Friday, July 3, 2009

Media: Michael Jackson and Niche Media

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Generally speaking, on this blog I don't bother to express my opinion about topics if my opinion is well-represented in the so-called mainstream media or even elsewhere in the blogosphere or niche media--though in the later case I am more likely to link to that external coverage as many readers of this blog may have missed it. That's why I have avoided any comment on the death of Michael Jackson eight days ago, apparently of a heart attack at the age of 50--the level of coverage was almost nauseating and other people with far greater credentials than me had weighed in with pretty much everything I had to say.

Surprisingly, at least to me, the person I heard in many hours of Michael Jackson coverage who was most closely aligned with my views was the rapper Sir Mix-a-Lot, who appeared on the Dave Ross show on KIRO-FM out of Seattle a week ago today. During the interview, which can be heard at this link, "Mix" made points including the following:
  • Michael Jackson's death represented the death of pop music, in that he may have been the last great crossover superstar spanning and combining genres
  • Michael Jackson did not just transcend race, but transcended culture, bringing people all over the world together with his music, not just people of different races
  • Michael Jackson's death caused everyone from convicted violent felons to juvenile girls to cry
  • The Man in the Mirror was the quintessential Michael Jackson song
"Mix"'s first point was echoed over in the niche media at Scott Fybush's Northeast Radio Watch. In his weekly publication, Fybush pointed out that nearly the entire radio dial could do Michael Jackson tributes and not break their individual formats--and indeed even some that were arguably breaking format ran tributes anyway. The story was that big, and Jackson inspired that much emotion.

Yet, I fear that "Mix" was right that there are no more "pop" artists that have connected with the world the way Michael Jackson did--and extrapolating Fybush's point about hyper-niche programming of contemporary radio, it may not even be possible for another Michael Jackson to exist. Everyone is listening to just the music they are attracted to on their portable music players--and if they listen to the radio at all, they are most likely to tune to a station with an extremely well-defined format. Could a young Michael Jackson even get airplay today? It's not clear.

Whatever his flaws--and books will probably be written about them, both real and accused--Michael Jackson was fundamentally all about bringing everyone in the world together. It's a shame not only that the world has lost a media star with that perspective, but that it is entirely possible he will never have a successor.

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