Today, August 29, would have marked Michael Jackson’s 58th birthday. He passed away just two months before he would’ve turned 51. Usually, birthdays are for giving gifts, but today, we’re going to take a closer look at the last gift Michael Jackson was going to give to the world: This Is It.
This Is It was going to be Michael Jackson’s final curtain call, his last set of concerts ever. Instead, it ended up being a documentary about the rehearsals leading up to planned concerts, only to be cut short by his untimely death. But it was more than just that; it was proof that he still had his genius touch and, like most of his work, was going to make something revolutionary that turned the world on its head.
Pushing Through Hardship
There’s some behind-the-scenes information that you should know first to fully appreciate This Is It. During rehearsals, Michael was facing health issues and stress that led to insomnia, something he’d been dealing with since the ’90s. His physician, Conrad Murray, was giving him drugs on a nightly basis to help put him to sleep, or at least feel like he got a full night’s sleep the next day. As a result, however, he ended up not getting any real REM sleep for about 60 days – an unofficial world record.
The amazing part is that if you watch the movie, you can’t necessarily tell Michael was sleep-deprived. Granted, it’s edited to show his healthier moments, but if you consider that those moments mostly occurred during those 60 days, it’s even more astounding to think what the rehearsals could have been like had he been at full health.
Performing Fan Favorites
At the heart of This Is It, of course, is the music. When announcing the concerts, Michael made it clear that he was going to be “performing to the songs [his] fans wanna hear.” He was torn while making the setlist since there were so many fan favorites he wanted to include but had to cut. Yet, from the movie, it’s easy to tell that he did an apt job of making sure he got all of his classics in while still putting a fresh, updated twist on them.
The film itself is rich with behind-the-scenes looks at what goes into rehearsing his songs. Highlights included everything from making sure certain beats “simmer” to seeing the dancers perfect their moves down to a T. The epic drill and dance sequences for “They Don’t Care About Us,” and Jackson working with musical director, Michael Bearden, to get the sound right for “The Way You Make Me Feel,” were particularly memorable. Michael jokingly singing “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” in Spanish to director Kenny Ortega before rehearsing the actual song with Judith Hill was also a beautiful moment.
There is, of course, the ever-present energy and perfectionism that only Michael could bring (like when the dancers cheer him on when he rehearses “Billie Jean“). However, the film certainly has a relaxed, lighthearted atmosphere that lets fans see a more personal side of him.
One chilling aspect to note, however, is that This Is It does include the last two songs Michael ever performed – “Thriller” and “Earth Song.” They were performed late on the night of June 24, 2009, and feature him wearing a black-and-red jacket. Those who were there said that Michael was really on point with his performances, that the show was finally coming together, and that he was in really good spirits afterward. As a fan, it’s both eerie and yet an honor to get to watch those songs with this knowledge.
Beyond the music, the This Is It concerts were going to revolutionize the concert experience. Michael’s crew was having new technologies developed just for him. The show was going to open with a “Light Man” that played glimpses of historical moments before it opened up to reveal Michael himself. And if you thought “Billie Jean” was electrifying before, imagine how much more it would be with lighted elements in the outfit and glove. On top of that, the costumers were also working with other people, including scientists and Swarovski, to create an array of dazzling costumes.
The most prominent technological feature, however, was going to be the implementation of 3D videos for the jumbotron screen set up behind the stage. We even get to see some of them being shot in the film, which is fun to watch. Songs like “Thriller” and “Smooth Criminal” all got their own stunning supplemental videos, providing a nice, modern touch to the original short films. Michael was set to give fans a completely innovate experience that went beyond his already legendary music.
An Important Message
Like with all of his previous tours, Michael’s main goal was to deliver a message to the world with these concerts. The first part of the message was to put “love back into the world [and] to love each other.” The second part was that we need to “take care of the planet” before the damage we’ve done is irreversible.
“Earth Song,” in particular, was going to be a very strong performance. Its video was an updated version of the original 1995 music video, but instead features a young girl in a thriving forest paradise that falls asleep, only to wake up and find the world destroyed. As she tries to save the last surviving plant, she comes face-to-face with a bulldozer. It’s a powerful video, and it’s very fitting that “Earth Song” was the last song Michael Jackson ever performed – he literally left the world with a message he held near and dear to his heart.
It would have been amazing if Michael had gotten to do at least one This Is It concert before he passed on. Even so, fans everywhere are grateful for the gift of the film. It’s pure magic and genius, and a true testament to how the King of Pop was getting ready to wow the world in a way only he could.
Happy Birthday, Michael Jackson.