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Michael Jackson, Dangerous, and the Reinvention of Pop

As the traditional narrative has it, Michael Jackson’s Dangerous album represented the end of an era: the death of pop and the rise, in its wake, of grunge, alt-rock, and hip-hop. Most critics point to the moment Nirvana’s Nevermind knocked Dangerousout of the #1 spot on the Billboard Charts as the symbolic turning point. Within months, muted flannel had smothered all trace of ‘80s excess and flamboyance.

To read the entire article, visit PopMatters.

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Chris Kohler September 29, 2011, 6:14 am

    Joe – you’re starting to scare me, brother… I email you several days ago saying I had to go with Dangerous as my favorite Michael Jackson album (by a hair) and why that is… And next thing I know, you’ve got me on your magic carpet, on this fabulous trip through that awesome album and the musical times in which it was born. Take me away, flying friend!

    You had me at every line of this article, especially this paragraph: “If indeed it is considered a pop album, Dangerous redefined the parameters of pop. How else to explain an album that mixes R&B, funk, gospel, hip-hop, rock, industrial, and classical; an album that introduces one song (“Will You Be There”) with Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and another (“Dangerous”) with what sounds like the heart of a steel-city factory; an album that can alternately be paranoid, cryptic, sensual, vulnerable, idealistic, bleak, transcendent, and fearful? Even the album cover—an acrylic painting by pop surrealist Mark Ryden featuring a circus-like mask through which Jackson gazes back at his audience—signifies a new depth and awareness.”

    As usual, a Jackson embarrassment of riches. For sheer vocal beauty, “Remember The Time” cannot be topped. “In The Closet” (you take it apart masterfully!) never fails to leave a big silly grin on my face. When you say the music climaxes, you ain’t kiddin’! “Give In To Me” sulkily delivers the leftover testosterone from the closet; the two gospel-inspired numbers are indeed inspiring; “She Drives Me Wild” is just plain fun, juxtaposing sex and a fashion statement; “Gone Too Soon” is hard to listen to now. “Heal The World” and “Black Or White” are instantly recognizable superb anthem songs for this album and for his entire planetary career. “Jam” and “Why You Wanna Trip On Me” show a few cracks in the artist’s composure that presages for me the artistic seethe and simmer of “HIStory”. All the colors and all the temperatures are in this album.

    For a long time, “Will You Be There” remained my favorite track for the reasons you mentioned and especially the haunting orchestration. However I had an epiphany one night while listening to an extended remix of “Can’t Let Her Get Away” and realized it had to be The One because it represents all Jackson’s signature strengths: nifty intro, irresistibly complex rhythms, impressive vocal delivery, a unique MJ-style rap bridge wrapped in mellow jazzy orchestration, unexpected beatboxing, tight harmonic layers, riveting vocalese improv, and what you so aptly refer to as “confessional poetry”. If he could come back and sing me just one song, this would be it. (On an extended remix, it’s even better!)

    Finally the wondrous title track (some lyrics apparently from a psalm) that reminds me so strongly of a 1940s detective film where the flatfoot narrates the entrance of the bombshell heroine into his office for the first time. “She came at me in sections…” puts me right on the floor. The alternative version of “Dangerous” is as choice as its released brother, IMO.

    This kind of versatility can be dangerous to your musical complacency…

    In the team Jackson chose to produce this album, I think he really found his true voice, not that it ever remained static. But I hear it loudest here.
    It’s an irresistible mix of Riley-edgy and Jackson-smooth, in a deep snifter, warmed slightly by the hands. Thank you SO MUCH for this article.

    • TheresaB October 2, 2011, 2:15 am

      @Chris Kohler
      Some of the lyrics and certainly the tone of “Dangerous” are taken from the bible verse “For the lips of the adulterous woman drip honey,
      and her speech is smoother than oil;” Proverbs 5:3

      That song is really quite clever and the choreography is awesome. Too bad so many critics just don’t “get” Michael Jackson. I have a feeling that as an author who researches well, Joe Vogel “gets” Michael Jackson.

      • Chris Kohler October 4, 2011, 5:58 am

        Thanks for the correction, TheresaB! Proverbs, not psalm. I get it! 🙂

  • Bruce September 29, 2011, 2:21 pm

    Like his other post Thriller albums, Dangerous often gets brushed aside in spite of it spawning a number of hit singles and selling like hot cakes. This is the definitive MJ album for me. Like you so perfectly say in your piece, it has everything. Reviewers seemed to see the variety and think it was unfocused, but what I see is someone who can deftly manage these separate genres. It’s an astounding work. Thanks for shining a light on it at a time when MJ talk is about everything except his music.

  • TheresaB October 2, 2011, 2:06 am

    I did visit PopMatters to read the entire article and left this comment over there.

    “Thank you, Joe Vogel, for this great article on “Dangerous.” Of all Michael Jackson’s adult solo albums, “Dangerous” is my favorite if only by a little. This album, with an estimated 32 million in sales is the global #16 best selling album of all time. It debuted at #1 and sold 7 million in 2 months which takes nearly a year for today’s best artists. 9 singles were released with 4 in the top 10 and 8 reaching the top 30. There are so many people out there that think Michael didn’t do any great work after Thriller and that is just so wrong. I love the variety of sounds in this album that you mention above. It was as if all the pent up rythmn in Michael’s head just came busting out. It is also where he is more free to speak through his music about things he feels strongly about that affect us all. “In The Closet” is a true sexy standout. I have a remix version sent to me by a 20 year old female friend that emphasizes the more hidden vocal tracks that would make you blush and makes women more than blush. I love the messages in “Jam” that MJ spits out and I often quote the line “Live each day like its your last.” “Will You Be There” is my 3rd favorite MJ song of all time with its heartfelt universal message. I return to “Give Into Me” and “Who Is It” over and over again…both songs on repeat. This album covers so many genres and it never gets old for me. Sorry, I never saw the attraction of Nirvana and I agree with Smirkdirk below…white people and critics. Michael, in “Dangerous” is all grown up and the critics still wanted to put him in a 25 year old’s box. But, then Michael always had to work harder with the critics since he was mostly competing with himself anyway. ”

    I am so looking forward to your book “Man In The Music: The Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson.” I am happy also that you e-book on Earth Song will be published in hard copy. Thanks, again.