Michael Jackson: What made the iconic star so special and could he ever be replaced as the 'King of Pop'?

While modern metrics use streams, sales, and charts to determine what takes an act to global icon status, Jackson's legacy is built on far more than just numbers


                            Michael Jackson: What made the iconic star so special and could he ever be replaced as the 'King of Pop'?
Michael Jackson (Getty Images)

Michael Jackson would have turned 62 on August 29, 2020, but sadly, the world lost one of its greatest performers when the singer died of an acute propofol and benzodiazepine intoxication-induced cardiac arrest in 2009 at the age of 50. Over a decade later, no other artiste has managed to establish a legacy quite as influential as Jackson, who remains the most awarded artiste in the history of popular music. By that metric, it shouldn't be too difficult to figure out which contemporary artistes are in the running to be the next 'King of Pop'. One would simply need to tally up his awards and estimated worth to figure out who among the current crop of musical acts could rival Jackson. Yet, there's more to Jackson's stardom than numbers alone, and that, perhaps, is why no one could ever truly replace him.

When it comes to figures, Jackson's estimated net worth is over $500 million. As of this year, Beyoncé's net worth is reportedly $400 million, which according to Forbes makes her America's richest self-made woman and therefore puts her well on the path to rivaling Jackson's worth." She has often drawn comparisons to Jackson owing to the legacy she has already built, yet if numbers are what we're going by, she isn't the richest or the most awarded. Gloria Estefan, Dolly Parton, Julio Iglesias, and Celine Dion are reportedly worth $500 million, $500 million, $600 million, and $800 million respectively, and Madonna tops the list of richest singers with an estimated worth of $850 million. Had Jackson lived on, he would probably be among these names, if not worth even more.

31 Jan 1993: Singer Michael Jackson performs during halftime at Super Bowl XXVII between the Dallas Cowboys and the Buffalo Bills at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. The Cowboys won the game, 52-17 (Getty Images)

Yet none of these artistes tend to draw comparisons to Jackson when it comes to leaving a legacy behind worthy of the title of 'King of Pop', except for Madonna that is, who carries the title of 'Queen of Pop' already and is possibly the only living artiste that can rival Jackson, at least where wealth is concerned. But she doesn't appear to match up if awards were the deciding factor, seeing as she has won 7 of her 28 Grammy nominations, placing her far behind other artistes like Beyoncé, who has won a total of 24 Grammy Awards and been nominated for a total of 70, making her the most nominated woman and the second-most awarded woman in Grammy history. Jackson himself has 13 Grammy Awards, including the Grammy Legend Award and Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, 6 Brit Awards, 5 Billboard Music Awards, and 24 American Music Awards. He additionally holds 12 Guinness World Records. Despite having long since broken Jackson's record, this still does not make Beyoncé the next in line for his throne. If net worth and awards aren't the answer, then what do we look to next?

Beyonce Knowles and singer Michael Jackson, winner of the 2003 Humanitarian Award, hug onstage at The 2003 Radio Music Awards at the Aladdin Casino Resort October 27, 2003 in Las Vegas, Neveda. For more information on Jackson's humanitarian efforts, go to musicforgiving.org (Getty Images)

The current era is dominated by streaming figures to determine how popular an artiste is. Jackson's era, however, looked to album sales and chart positions as the most important factors for determining an artiste's global pull. Jackson previously stood at number seven on the list of best-selling artistes according to various sources, but in recent years has climbed to number three with over 250 million records sold, placing him behind The Beatles and Elvis Presley. Madonna and Rihanna also made this list at numbers five and seven respectively. Despite the perception that the documentary 'Finding Neverland' would destroy the late singer's career, Jackon's streaming figures reportedly went up by about 50% in 2019, with the singer logging approximately 1.8 billion streams across digital platforms. However, that still puts him far behind other artistes on the list of most-streamed, which currently has Drake at number one with 23 billion streams, followed by Ed Sheeran, The Weeknd, Rihanna, Eminem, Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber, Coldplay, Post Malone, and Kanye West who clocks in at 9.82 billion streams. Yet most would agree that had Jackson lived on, he would probably dominate these platforms too. So if numbers are not the metric, what exactly is it that made Jackson the one true 'King of Pop'?

Popular American musician Michael Jackson (1958 - 2009) stands in a graffiti-filled subway car during the filming of the long-form music video for his song 'Bad,' directed by Martin Scorsese, New York, New York, November 1986 (Getty Images)

Jackson's legacy is often distorted by the real-life struggles that plagued him. From accusations of predatory behavior to his abuse of prescription medication to his zany antics, his penchant for grandeur, and his alleged plastic surgeries, it's easy to see why both his peers and the public viewed him as an eccentric, to say the least. But despite all of this, Jackson is still regarded as one of, if not the greatest, musical artiste of all time. And very little of that has to do with his sales or streams. From the time he hit the scene as a young Black boy that fronted the Jackson 5 in the early '60s to his peak in the '80s all the way up until his death, what Jackson did accomplish was being a game-changer. He was hardly someone that banked on the popularity of existing styles. Instead, he went on to create and define what was popular. To put it more plainly, Jackson did not follow trends, they followed him. He drew inspiration from his fellow Black creators and then perfected his art, popularizing dances like the moonwalk and ultimately creating a dance style that continues to be mimicked by artistes globally. He built a style of music that was uniquely his own, injected with the defining vocal sounds that are inseparable from his name. He set fashion trends going as far back as the '70s with his fringed shirts, tailored scarves, bell-bottom pants, and classic shoes, and later with his bedazzled jackets and one-hand gloves. And he created a persona so popular and instantly recognizable, that even his silhouette is enough to draw a crowd. For all Jackson's monetary worth and recorded achievements, what really made him an icon was how he changed the global music, dance, film, and fashion industries and by extension impacted the generations that followed immensely.

So while there exist many contemporary artistes that continue to build extremely influential careers and break records Jackson set, including American artistes like Beyoncé, Grande, Bieber, Taylor Swift, Drake, Sheeran, and more, and global artistes like BTS and Blackpink, no one could ever really replace Jackson. Because even if they surpass the 'King of Pop's many accomplishments, build a net worth much larger than his, and sell out more stadiums to larger crowds, and even if they repeatedly beat him at the streaming game, no one will ever have quite the same effect on the world as Jackson did. 

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