us) in whatever he does.

Ancient Egyptian magicians figure in the Old Testament Bible in the Book of Exodus 7:10-12 when the Pharaoh, in attempting to replicate Aaron’s feat in turning his staff into a serpent, “called for the sages and sorcerers, and by their spells the magicians of Egypt did the same.” (5)

However, we don’t have to rely on Hebrew or Greek texts for stories of Egyptian magicians, because there are actual Egyptian sources that refer to specific individuals.  These included Meryra, who made a “man of clay” and Khaemwaset, whose name means “He who appears in the Thebes”.  Although the tales of him are fanciful, they are based on a historical individual who is well-known to Egyptologists from the statues of him (as depicted top right in the photo montage above) and other artifacts. (6)

There are other historical references in Remember the Time’s whimsical depiction of ancient Egypt.

At the beginning of the film, images of two very real Egyptian royals appear (and disappear) amongst the swirling sands of time, followed by a glimpse of the Old Kingdom monuments of the Sphinx and Pyramids at Giza. (7)  The bust of the male that first appears is of the New Kingdom pharaoh Ramesses the Great (Ramesses II) d. 1212 BC and that of the queen that follows is easily recognized as being Nefertiti d. 1331 BC the Great Royal Wife of Akhenaten d. 1336 BC. (8)

While Eddie Murphy can’t really be said to resemble the bust of Ramesses II (or Akhenaten, either), Iman certainly presents a very credible impression of Nefertiti.  The famous bust she so resembles was created circa 1340 BC by the sculptor Thutmose.  This priceless artifact is today a star exhibit in the Neues Museum in Berlin. (9)

Eddie Murphy’s headdress resembles a gold version of a type of headdress which Akhenaten is shown wearing on some statuary, stele and wall paintings.

While neither Ramesses II or Nefertiti and Akhenaten are from the era of the famous “Black Pharaohs”, i.e. the Nubian kings who ruled Egypt as the country’s 25th dynasty from 760-656 BC, I think the director’s point in casting the Remember the Time short film is to remind people that the ancient Egyptian royalty were Africans, so why shouldn’t they be played by an African-American and a Somalian respectively, contrary to the lead actors of most Hollywood Biblical epics? (10)

Michael Jackson being assisted with his costume by Michael Bush on the set of the “Remember the Time” short film, January 1992

The issue of ethnicity aside (see my note below), Remember the Time depicts a fictionalized Pharaoh and his beautiful Queen at the height of their dynastic powers – until a mysterious stranger arrives to cure the Queen of her boredom and to remind her, perhaps, of their secret, shared, past.

Ancient Egyptians loved music, dancing and singing.  Love songs were not uncommon – being mostly written by eloquent scribes. (11)  Thus, Michael Jackson can indulge his love for ancient Egypt – and the African continent and its people – while weaving his own considerable magic on his global audience.

As is the case with so much of Michael’s art, there are layers upon layers, and much for the fan and scholar to explore.  For me, Remember the Time has prompted actual historical research in terms of people and occupations of the ancient past as well as how they are interpreted by popular culture in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Kerry Hennigan
7 July 2017

A note on ancient Egyptians:

The ethnicity of the ancient Egyptians is a subject of considerable scholarly debate, some of which has, I think, more to do with modern views on race and racism than actual evidence.  Michael’s short film reflects some important arguments in this debate which have been taken up by proponents of Singleton’s vision of ancient Egypt. (12)

Understandably, the ancient Egyptians had their own way of defining their identity in comparison to others, as depicted in New Kingdom pictorial and written sources. (13)

But, as one modern source wisely notes: “objectivity remains elusive within the race debate, and is perhaps impossible.” (14)


(1)       Text accompanying the official video:












(13)     ‘Digital Egypt for Universities’ website of the University College London:

(14)     Ibid

Further information and additional reading:

Nefertiti’s bust in Berlin:

Akhenaten: Egyptian Pharaoh, Nefertiti’s Husband, Tut’s Father

Ramesses II (Ramesses the Great):

Michael Bush “The King of Style: Dressing Michael Jackson” [large hardcover pictorial book which includes some interesting information on Michael’s Remember the Time costume]

Photo montage: “Magicians Rule!!!” compiled and edited by Kerry Hennigan using professional photographs sourced through Google.









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The Doctor: a Victim of Circumstance or His own Incompetence?

‘The Doctor’ in the title of this article doesn’t refer to anyone as enduring as the BBC’s famous Doctor i.e. Dr. Who.  It refers to Michael Jackson’s personal doctor for the ‘This Is It’ concert rehearsals and the O2 residency that was to follow.

Even now, nearly eight years after Michael’s death, I am loath to type the man’s name. However, in the past week, 12th – 16th June 2017, Conrad Murray (there, I’ve written it!) has been making fresh headlines in the media, albeit a long way from the scene of his downfall in Beverly Hills, California.

Reports surfaced on more than one regional media website in the Caribbean that Conrad Murray has reputedly been treating patients at a private medical clinic in Trinidad without the required licence.

