In one of the more bizarre moments in stock market history, the King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson, opened up the Nasdaq stock market to kick off his upcoming 30th anniversary concerts at Madison Square Garden.
Wearing a dark suit with a gray armband around his right arm, the moonwalking megastar looked slightly uncomfortable as he walked around the Nasdaq market site, waving and blowing kisses to the onlookers and chatting with Nasdaq's Chief Executive Officer Wick Simmons and Executive Vice President David Weild.
Shortly after he pushed the opening button, the singer, who celebrated his 43rd birthday on Wednesday, was presented with a huge birthday cake and a vintage poster of Shirley Temple. "I'm deeply moved at this very special moment for me," said Jackson. "Thank you David and Wick and Nasdaq. Thank you so much. I love you and all the fans. Thank you."
Though Michael Jackson might not be the first person you think of when it comes to investing in tech stocks, Nasdaq's feting of the star marks the latest chapter in the ever-growing bond between entertainment and finance.
Thriller of an Opening
With investing now firmly a part of mainstream American culture, media watchers say adding a celebrity component to financial news coverage is becoming an increasingly popular way to keep viewers' attention.
"It's a symptom of the fact that the market and financial news are now part of the grand industrial entertainment complex," says Robert Thompson, professor of media and popular culture at Syracuse University.
Various luminaries from New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani to actress Jamie Lee Curtis have opened up the Nasdaq market, but Michael Jackson, despite his waning popularity in recent years, is by far the biggest name to grace the Nasdaq market site. Nasdaq is going one step further for the gloved one by throwing him a dinner following the first night of his Madison Square Garden concerts on September 7th that will include the likes of Whitney Houston, Liza Minelli and Elizabeth Taylor.
"We're always looking for people that have an impact on America and American culture and the economy to do the opening," says Nasdaq spokeswoman Judy Inosanto. "Michael Jackson is opening his tour in New York and he is certainly a big part of American culture. The synergies were just sort of there."
Power Lunch Rocks Out
Financial news network CNBC has also been embracing the celebrity bandwagon. CNBC's Power Lunch show has featured various entertainers for the past two years, and the network recently introduced a new segment called "Rock Picking Friday" in which rock bands not only perform but talk about stock picks with portfolio managers.
The network's premier last week of "Rock Picking Friday" featured members of the rock group Train discussing whether or not to buy shares of Starbucks and natural food store chain Wild Oats Market with fund managers from investment firms Turner Asset Management and Vontobel-Wachovia.
"Rock Picking Friday" is not yet a weekly feature, but CNBC's Power Lunch segment producer Kerima Greene says the network is always looking at ways to meld the investing world with entertainment. In fact, a host of musicians — including '70s rock icon Peter Frampton, on-again off-again makeup users Kiss and rapper M.C. Hammer (who's had his share of financial ups and downs) — have all shown interest in appearing on the network, says Greene.
"We've always tried to marry entertainment with our show, not just to provide entertainment, but also to inform," says Greene.
$2,500 Tickets, Anyone?
Greene says many performers enjoy coming on CNBC to talk about something other than their next album. When Sammy Hagar came on the show a year ago to talk about business pursuits like his Cabo Wabo tequila company, he said he was relieved not to have to field questions about when he was going to get back together with Van Halen, she says.
And late punk legend Joey Ramone was so enamored of CNBC "Money Honey" Maria Bartiromo that he penned a song for her. With lines like, "What's happening on Squawk Box/What's happening with my stocks/I want to know/ I watch you on the TV/ every single day/Those eyes make everything OK." it is obvious that Ramone was clearly smitten.
But it's not just the networks and the markets that benefit. Appearing on CNBC or ringing the opening bell of the market gives artists exposure to an older, more wealthy demographic that they might not reach via music channels like MTV or VH1.
Michael Jackson could perhaps use some exposure to that demographic. Even as crowds lined up to see Jacko ring the bell at the Nasdaq, $2,500 tickets for his upcoming Madison Square Garden shows were still available.
The bargain-priced $45 seats have all been sold out.