He's been Bad, Dangerous and even a Thriller, but there's one title Michael Jackson must avoid as he makes his comeback: "The King of Flop."
The buildup toward the self-proclaimed "King of Pop's" first new album in six years begins tonight at New York's Madison Square Garden as he puts on the first of two star-studded concerts commemorating his 30-year solo career.
Jackson's anticipated — much delayed — album Invincible isn't due to hit stores until Oct. 30, but he and his label are hoping the concerts will whet the appetites of his old fans and get the attention of new ones more familiar with Britney Spears, 'N Sync and The Backstreet Boys. And Thursday night, in a surprise appearance at MTV's Video Music Awards, he gave those fans a preview by dancing with 'N Sync at the end of their performance of their latest hit "Pop."
But the concerts are not just Jackson's tribute to himself. They're his attempt to begin reviving a legendary career that has been tarnished by scandal, sagging record sales and an obsession with the star's weirdness, among other things.
His ill-fated marriage to Lisa-Marie Presley and his almost ghoulish Thriller-like appearance from too much plastic surgery have made him an easy target for comedians, DJs and fans, making pop's "King" sometimes seem more like a clown prince. And that will make his comeback an uphill battle.
"It'll be a significant battle for him to get back in the game in a big way," said Alan Light, editor-in-chief of Spin magazine. "Of course, the curiosity is there. The hard part will be what his relationship will be with the younger fans he is trying to target. If you're 18 to 20 years old, the majority of your cognitive years is most familiar with the freak show whose music has been overshadowed by the allegations, the weirdness."
"He really must concentrate on getting people to focus on Michael Jackson the musician, the singer, the onstage performer, which is one thing people haven't talked about in years," Light said.
The Greatest Show — or Spectacle — on Earth
Then why raise eyebrows by having two tribute concerts — for yourself?
The concerts, which will be taped for a CBS TV special, will include a wide range of performances and guest appearances by celebrities who would not normally be found under the same roof together: Eminem, Marlon Brando, Shaquille O'Neal, Ray Charles, Dr. Dre, Gregory Peck, Snoop Dogg, Jane Russell, 'N Sync, Cassandra Wilson and Spears.
In both concerts, where tickets cost as much as $2,500, Jackson is set to give limited performances, one of which will reunite him with his brothers in The Jackson 5. Though the concerts are arguably designed to fuel momentum for Invincible, some argue they only attract attention to his eccentricities.
"I think these shows are so counterproductive," said Light. "The last thing you need is to remind people the way you used to be. … They [the concerts] don't do anything at all to help him."
The strategy behind the timing of the concerts is also questionable. Since Invincible will not be released until almost two months after the concerts, it will not fully capitalize on any momentum generated by the events. The television special is not scheduled for broadcast until November. And the teenage audience Jackson covets will either not be able to relate to guests like Brando or may not be in the audience because they didn't have an extra $1,000 to spare.