The Jamaican Observer reported on June 14th that Murray was the subject of a probe on the matter by the Ministry of Health in liaison with the Council of the Medical Board of Trinidad and Tobago.

According to the Observer, “Over the last weekend, the Sunday Newsday reported that Murray had been attending to patients at a private medical facility in central Trinidad.” (1)

I am always reluctant to read comments posted on news articles, given that they are often just an excuse for people to rant and proclaim their own views on the subject, often without recourse to verifiable facts!  But, I was curious in this instance to read if Murray was garnering any sympathy for his apparent predicament.

In this instance, the consensus seemed (logically) to be that the man needed to be properly licensed to practice in their country.  For sure, I thought.  One comment however suggested that given Murray had acquiesced to Michael Jackson’s desire for propofol to prompt sleep, he had been “a victim of circumstance” in the matter of Michael’s death.

The comment was not accusatory of MJ, but it was certainly ignorant of Murray’s culpability for what happened and sympathetic to his current situation.

Just as I normally avoid reading comments on public news sites, I also rarely respond to them. However, I could not let this comment on Murray pass without having my say.  I subsequently submitted the following reply:

Murray did not follow required medical practice, kept no medical records, mislead the paramedics into what he had given Michael, and delayed calling them far longer than he should have. He also lied to the police as revealed by his phone records and other evidence that came out in his criminal trial. Irrespective of what he was asked to do, it was his failure through negligence to properly monitor and assist his patient that was/is and always should be a criminal offence. He has always (in media interviews) denied responsibility for his own actions – this is unconscionable. The judge’s summation at Murray’s sentencing hearing is a damning indictment of this ‘doctor’s’ failure in his duty of care and attempts to cover it up. I suggest anyone with doubts about Murray’s guilt listen to what Judge Pastor has to say...

15 June 2017 – posted in ‘comments’ on the Jamaica Observer article. (2)

Initially I believed that, in taking on the job of Michael Jackson’s personal physician, Murray had just been totally out of his depth, despite his credentials as a cardiologist with clinics in Nevada and Texas.  But, that didn’t absolve him of not taking due care in treating Michael’s insomnia, or any other ailments.  If you’re not up to the job, get out and let someone better suited do it.  Someone, for example, who doesn’t leave his sedated patient unmonitored while he leaves the room to make phone calls!

However, Murray, in his actions prior and after Michael’s death, has displayed a desire for money that explains why he was willing to do what he did for Michael. Murray’s need for a big pay cheque was acute!  The man had serious financial problems before he took the job.  He asked for more money than Michael was prepared to pay, but still accepted a more reasonable figure and promptly closed his clinics and abandoned his patients to relocate to Los Angeles as the personal doctor to the world’s greatest music icon.

His financial plight explains his actions, yes, but it does not excuse them.

We must remember that at his criminal trial Murray waived the opportunity to speak in his own defence; yet while incarcerated by the State for the crime of involuntary manslaughter, he gave interviews to the media from his cell, and on release began the rounds of the media to tell his version of the story.

He would talk to the media – for a fee – but he wouldn’t talk to the jury to save himself from a prison sentence.  Why?  Because his story, as he would have us believe it in his documentary, in his television interviews and, most shameful of all, in his supposed ‘tell all’ book, consists of fabrications and obfuscations.

Murray had no defence that justified his actions in the way he treated (or mistreated) Michael Jackson, at least none that could have changed the minds of the jury.  Certainly, he had no defence that would stand up against the evidence that had been gathered by the prosecution.

Murray’s willingness to talk about his famous former patient outside of the court room, in return for financial reward, is shameful behaviour for a medical professional, irrespective of his role in that patient’s demise.

If it is indeed true that Murray has recently been treating patients at a clinic in Trinidad without the appropriate licence from the health authorities of that country, it is just the latest example of him revealing his true colours in terms of his lack of respect for his own profession, not to mention the trust patients have placed in him.

It is not a scenario that makes any sense, either, given the savage blow dealt his career by his conviction.  You would think that if he wanted to rebuild credibility he would be diligent in ticking all the right boxes, signing all the right forms, and acquiring the appropriate approvals to practice in the region in question.

If he has failed to do this, it is further proof of his flagrant disregard for correct medical procedures in the treatment of vulnerable persons.  You’d think he’d have learned his lesson.

michael jackson smile london 2009Lest we forget, here’s an extract from an article in the Telegraph of 7 November 2011 following the jury’s verdict:

[Prosecutor David] Walgren said: “Michael Jackson literally put his life in the hands of Conrad Murray. That misplaced trust cost Michael Jackson his life. He died alone in his bed. Conrad Murray left this vulnerable man, abandoned him, to fend for himself. It violates not only the standard of care, but decency from one human being to another.” (3)

Personally, while I detest what he did, I can’t bring myself to ‘hate’ Conrad Murray.  It serves no purpose to waste intense emotions on him – especially not if they give me an ulcer!  Rather, over the years since his actions of 25 June 2009 (and those leading up to that day) I have just wished him to disappear from public view.  I wished he would quietly redeem himself in the eyes of his Maker by doing charity work in some needy part of the world – out of our sight!

