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Is the King of Pop Dead?

Aired November 28, 2003 - 12:13   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Sales figures are in today. And Michael Jackson's new album, "Number Ones," isn't No. 1 on "Billboard"'s Top 200. In fact it debuted at No. 13. The CD went on sale the same day the world learned of new child molestation charges against Michael Jackson.
Is his reign as the King of Pop over? To talk about it Shirley Halperin, music editor of "US" magazine and Carla Hay, a senior writer at "Billboard" magazine who's actually stuck in traffic. Hopefully Carla will pop in when she gets out of that long line of traffic she's stuck in.

But, Shirley, we're glad to have you.


COSTELLO: I'll ask you about the top ten. I don't know much about the music industry, but if his CD debuted at 13, that doesn't sound so bad in light of these allegations about Michael Jackson.

HALPERIN: It's not bad, it's just a weak performance for a superstar of his caliber. The fact he wasn't able to break the top ten really says a lot about, you know, basically how his career has dwindled over the last five, 10 year. It's really a testament to that.

It's not so much about the numbers, it's about stature. And he wasn't in the top ten. In fact you can even say, you know, he was dethroned by a new Queen of Pop, Britney Spears, you know?

COSTELLO: Oh, please, why did you have to mention that?

HALPERIN: Well, he proclaimed himself the King of Pop and she really has taken over that, you know. And it's something -- you know, it's really something that he's been dealing with for the last few years, which is trying to be relevant in a time of pop music that is just not his style and he doesn't have it...


COSTELLO: ... these allegations have nothing to do with this then? "The New York Times" described him as 45, pale, frail, looking a lot like Joan Crawford. I don't think many kids finds out there will be finding him cool.

HALPERIN: That's true. There aren't many 14, 15, 16-year-old kids who are thought of as cool if they like Michael Jackson. And this is a greatest hits CD, which also tends to affect sales. Greatest hits CDs don't always sell as well as studio albums. But still, the numbers are just so small, 120,000 copies is really nothing in today's music business. If that were any other artist, he would be dropped almost immediately.

COSTELLO: I understand Carla Hay has made it through traffic. She's a senior writer at "Billboard" magazine. Carla, thanks you for joining us. You're in the dark, but we'll get you in the light in a little bit. Do we have her in the light? There you are, Carla. Can you hear me?


COSTELLO: OK, let's talk about Michael Jackson's CD debut. Shirley has been saying that debuting at 13 ain't so hot.

HAY: Well, No. 13 for Michael Jackson is not really that great considering that in the past, his last several albums have debuted at No. 1 on the "Billboard" 200 Album Chart.

Also, the first week sales for his latest album, "Number Ones" reached a little over 120,000 copies, which is only about 30 percent of the first week sales for his previous greatest hits album, which was "HIStory," in 1995.

Clearly, there's a big drop-off in sales for Michael Jackson. It's hard to say if he would have sold less if there wasn't a lot of media attention regarding the child molestation scandal. But we really can't...

COSTELLO: Carla, let me ask this. Radio stations aren't playing his music. MTV isn't exactly saturating its air waves with Michael Jackson videos. Doesn't that matter, too in album sales?

HAY: It can, to a certain extent. But there are some artists who aren't necessarily huge at MTV or radio who still do well. Rod Stewart is a great example. His latest album debuted in the top ten. Neil Young, Jimmy Buffet, Barbara Streisand, Neil Diamond. There are a lot of veterans who do well in terms sales without the help of radio air play and MTV.

COSTELLO: I wanted to ask Shirley about R. Kelly. Because there are sexual allegations against that artist, too. He remains one of the highest selling artists of our time, right?

HALPERIN: Yes. It just goes to show if you make good music, people will buy your records.

Michael Jackson, you know, it's definitely up for debate whether the music he's made in the last six, seven, eight, ten years is palatable to a mainstream audience. And basically, it's not.

R. Kelly, ironically, wrote the song "One More Chance" for Michael Jackson. And R. Kelly's last record, which came out right after his sexual indiscretions, allegations of sexual indiscretions... COSTELLO: Which were pretty darn serious. It involved a 14- year-old girl, he allegedly had sex with this girl on videotape, he urinated on her, these are serious allegations too.

HALPERIN: Very serious. His record came out and sold 535,000 copies in its first week. So, you know, the scandals -- they definitely hurt sales. On the other hand if you make good music, people will listen. They will buy your album, regardless.

COSTELLO: Carla, do you agree with that? Michael Jackson's music might be just a little old-fashioned for modern times?

HALPERIN: Well, think we saw it, from his previous studio album released in 2001, it was called "Invincible." That fell short of expectations in terms of sales. It was well documented that Michael Jackson went on the record saying he felt his record company did not do a very good job of promoting that particular album.

COSTELLO: Definitely so.

Shirley, on that note, a lot of younger pop stars like Justin Timberlake said they idolized Michael Jackson, but where are they at this moment, defending him against these allegations?

HALPERIN: Well, a lot of them have been defending him. Britney Spears has certainly defend him. I don't know if Justin Timberlake has yet. There's no doubt he's a major influence on today's R&B and pop stars.

I mean, he really -- he's a major moment in musical history. And he's really defined a certain sound that's become associated with him.

But, again, his sort of, you know, wacky demeanor and all of this stuff that's come with his public persona over the last few years has taken the emphasis away from his music. It's almost like people forget that he was the originator of that sound that Justin Timberlake has ended up selling 3 million copies because of it.

COSTELLO: Certainly people of our generation has not forgotten.

One last question for Carla. Where does Michael Jackson go from here?

HAY: Well, first of all, his primary concern should be dealing with this, you know, latest scandal and dealing with the serious charges against him. I think that his music career is on hold indefinitely. He probably won't be touring for a while until, you know this trial is over.

And I think from here he really needs to do a lot of damage control. He does have a lot of fans who support him. However, it's questionable whether or not that will translate to record sales or concert tours in the future. He need to do a lot of damage control.

COSTELLO: Carla Hay, senior writer at "Billboard" magazine, Shirley Halperin, and the music editor from "US" magazine, thank you for joining us.

HALPERIN: Thank you.

HAY: Thank you.


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