Michael´s “Breaking News” Message: Why The Media Still Doesn´t Get It

by Raven-Allforlove

November 12, 2010

Yes, this is another post on Breaking News. But no, it’s not another post on the authenticity of the vocals, a subject that has already been exhaustively hashed out in my previous two posts on it. This is about the song and its message. And why I think that’s important. What with all the hoopla over the authenticity of the vocals, and debating how much of the track is actually his voice, I think we have lost sight of something else just as important-the fact that this song was written by him and thus is his creation. It is a message to the world that he felt strongly enough about in 2007 to put pen to paper.

One reason I felt compelled to write this was after having just come fresh from reading the review that appeared in The Washington Post. I will excerpt the relevent portion here:

The song is definitely not one of his best. It’s jarring, and it could have simply been tweaked too much by the record company into some sort of limbo-Jackson voice. “There have been scores of posthumous albums that have been overdubbed, cut and pasted, rearranged and reworked in various ways over the years,” Kyle VanHemert at Gizmodo points out.

The record company, however, told the BBC they have complete confidence that it’s Jackson’s voice.

Take a listen and let us know what you think. Did Sony make a mistake in releasing this song? Or is it just a mediocre Jackson tune?

Michael Jackson´s breaking news: New song fake or just bad?

As I was reading this, I was reminded of something Michael once said about being a child star. “They don’t want to let you grow up,” he said. It seems this has also been somewhat true of everything Michael has done in the latter half of his career, from HIStory on up to this latest, posthumous album. The critics have never quite been able to get past the young Michael they all fell in love with on Thriller to be able to allow themselves to fully understand or appreciate his more mature work. Granted, having listened to this song and a good many of the snippets from “Michael,” I doubt any of these songs are going to sit as warmly in our memories twenty and thirty years from now as Billie Jean, Beat It, Smooth Criminal, etc. But does that make them bad, or even mediocre songs? Or is it that some critics are simply closing their minds to the material, much as they have dismissed almost all of Michael’s 90's and 2000's era work.

After all, there was a good reason why HIStory made critics uncomfortable. They were used to Michael as a song-and-dance man; an entertainer. They didn’t quite know what to make of the angrier, darker material on HIStory. They didn’t know what to make of a Michael Jackson who cursed or who told profound truths about media persecution. Nor were they ready for the equally aggressive Blood On The Dance Floor and Invincible. A few hot grooves aside, these albums continued to probe Michael’s newfound themes of martyrdom at the hands of the tabloids, the media, his extortionists, and all those trying to bring him down. Throughout all of these latter albums ran the undercurring theme that, “You can try to break me, but you won’t succeed. I’ll always be back. I’ll always come back, stronger than ever.” The message was loud and clear. He could not be destroyed. He was invinicible. Unbreakable. These albums also probed the themes of duality, and how the world perceived him vs. who he really was. Through it all, he was always winking slightly as if to remind even his most devout fans and most determined critics: You don’t really know me.

It’s also not surprising that most critics didn’t know what to make of this Michael Jackson. His lyrics became a mirror held up their faces, and most winced at the ugliness in the reflection. It was easier to pan the songs and dismiss the artist as “paranoid and full of himself” rather than owning up to the truths the lyrics presented.

But even if we put aside the themes of Michael’s later work, we still have a problem with critics who simply don’t want to embrace any music of Michael’s that is post-1990. There seems an unspoken conspiracy to want to keep Michael Jackson in a bubble or a time capsule, where a good many of us remember him most fondly.

Well, there is something to be said for the window of time in which an artist remains relevent. The Rolling Stones, for example, have continued putting out new albums for years, despite the fact that their last truly great-and truly relevent-album was Exile On Main Street, in 1972. But obviously, the fans still love them, the money’s still green, and so they continue to rehash every riff they’ve ever done, and most likely will continue to do so for many more years.

But in the case of Michael Jackson, what we have is an artist who continued to evolve. An artist who perhaps became more relevant as time went on. And perhaps this is what makes some critics uncomfortable. They liked to believe they had Michael pigeonholed. Even now, with this latest release, you have pundits declaring what Michael would or would not have written; what Michael would or would not have sung. This, despite the fact that Michael himself has spent years, via his lyrics, telling us the equivalent of, “Don’t second guess me.”

Looking back on The Washington Post review, is it bad that Breaking News is “jarring?” And elsewhere in the review, when the reference is made to “bitterness” it then begs the question: Are critics willing to give this song-and album- a fair shake if the material “jars” them a little too much or, again, as with HIStory, if it forces them to acknowledge some uncomfortable truths? After all, it’s easy for the critics to love Michael Jackson when he’s crooning a beautiful love ballad or singing about “making a change” or performing a moonwalk step. It’s not quite as easy to love when he is turning the tables on them, and the media.

Musically speaking, Breaking News is not of the same caliber as Scream or Tabloid Junkie. I think those two will always stand as the epitome of Michael’s greatest rants against the media (and with Scream, he did manage to get begrudging respect from the critics-even they couldn’t resist its contagion). But Breaking News may stand as the ultimate testament of where Michael’s head was at in the new millenium, and as a biting statement on where he stood with the media in the wake of the 2005 trial.