But no, he has repeatedly surfaced with some comment, some statement, some tall tale or promotional plan or two, to keep our emotional wounds raw and weeping.  And now he’s making headlines again.

I think we’ve all bled enough, Dr Murray.  I wish you’d be gone.

Kerry Hennigan
June 15, 2017


Postscript, June 23, 2017:

According to an article published on the Trinidad Express website on June 17, Conrad Murray insists that he has been fully registered with the Medical Board of Trinidad and Tobago since 2000.  Murray’s medical licences for California, Texas and Nevada in the US have been suspended but he is adamant that he is properly licensed to practise in T&T.  A letter from Murray’s attorney to the MBTT claims that the Medical Board, its servants and/or agents and/or employees are “disseminating erroneous information with respect to my client’s registration status.”  The letter indicates that legal action might be forthcoming to solidify Murray’s status as a licensed medical doctor in T&T.

The article explains that while it is not necessary to renew a medical licence annually, an annual fee is required to be paid.  However, according to Murray’s attorney, the MBTT has refused to accept Murray’s fee.  This will be the basis for any legal proceedings against the MBTT.  He also added that action for defamation will be taken against Newsday for the “blatant falsehoods” printed in its reports.  Checks by the Sunday Express revealed Murray’s name is indeed listed on the MBTT’s National Register of Medical Practitioners. Dr Randall Rampersad, owner of the medical centre where Murray has been retained as a cardiovascular consultant, told the media that he will also be filing separate lawsuits next week against various entities, as his clinic has been brought into disrepute.

Rampersad cites Murray’s plans to establish an “acute stroke and vascular intervention centre” in Trinidad and operate a charitable foundation for people in need of surgeries who are on a waiting list in the public health sector as the reason for Murray being a target.  The attorney claims that people in the medical fraternity see him as a “threat” to their work, the extent of which is further detailed in the Express article. Murray believes “It is clearly an attack from the medical cartel.” (4)

While this news may make us re-think our opinions on Murray’s work in Trinidad, it does not change my sentiments as expressed above in relation to his actions associated with Michael Jackson nor the lack of remorse he has shown from those actions to date. – KH,  June 23, 2017


(2) Ibid






“Missing” Michael Jackson – as expressed by his fans – MJ Studies Today, June 2017

Abstract: Kerry Hennigan looks into the phenomenon of how Michael Jackson is missed by so many people when they have never met him personally or seen him in concert.

Column by Kerry Hennigan, editor of the monthly newsletter, A Candle for Michael, and administrator of the widely-subscribed Facebook group, Michael Jackson’s Short Film ‘Ghosts.

Is it possible to miss Michael Jackson if you never met him?

This is a question I have asked myself whenever I see fans post comments like “I miss him” in response to a photo or social media item about Michael Jackson. Yet we know they haven’t actually met him, and perhaps never saw him in concert…

Log in to continue reading:


Hennigan, Kerry. “MJ Studies Today XVIII (14-06-2017).” The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 4, no. 2 (2017).

The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies asks that you acknowledge The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies as the source of our Content; if you use material from The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies online, we request that you link directly to the stable URL provided. If you use our content offline, we ask that you credit the source as follows: “Courtesy of The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies.”

The ‘Pop Art’ of Michelangelo and Michael Jackson (as defined by LaChapelle)

The website for the UK’s Tate Galleries defines Pop Art as…“an art movement that emerged in the 1950s and flourished in the 1960s in America and Britain, drawing inspiration from sources in popular and commercial culture such as advertising, Hollywood movies and pop music. Key pop artists include Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Richard Hamilton, Peter Blake and David Hockney.” (1)

Photographic artist David LaChapelle has a much broader definition.  He believes that ‘pop art’ is art that has crossed over from being for the very few to being for everyone – it is art that has become so recognisable that everyone can identify it – not just Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans, but Michelangelo’s David or something from Michael Jackson’s catalogue.

It is art that has transcended genre and outlived the era in which it was created.

LaChapelle equated the art of Michelangelo with that of Michael Jackson in a recent BBC video clip promoting an exhibition at the National Gallery, London.*  It’s a statement that may shock some, but which hardly comes as a revelation for Michael’s many fans. (2)

David LaChapelle, whose first job as a professional photographer was for Warhol, is famous for his own surrealistic photographic and film work employing popular cultural figures in exotic scenarios often inspired by Renaissance artworks and displaying Biblical themes.

In December 2016 he photographed Paris Jackson for her Rolling Stone cover feature where his use of religious iconography is prominent – along with plenty of nods to Paris’ father, of whom LaChapelle is a huge fan. (3)

Biblical themes dominate his series ‘American Jesus’ which featured three post-2009 images of Michael Jackson (achieved by using an impersonator plus some digital manipulation) respectively titled ‘American Jesus: Hold Me, Carry Me Boldly’, ‘The Beatification: I’ll Never Let You Part For You’re Always In My Heart’ and ‘Archangel Michael: And No Message Could Have Been Any Clearer’. (4)

The first of these, ‘American Jesus’ features a pose clearly inspired by Michelangelo’s ‘Pieta’.

michael and david
Michael Jackson at the feet of Michelangelo’s ‘David’,  Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence, 1988.  (Photographer unknown)

Michael Jackson’s own appreciation for the art of Renaissance masters like Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci is well documented.  He saw some of these masterpieces first hand while in Italy on his Bad world tour in 1988. (5)

Later, at Neverland, he had a painting of himself by David Nordal – called simply ‘Michael’ – which was inspired by Michelangelo’s monumental sculpture of David.

