Michael Jackson Album Covers
Designing a life on the front.
The king of pop, Michael Jackson, died yesterday of a heart attack. And the passing of such a larger-than-life icon inevitably draws the mind to consideration of loss not only as it applies to living, but to art, music, and our relationships with the things that define us.
I grew up on cassette tapes. They were the first form of music I ever bought. Almost. Right when I was first getting into to exploring my musical tastes, the music industry was on the cusp of transitioning away from vinyl. And the very first piece of music I ever bought, and the ONLY record I ever bought new, was Michael Jackson's Thriller.
I can still remember dancing in my parents' living room with the Thriller album cover as my dance partner, and thinking, as an eight-year old in the early eighties, that Michael Jackson was pretty much the coolest guy ever. At the time, his sense of style seemed to embody everything that was edgy and impeccable. And I can also remember the feeling of that lustrous, boxy record sleeve in my hands, and how, in some weird way, it also represented my coolness, and my ability to possess style.
Twenty-or-so years later, the album cover has gone into hiding. What music defines about me is now hidden on my iPod and my laptop. We no longer represent who we are by displaying our music collections with big, glossy artwork on sagging cinder block and chipboard shelves.
Until yesterday, Michael Jackson was also hidden away for a very long time. Sure, he had a big comeback planned, but I wonder how many of us actually believed that it was going to happen. Now, the outpouring of grief, love, and tributes around the world make me wish that we didn't have such a tendency, as human beings, to hide parts of ourselves away until it's too late.
The complete album covers of Michael Jackson's studio albums provide a revealing glimpse into the ultimate life lived in the spotlight. Design, fashion, and the development of identity under scrutiny are all on display here, as is the paradox that life, even under the microscope of the public eye, even reproduced infinitely in art, still manages to remain, in many ways, an impenetrable mystery.