- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 14, 2005


Michael Jackson’s career has been declared dead before. When his success as a wunderkind fronting the Jackson 5 was waning, some doubted whether he could make it as an adult star — and were proved wrong.

When he had hits again with his brothers as part of the Jacksons, others questioned whether he could become a solo success — and they were wrong.

After he became one of the most popular entertainers in history — and saw his image tarnished by a 1993 accusation of child molestation — many doubted that Mr. Jackson would have a No. 1 hit again. But he did.

Still, after being charged with molesting a young cancer patient and a seamy, graphic trial featuring an avalanche of pornography and accusations of sex with boys, can Mr. Jackson’s career withstand this latest blow, even with Monday’s acquittal on all counts?

Industry analysts say the answer is: Of course.

“He can have success,” said Antonio “L.A.” Reid, chairman and chief executive officer of the Island Def Jam label. “I would say that he has to just make great music and concentrate on nothing else but making great music and making great live performances.”

The public hasn’t concentrated on Mr. Jackson as a musical figure for a long time. His latest album, a greatest hits project, was released the day of his arrest on child molestation charges in 2003. For the past year and a half, news around Mr. Jackson has centered on accusations of sex with children, giving them alcohol, and other questionable behavior at Neverland Ranch.

“People have been fascinated with Michael as a celebrity,” says Jack Isquith, head of label relations at AOL Music, which premieres the latest videos, concerts and singles by the nation’s top pop acts.

“He has declined in terms of his record sales and his musical standing. … There’s no question that Michael has been perceived on the wane,” Mr. Isquith said. “[But] if Michael Jackson were to play the Apollo and it was monumentally brilliant … I think that would really register a lot of focus on Michael as a musical [figure].”

Las Vegas might be a venue for him to make that great live performance. Yesterday, Jack Wishna, who has a minority interest in Trump’s New Frontier Hotel and Casino, said he had been in talks with Mr. Jackson before the trial to perform on the Strip, and hopes to continue those negotiations.

“I am still interested in bringing his talents to Las Vegas,” Mr. Wishna said.

Even before the trial, Mr. Jackson’s musical career had taken a back seat to his increasingly bizarre behavior — from extensive plastic surgery to holding his infant son over a balcony. His career was seriously damaged by the 1993 child molestation accusation.

That case disappeared when Mr. Jackson paid a multimillion-dollar settlement while maintaining his innocence, and no criminal charges were filed. Since then, Mr. Jackson has released just two albums that have sold about 2 million copies each — great numbers for most artists, but considered a flop given Mr. Jackson’s previous stellar sales.

Still, he had retained his star power. A 2001 concert paying tribute to his 30 years in music featured a who’s who of celebrities and legends, including Destiny’s Child, Marlon Brando, Liza Minnelli, Whitney Houston, ‘N Sync, Britney Spears and Elizabeth Taylor.

“To sell 2 million records says a lot,” Mr. Reid noted. “By the way, I’m not sure how many records Madonna sold, but I don’t think it’s very much more than that, probably about that.”

Actually, it was less. Madonna’s 2003 album, “American Life,” struggled to reach 1 million in sales.

Yet, there is a considerable “ick” factor when it comes to Michael Jackson. Though acquitted of child molestation, most people have been repulsed by his admission to sleeping in the same bed with children, even if it was nonsexual. He also carries plenty of baggage given his eccentric behavior over the years and plastic surgery that has reduced him to a disturbing visual image.

But negative publicity, no matter how unseemly, doesn’t necessarily mean the end of a career anymore.

Take R&B; singer-songwriter R. Kelly. In 2002, videotapes circulated showing a man bearing a striking resemblance to Mr. Kelly having sex with what appeared to be an underage girl. Later that year, he was charged with child pornography, and pundits declared his career over.

A year later, he released the critically acclaimed “Chocolate Factory,” which debuted at the top of the charts. Since then, he has released two other platinum projects, and worked with several top acts, including Britney Spears and Jay-Z.

Disc jockey Paul Cubby Bryant, of New York City pop radio station Z100, said that if Mr. Jackson released new music, he would let the audience decide its fate. “I think we would test the waters, and play it and see what the reaction was,” Mr. Bryant said.

Of course, Mr. Jackson faces plenty of challenges in making a comeback. First, he doesn’t have a label home. His commitment to Sony Music is just about over, and given the acrimony of that relationship in recent years, he likely won’t be recording a new album for them.

But Mr. Reid has said he would sign him, and Mr. Jackson already has at least one top producer willing to work with him.

“I would do records on Michael Jackson,” multiplatinum artist Missy Elliott said in an interview with the Associated Press. “Michael Jackson, he went through his thing where I think he was the biggest I think he could ever be. Of course, I don’t think it would come back to that, but you’ve got a lot of people out there who respect and love Michael, like loyal fans.”

One pundit said his criminal case has been a career boost, and predicted a public rehabilitation of his reputation, a la Martha Stewart.

“I think that his acquittal will be enormously helpful to his career. Now he has the David and Goliath [parallel] on his side,” said Paul Levinson, chairman of media and communications at Fordham University. “He stood up to the government. … He proved almost all the pundits wrong.”

As far as refurbishing his tarnished image? Mr. Reid said that should be the last of Mr. Jackson’s worries. “That’s how he got in trouble, by changing his image. … Let the music do the talking, leave the rest of it alone.”

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