In his ‘Moonwalk’ biography, Michael explained his admiration for Michelangelo – “he poured his soul into his work.  He knew in his heart that one day he would die, but that work he did would live on.  You can tell he painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel with all his soul.  At one point he even destroyed it and did it over because he wanted it to be perfect.  He said, ’If the wine is sour, pour it out.’” (6)

This is a particularly memorable scene in the 1965 movie The Agony and the Ecstasy based on Irving Stone’s biographical novel of Michelangelo.  I wonder if Michael saw it and remembered it from there?  (I first saw this film in the cinema as part of a school group accompanied by the nuns who taught us.  Today I still own a copy of the movie on DVD, so I know it well.) (7)

Michael certainly knew the emotions involved in Michelangelo’s outburst – and undertook similar drastic measures.  When he listened to the completed Thriller album for the first time, he knew it wouldn’t work.  In ‘Moonwalk’ he explains that he felt devastated and angry, and declared “We’re not releasing it.”

After a couple of days off, and taking a deep breath, Michael and his team mixed the entire album all over again.  Afterwards everyone – including the record company – could hear the difference.  “It felt so good when we finished.  I was so excited I couldn’t wait for it to come out.” (8)

Michael’s instincts as an artist who – like Michelangelo – poured his heart and soul into his work were accurate – “if the wine is sour, pour it out.”

For Michelangelo, the outcome of starting afresh was his Sistine Chapel masterpiece.  For Michael Jackson, it was the biggest selling album of all time.

Like Michelangelo’s ceiling frescos, Michael’s album, singles and videos are indelibly stamped on popular culture – they are ‘pop art’ as defined by David LaChapelle.

Whether or not we agree with LaChapelle’s definition of the genre, to have Michael Jackson’s creative endeavours compared to those of Michelangelo is a testament to Michael’s work ethic and life-long commitment to perfecting his art.

I believe the comparison is justly deserved and one he would have loved.

Kerry Hennigan
March 2017

‘Art is Life… Life is Art’ pop art triptych features Michelangelo’s Pieta, photo of Michael Jackson (photographer unknown) and David LaChapelle’s American Jesus, digitally edited by the author.

*The Credit Suisse Exhibition “Michelangelo & Sebastiano” runs 15 March – 25 June 2017 at The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London.  For details visit:

For an examination of David LaChapelle’s images depicting Michael Jackson I highly recommend Annemarie Latour’s two part article “Redeeming the King of Pop: David LaChapelle’s Fine Art Portrayal of Michael Jackson” (link below).  Annemarie has also recently written on the iconography in LaChapelle’s portraits of Paris Jackson for Rolling Stone:


  2. BBC video
  3. Rolling Stone
  4. Annemarie Latour “Redeeming the King of Pop: David LaChapelle’s Fine Art Portrayal of Michael Jackson Parts 1 and 2
  6. Michael Jackson “Moonwalk” Arrow Books paperback edition 2010 p.220
  7. “The Agony and the Ecstasy” 20th Century Fox, 1965
  8. Michael Jackson “Moonwalk” pp 199-200

books edited.jpg

World Cry and the case for ‘Cry’

large-rippedA combination of memorial service and charitable fundraiser, World Cry was the dream of an American Michael Jackson fan named Amber Sipes. [1]

It brought fans together by the glow of candlelight, to read poems and messages for Michael on the anniversary of his passing, and to sing along to Michael’s recording of ‘Cry’ from the ‘Invincible’ album. [2]

‘We all cry at the same time tonight.’ [3]

The first time I participated in World Cry was on 25 June 2010, at Piccadilly Circus in London.  Like many other fans, I’ve done it at the same time every year since, either in a group or a quiet space of my own.

The most memorable was in 2013 when I planned to be at Neverland, presumably by myself, to remember Michael in private outside the gates of his former home.  Only it turned out that I wasn’t to be alone.  Lonjezo from Malawi and Marge from Toronto also arrived to pay their respects.  Although they hadn’t known about World Cry, both happily joined in with me in a close circle as I spoke a quiet introduction and prayer/mediation intention, and then turned on the song on my phone.

An incredible thing happened.  Michael sang ‘Somebody shakes when the wind blows…’ and the branches of the Neverland oaks stirred overhead in the wind, their leaves sighing like the sea that can be heard in the recording.

As the song reached its impassioned crescendo, our close circle became a spontaneous group hung.  It was an experience both inexplicable and wonderful.

cry‘Cry’ is a very special song.  Joe Vogel refers to it as a universal lamentation. [4]   When used in solidarity with others during World Cry on 25th June each year, it becomes a prayer for healing for both the planet and our own wounded souls – and for Michael, whose reputation has been constantly under attack from many sources since his passing.