(Note: These lyrics are based on my own listenings as well as consulting various lyric sites. As far as I can tell, this is a pretty accurate rendering of the lyrics though there may be a few discrepencies. However, it’s enough that we can definitely get the gist of its meaning):

Everybody wanting a piece of Michael Jackson
Reporters stalking the moves of Michael Jackson
Just when you thought he was done,
he comes to give it again
They can put around the world today
He wanna write my obituary

No matter what you just wanna read it again
No matter what you just wanna feed it again

Why is it strange that I would fall in love (fall in love)
Who is that boogie man you’re thinkin’ of (thinkin’ of)
Or am i crazy cause I just eloped
This is breaking news
This is breaking news

Everybody watching the news on* Michael Jackson
They wanna see that I fall cause I’m Michael Jackson
You write the words to destroy like it’s a weapon
You turned your back on the love and you can’t get it again

No matter what you just want to read it again
No matter what you just want to feel it again

Why is it strange that I would fall in love (fall in love)
Who is that boogie man you’re thinkin’ of (thinkin’ of)
Or am i crazy cause I just eloped
This is breaking news
This is breaking news
X 2

On the news today they say we’re crazy celebrity
And on the screen today we’re on display

Why is it strange that I would fall in love (fall in love)
Who is that boogie man you’re thinkin’ of (thinkin’ of)
Or am i crazy cause I just eloped
This is breaking news
This is breaking news
X 2

You’re breaking the news !

In the first verse, he announces what had already become a recurrent theme of his later years: “Just when you thought he was done/he comes to give it again.” Always, Michael was reminding us that no matter how many times he was kicked down, he would stand again-stronger than ever. He was telling us this message as early as 1997's 2 Bad: “I’m right back where I wanna be/I’m standing though you’re kicking me…” But in Breaking News, it’s a message that has even more bite and relevence now, as he is telling us that even from the grave, he is not done yet. “Just when you thought he was done,” he says, spitting to his critics and detractors, “he comes to give it again.”

Just as in Threatened, there are references to himself as a “boogeyman” which I think is also a reference to how he feels himself to be perceived by the media and the tabloids. “Who is the boogey man you’re thinking of” is a direct statement to those who can never be satiated by the salacious stories about him, as well as those who can’t stop writing them. Also, in the line “you just want to read it again” he seems to be referring to how we continue to consume the garbage, even against our better judgement. It’s the same human impulse that prevents us from looking away at an accident. Lyrically, it’s one of his most biting attacks not only on those who write the stories, but those who read them as well. Yet, in a subtle way, he is also acknowledging that it’s our fascination with him that keeps compelling us to want to “read” and “feed” it again. (Even now, look at all the buzz that has been generated by this song and album. It is our desperation to want to “feel it again” once more).

Of course, the line most critics have already pounced on is the chillingly prophetic line about writing his obituary. As some have already aptly pointed out, it seems that Michael was already predicting what would happen after his death. However, I don’t know that he was so much predicting his death (or the world’s reaction) as he was simply delivering another version of what he had basically been telling us since the mid 90's, which is that the media and his detractors would love to write his obituary and see him finished. It’s another statement of bravado in the same vein as Unbreakable and 2 Bad.

In the line “They wanna see that I fall cause I’m Michael Jackson” he is basically saying that it has become a power struggle. There are forces in place to see him fall for no reason except he is who he is- a too rich and too powerful black man in America. He is setting himself up as the tragic hero who, of course, will be toppled from grace. Like Othello surrounded by a thousand Iagos, he must fight to hold his position against cunning and manipulative evil.

The numerous references to having “fallen in love” and the question “why is it strange that I would fall in love” are interesting. They make me at least wonder if perhaps the seed of this song might not have been the tabloids and/or paps stalking him and someone he was with (perhaps a threat to expose one of his private relationships?). It’s an interesting theory, although there is no way to know for sure. Some of the lines seem to harken back to his marriage to Lisa Marie (“Or am I crazy cause I just eloped”) but I think, for the most part, we have to avoid the temptation to try to interpret these things too literally. However, the entire line “why is it strange that I would fall in love” is a loaded gun. He seems to be attacking many fronts at once, including the media’s refusal to accept him as a human being with human desires and emotions like the rest of us. “Why is it strange that I would fall in love” could just as easily be interpreted to mean “Why is it strange that I would want a family” or “Why is it strange that I would want kids” or “Why is strange that I should want all the same things-the same simple joys out of life-as you?” Certainly an understandable sentiment from someone whose every move in his personal life had been throughly analzyed and dissected by pundits who “assumed” they knew him and what he was about.

But perhaps the most intriguing and telling line of all is this one:

“You turned your back on the love and you can’t get it again.”

I think this is a direct statement to all those who turned their backs on him, and it carries a wide range, from those in the media to even fans who abandoned him after the allegations and all the bad press. He is saying that when he was giving love, we (the public/the critics/the media) didn’t accept it. And now that he has become angrier, and harder, and no longer the same song-and-dance man who gave us so much joy, we realize what we miss. But we cannot put him back into that box because it no longer fits. You can’t “get it again,” he seems to be saying, because he’s not that same person he was then. Love, once rejected, undergoes a sea change. It is never the same once it’s been tarnished.

And in another way that is chillingly prophetic, it speaks from the grave to the minions of hypocrites-the false friends, the fair weather fans, and journalists speaking out both sides of their mouths, all of whom only came back on board because it was suddenly the “in” thing to love Michael Jackson again. But here he makes his stand clear: “You turned your back on the love and you can’t get it again.”

Of course, the critics and the media will recognize the message. But don’t be surprised if most refuse to give it credence. After all, the media invested years in making Michael Jackson its victim. The last thing they want to acknowledge is that, more than a year after his death, he just may have succeeded in having the last word, after all.

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