Invincible, released Oct. 30, entered Billboard at No. 1 with sales of 366,000 copies, about 25,000 shy of 1995's HIStory. The album spawned radio hits You Rock My World and Butterflies but fell out of the top 10 after four weeks despite a self-promotion flurry capped by the Nov. 13 airing of Michael Jackson: 30th Anniversary Special. The two-hour CBS special, culled from a pair of New York concerts toasting his three decades as a solo artist, reached 25.6 million viewers, proof aplenty that Jackson remains an object of fascination.
Today is no exception. Onlookers at the Beverly Hills Hotel strain to glimpse Jackson as a path is cleared and he's swiftly ushered into a bungalow, his face concealed under a hat, sunglasses and black surgical mask. He spends 40 minutes "settling in," as Green puts it.
Finally prepared for an audience, Jackson greets his visitor with a handshake, a shy smile and the odd comment about his complexion. The makeup seems confined to his cheeks and jaw line. His eyebrows are darkened and groomed; the deep brown eyelids could be eye shadow or vestiges of his original skin tone. Vitiligo, an autoimmune disorder characterized by loss of skin pigment, has left much of his face and hands pale. His tiny nose is bandaged. He offers no explanation, and questions later about his skin condition are summarily shot down by Green.
Tall and slender, Jackson wears a brown leather jacket, red shirt, pinstripe trousers and his signature white socks with black loafers. Prince, his dark hair bleached blond, is clad in similar footwear and a kiddie police uniform, complete with plastic handcuffs hanging from a belt loop.
"These keys work!" he announces before returning to his drawings at a nearby table.
Seated in an upholstered chair in the softly lighted suite, Jackson appears relaxed and poised, if a tad weary. He is generous in praising peers. He's flattered by copycats and loves Alien Ant Farm's cover of Smooth Criminal, including the video sendup of Jackson's quirks. His eyes light up at talk of upcoming movie projects, especially plans to co-direct a film with director/actor Bryan Michael Stoller in May. He laughs about his earthquake phobia, turns glum when reflecting on a domineering father and gives weight to theories of his eternal boyhood in enthusiastic chatter about toys and theme parks.
Jackson radiates unshakable self-confidence about his musical skills and flashes irritation only when pressed about the press. A rare interview subject, he agreed to this encounter in hopes of emphasizing a message that's frequently obscured by gossip.
"All I'm saying is heal the world, save our children," he says.
Jackson aggressively courts media attention, yet remains frustrated by the level of scorn and speculation directed at him. It's a pet peeve that gets a rise out of the usually soft-spoken star.
"The guy who hits the most home runs is always the target," he complains. "It's human nature."
As he did in Leave Me Alone and Tabloid Junkie, Jackson condemns the prying press in Invincible track Privacy: "You keep on stalking me, invading my privacy.. .. Stop maliciously attacking my integrity."
Flanked by chaperones, Jackson faces interrogation with genial resignation and no hint of butterflies.
Q: How do you respond to inaccurate articles about you?