When his album, ‘Invincible’ was released in 2001, the song almost seemed to go un-noticed, or was dismissed as messianic.  Even generally favourable album reviews often seemed to miss the heavier material, like ‘Cry’.

‘On “Invincible” he goes back to what he does best—breaking down musical barriers while fighting to get the girl.’ [5]

This quote from PopMatters appeared on the Michael Jackson social media accounts on 7 Oct 2016.  It’s fairly typical of some of the positive reviews the ‘Invincible’ album received on its release, and seems to saying ‘Hooray!  The king of pop has gone back to entertaining us rather than wanting us to help him change the world.’

These reviews, despite being complimentary, make me wonder how many times the author listened to the album before penning the review.  What about ‘All the Lost Children’ which, although having a sweet melody, is about a serious subject, and what about ‘Cry’?

‘Cry’ seems to me to be very much a plea from Michael, who had earlier in his career encouraged us to ‘make that change’ and ‘heal the world’ and who now begs us to help him get on with the job of making it happen: ‘we can do it if we try’.

This track is an obvious successor to ‘Earth Song’ and sung with such passion, it’s difficult to believe Michael didn’t write it himself.  The composer was R. (Robert) Kelly who also wrote ‘You Are Not Alone’ and ‘One More Chance’.

It doesn’t really matter.  In performing the song and producing with Kelly, Michael makes it his own.  Here is an artist, globally adored, who has willingly taken on the mantle of healer – to use what he saw as his God-given gifts, to make the world a better place; to heal the children; to save the planet.

But, despite ‘Heal the World’, despite ‘Earth Song’, the world and many of its children, were still in trouble.  No matter how sweetly he sang, or how passionately he raged into the microphone in the dark of the recording studio, not enough of us had taken up the mantle to make the world a better place.

‘I can’t do it by myself’. [6]

In using ‘Cry’ as a memorial song on the fateful date of June 25th once a year, we are acknowledging our pain and loss over the death of Michael Jackson.  But we are also joining him in his plea for the planet.  We WANT to make it a better place.  We WANT to share the load that he took up when he first started writing and singing songs that made us think about important issues.

When he found his personal voice, and put his fears, longings and prayers into words and music, Michael Jackson willingly shouldered the mantle of light-bringer, to shine a light into the dark corners of global society, so we could see for ourselves what work needed to be done.

Every time I listen to ‘Cry’ I find myself thinking, in response to Michael’s plea, ‘You are not alone in this.  We are here to share the load with you.  We will carry on the work for you.’  And, if we have our way, we will let everyone know that it was Michael Jackson who inspired us and showed us the way.

‘Change the World’. [7]

Kerry Hennigan
January 2017




[3] ‘Cry’ by R. Kelly

[4] Vogel, Joseph “Man in the Music: The Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson!


[6 and 7] ‘Cry’ by R. Kelly

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Michael Jackson – looking for the meaning behind his Art


Having read many articles and some of the academic papers written about Michael Jackson and his art and influence on popular culture, I admit to sometimes being bemused by what I read.  In some cases, others are seeing, hearing and finding meanings quite different from my own understanding of the work being discussed.


Michael’s friend and co-worker on stage and in the studio, Brad Buxer, made a comment at an In the Studio with Michael Jackson seminar which resonated with me and in particular my reactions to some of the analyses I’d read about Michael and his work.

Brad had been personally involved with many songs from the early stages and seen how they evolved into something quite different from what might have first been envisaged.  ‘Morphine’ was cited as an example of this.

Perhaps Michael was keeping his total intent, his complete vision, close to his chest, until the work had reached such a stage as he could see how to have that vision fully realised (take, for example, the period of time it took for ‘Earth Song’ to evolve into the ‘magnum opus’ that it became).

But, in the many instances where Michael himself has not given us more than superficial insight into the work, how do we know if we have analysed it accurately?  And is that possible at all?

I come from a school of thought that suspects in many cases, things are over-analysed to the point where the work being studied takes on a life (or lives) of its own in the minds and articles of those who think they have cracked its code.

This raises the question: can anyone other than the artist know the true meaning of their art?  Furthermore, with performance art in particular, unless the artist works in complete isolation in terms of writing, performing, recording and filming the videos, how can we know how much the ideas, suggestions and experience of others have contributed to the final outcome?

Performance art is usually a collaborative process, with the artist as the instigator and principle component of the work.  At any point in the process though, input from someone in the studio or listening to a demo may prompt the artist to take the work in a completely different direction.

It is inevitable that we judge the work of others from our own place in the universe, from within our own skin, if you like.  How can it be otherwise?  True detachment from the self is impossible – impartiality is a myth we’ve been sold by those who would have us accept their viewpoint as the RIGHT or ONLY one worth considering.

Denying the impossibility of true detachment from our subject is, I believe, akin to denying our individuality.  We might start out by agreeing with someone on several matters, and then come across something where our opinions deviate markedly.  Suddenly we realise that we are not of one mind on all matters after all.  The truth is, nobody is.

So, if you don’t agree with someone’s analysis of one of Michael’s songs or short films or anything else about him (or anybody) do not despair.  You probably have plenty of company.

I often wonder what Michael would think about the way we analyse and dissect his art?  Surely he would be appreciative of it being discussed seriously in academic circles, so long as it was being done with an open mind and, yes, even love.  The intentions of most academics I have come to know who have published work on Michael Jackson are fans as well as teachers, lecturers and authors.  A lot of their motivation comes from a desire to have Michael’s art and his life receive their due recognition as important and influential components of modern popular culture.

As for dissecting and analysing the work… when I find myself in disagreement with something that has been written, I remind myself that the sum of the art is greater than its various parts – and without the artist, it wouldn’t exist.

Kerry Hennigan
January 2017


Michael Jackson, Shiva and the Cosmic Dance

[The similarities in Michael’s poem ‘Heaven is Here’ and the story behind the great bronze sculptures of Shiva performing the cosmic dance have long fascinated me. The photos and video footage of Michael dancing in a raging desert sandstorm from the ‘Dangerous’ television commercial also remind me of the Shiva bronzes. They are some of the most powerful images of Michael I have ever seen.

What follows may be just a piece of imaginative fantasy on my part – but I tend to favour synchronicity over coincidence, especially considering the insight Michael has granted us into his creative processes over the years. As we all know, when it came to his art he left nothing to chance. – Kerry Hennigan]

In “Dancing the Dream”, his 1992 book of poems, song lyrics and reflections, Michael Jackson gives us a poem called ‘Heaven is Here’. In this striking piece of prose he writes (in part):

You and I were never separate
It’s just an illusion
Wrought by the magical lens of

There is only one Wholeness
Only one Mind
We are like ripples
In the vast Ocean of Consciousness

Come, let us dance
The Dance of Creation
Let us celebrate
The Joy of Life

The poem is indicative of Michael’s many works on ‘oneness’ and ‘wholeness’ not just with each other, but with the Creator, by whatever name we call Him/Her or the divine Force. The dance as an act of creation and an analogy of creation itself, reflects ancient wisdom – especially that of Eastern philosophies.

From the time I first read it, this poem, accompanied in the book as it is by photos of Michael dancing in the desert (stills from the promotional video for the ‘Dangerous’ album) reminded me of the great Chola bronze depictions of the Hindu god Shiva as Nataraja, Lord of the Dance – the cosmic dancer who performs his divine dance to both destroy world weary views and herald the arrival of a new world in its place.

The dual nature of his dance are the Lasya (the gentle form), associated with the creation of the world, and the Tandava (the violent and dangerous dance), associated with the destruction of weary perspectives and lifestyles.

In essence, the Lasya and the Tandava are dual aspects of Shiva’s nature; for he destroys in order to create, tears down to build again. [1]

He holds a drum in one hand, with which he makes the first sounds of creation, and fire in the other – the fire that will consume the universe. At the same time, with his lower right hand, he makes a gesture that allays fear. Beneath his feet he tramples a small figure that represents illusion, which leads mankind astray. Shiva’s front left hand, pointing to his raised left foot, signifies refuge for the troubled soul. The energy of his dance makes his hair fly to the sides. The symbols imply that, through belief in Shiva, his devotees can achieve salvation. [2]

10915272_10203757583715226_6884599099477970321_nNow Michael Jackson was no Hindu deity; he was as human as you or me, except, he was an enormously talented, highly intelligent and inquiring individual who believed he had been blessed with such gifts for a purpose. He consciously used these gifts to inform, influence and create change.

He can be seen to be a benevolent, all embracing (but deceptively harmless, perhaps) pied piper of nations in the first part of the short film for Black or White – and then becomes ‘dangerous’, ‘violent’, sexually charged and ‘subversive’ in the controversial black panther dance that follows the song in the full length version of the video.

In an interview given in 1992 when asked about the black panther dance, Michael explained “Anger and rage are the prelude to a shift in consciousness. Unless we feel rage at some of the inequities and injustices of our society, there is no hope for transformation.” [3]

As with Shiva, there is an important purpose to this dual vision of the song’s writer/choreographer – in order to create a harmonious existence for everyone regardless of race, creed or colour, one has to recognise, acknowledge and dance/stamp out the ignorance. It should not be a solo act either, but a performance that draws the attentions of others to the problem(s).

I don’t know whether Michael made the connections I have made with the cosmic dance of Shiva – whom he certainly knew of in the form of Nataraja (Lord of the Dance). Michael had help from his friend Deepak Chopra in preparing “Dancing the Dream”, and as fans we’ve come to understand that there was little Michael did in terms of his art that was not deliberate, and planned, fine-tuned and perfected so as to get his message across.

In 2009 after Michael’s passing, Viraf Sarkari, co-director of the event management agency Wizcraft told the Times of India about Michael’s 1996 visit to India on his HIStory tour. “We first met him in Los Angeles to confirm the concert. We were told he is very keen on performing in India. We’d presented him with a Ganesha, a Nataraj and a sherwani. And without requiring any explanation, he said, “Yes, that’s Ganesha, the god of luck.” Even when politician Bal Thackeray presented a silver statue of Shiva as Nataraj to Michael he didn’t need the politician’s explanation and said, “Yes, I know that’s the god of dance and art.” [4]

Shiva has other identities too, and one of them is as a Guru, or teacher of all types of knowledge (including music). In this form, called Daksinamurti, Shiva personifies the ultimate teacher – the embodiment of knowledge and the destroyer of ignorance. So, even in this seemingly benign form, the duality of his nature and intentions remains.

With knowledge comes awareness and enlightenment as a result of self-realisation. The outcome is freedom – from ignorance and fear. In ‘Heaven Is Here’ Michael tells us to not be afraid to know who we are…

You are much more
Than you ever imagined

You are the Sun
You are the Moon
You are the wildflower in bloom
You are the Life-throb
That pulsates, dances
From a speck of dust
To the most distant star

And you and I
Were never separate
It’s just an illusion
Wrought by the magical lens of Perception

Let us celebrate
The Joy of Life
Let us dance
The Dance of Creation

One of Michael’s friends and creative collaborators told me in the year after Michael’s passing that we can never lose him; in his spiritual form he is all around us and inside us. He is a part of us, and we are part of him.

It’s as Michael wrote in his poem “you and I/Were never separate/It’s just an illusion/Wrought by the magical lens of Perception.”

It is Michael Jackson speaking, but it could just as easily be Shiva, the ultimate teacher.

In his poems, songs and his dancing, Michael has interpreted Shiva’s cosmic dance for the enlightenment of his global audience.

Heaven is Here
Right now is the moment
of Eternity
Don’t fool youerself
Reclaim your Bliss


Conceived and written by Kerry Hennigan.  Originally published on Facebook on 17 January 2015:

10931510_10203757587835329_1228745484215141078_n[1] Wikipedia
[2] The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Excerpts from “Heaven Is Here” are from the book “Dancing the Dream” by Michael Jackson, originally published by Doubleday 1992, reprinted 2009.

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What is it about ‘Blood on the Dance Floor’? or: Michael Jackson as alpha male

By Kerry Hennigan


It’s the thumping, Latin-infused beat; it’s the grit and growl of Michael Jackson’s vocals; it’s the violent tone of the subject matter; it’s Michael’s sharply defined, mature features in the short film; it’s the ruby red ensemble he wears; it’s his shiny black locks caught back in a French braid which he whips about his shoulders as he dances.

It’s “Blood on the Dance Floor” – song and short film. And it’s almost guaranteed to send some of Michael’s female fans into near orgasmic ecstasies. (Just ask me, I’m one of ‘em!)

The song had its genesis as early as 1990 as a collaboration with Teddy Riley. Seven years later the demo was revisited and re-recorded by Michael with his 4-man creative team at Mountain Studio in Montreux, Switzerland in January 1997, during a break between the first and second legs of his HIStory world tour.

Teddy Riley’s 2-track recording was completely re-created as a big multi-track, according to Brad Buxer, as there was no way to mix Riley’s original. When the team played the new “Blood on the Dance Floor” the first time, Michael’s comment was “This is delicious!”[1]

The track continued to be augmented by Michael and Brad Buxer back in Los Angeles. It was finally released on 21 March 1997 as the first single from the (then) forthcoming album “Blood On The Dance Floor: HIStory In The Mix.” [2]

This song speaks to something primeval in our psyche. But it’s not the psyche that resides in the rational, reasoning parts of our brain; it’s the earthy, solar-plexus dwelling, dangerous thinking that arises from our inner depths. In fact, you could quite bluntly say that, for some of us, it’s Michael speaking directly to our deepest, darkest hidden desires.

We’re not talking about enduring, sentimental love here. “Blood…” is the antithesis of heartfelt ballads like “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” and “You Are Not Alone”. This is passion and lust without any excuses.


Doubters just need to read some of the comments posted under the short film for the song in various forums. For example: “I wish I had his number…” “He is Fierce… OMG!” “So sexy!” and, my personal favourite to date: “Hot, hot, HOT! He is so alpha male in this. Whew! Be still my heart…..”[3]

Of course, Michael’s fans were aware of his animal magnetism long before the release of “Blood on the Dance Floor”. Going back to his 1987 album “Bad” with songs and short films like “Dirty Diana” and the title track, it was obvious that a more mature, aggressive edge to Michael’s songs and performances was emerging. In the film “Moonwalker” when he strutted his stuff in shiny black leather pants to the tune of the Beatles’ hit “Come Together”, Michael was clearly pushing up the temperature.

(An interesting aside to this is the fact that a movie still of Michael performing “Come Together”, combined with a 1997 photo by Bill Nation, provided the model for Will Wilson’s painting for the “Blood on the Dance Floor” album cover.) [4]

In asking what is it about “Blood on the Dance Floor” that sends some of us fans into raptures, we have the answers right in front of us, whether we’re listening to the track or watching the short film. It’s Michael dark and dangerous. Brad Buxer revealed at one of his “In the Studio with Michael Jackson” guest appearances that “when he was in his dark mode [as in “Blood on the Dance Floor”] – that’s the best Michael.” [5]

There’s no doubt that Michael was a complicated musical genius who created, sculpted and honed his public persona over the decades to meet his own constantly growing expectations of excellence. From a young age Michael had set himself the goal of perfecting his art until he was the best at whatever he did. He worked at it until he achieved it, and then he set the bar higher.[6]

For self-preservation, there had to be a layer of emotional ‘protection’. While he frequently presented a sunny, child-like nature in public, and was delighted by simple things (playing games, making prank calls to his friends), beneath that veneer there were very adult emotions and sensibilities to which Michael gave full voice in his songs, concerts and short films.

Being a complex, creative individual means we can’t neatly label Michael as “dark” or “light” (or, speaking metaphorically, “black” or “white”- if you don’t mind a bad pun). This too has been stressed by those who knew him from working closely with him on his various recording, filming and concert projects. That word – “genius” – comes often from the lips of these individuals in attempting to describe Michael.

The person we see in the “Blood…” short film is Michael the performer. He is playing a part – that of a man attracted to a woman with a deadly reputation. He flirts with her and dances with her, but is he going to be stabbed in the back by her – whether physically or emotionally? He’s willing to take that risk, despite the fact “the girl is dangerous…” The femme fatale is a recurring theme in Michael’s music.

The question is, who is going to get burned most by this experience – the woman with the bad reputation, the man who desires her and pursues her (on to the dance floor, at least) or the listener/viewer, who may need to monitor their blood pressure.

If you look at some of the few rehearsal photos we have for “Blood” you will see Michael apparently laughing and having fun with his fellow dancers. This is Michael “off stage”. When the cameras roll, and the call is for “action” he is seriously hot, sexy, and yes – definitely an “alpha male”.


Michael actually “hated” the short film we love so much, according to Brad Buxer. It didn’t tell a story like some of his other music videos. Michael just didn’t get the fact that he was “cooler than cool”. [7]

The launch of the short film on VH1 was cause for comment on ET which noted it was his first video release since becoming a father. The commentators are (typically) preoccupied with his appearance:…

The album “Blood on the Dance Floor” was released on vinyl and CD in May 1997, two months after the release of the single.

In the chronology of Michael’s musical canon, the “Blood…” album comes at an interesting time. It is preceded by the raging emotional highs and lows of “HIStory: Past, Present & Future, Book 1” – a towering achievement that gave us “Earth Song”, “They Don’t Care About Us” and Michael’s incredible vocal performance on the Charlie Chaplin classic “Smile” among other memorable tracks.

It is succeeded by 2001’s “Invincible” which re-visited, up-dated and incorporated so many different musical styles and displayed Michael’s broad range of vocal capabilities (e.g. contrast “Butterflies” with “2000 Watts) and gave us the gem, “Speechless”.

Between these two considerable achievements “Blood on the Dance Floor” comes as a full-blooded assault on the senses, with the remixes of some of the “HIStory…” tracks fitting perfectly “in the mix” with the five new tracks premiered on the album.

Of the latter, there are some that would have been stand-outs even on an entire album of new tracks: the songs from Michael’s short film (long form) “Ghosts” for example, and especially “Morphine”. This would have made an incredible short film of its own, if Michael had cared to make one. (Just imagine the publicity that would have generated!)

The “Blood on the Dance Floor” album is an excellent example of how Michael Jackson was forever moving forward in his music and the performance of it. This trend continued right up to the planning and rehearsing for “This Is It”. During that time he worked on new songs to be introduced via his O2 concerts. These were reputedly to be released sequentially as digital downloads that would provide the fans with a full album of new music by the close of his 50-date London tenure.

Throughout his career Michael Jackson willingly sacrificed himself in the cause of creating great art. He did it over and over again, with each new, ground-breaking project. That was the real “blood on the dance floor”; it wasn’t a song, a short film or an album. It was his life as the consummate artist and showman.

The Song:
  • Blood on the Dance Floor – album title track and single (1997)
  • Blood on the Dance Floor – remixes – TM’s Switchblade Mix – Refugee Camp Mix – Fire Island Vocal Mix – Fire Island Dub – T&G Pool of Blood Dub – Refugee Camp Dub – Acapella – TM’s O-Positive Dub
The Videos:
[1] Author’s personal notes from Brad Sundberg’s “In the Studio with Michael Jackson” seminar at Thriller Villa, Las Vegas, 10 October 2015, with guests Brad Buxer and Michael Prince.…
[2] Joseph Vogel “Featuring Michael Jackson” Baldwin Books 2012.
[4] MJJ Magazine Issue #7
[5] Author’s personal notes from “In the Studio with Michael Jackson” seminar at Thriller Villa, Las Vegas, 10 October 2015.
[7] Author’s personal notes from “In the Studio with Michael Jackson” seminar at Thriller Villa, Las Vegas, 10 October 2015.
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