It was announced this week that eight previously unreleased songs by late pop megastar Michael Jackson songs will comprise a “new” Jackson album to be released in May. According to the label that controls his music, Epic Records, Jackson’s music has been “contemporized” by several producers who Epic chairman L.A. Reid felt were able to exhibit the “gravitas, depth and range to creatively engage with Jackson’s work.”
The project, dubbed Xscape,, will be made available for pre-order on iTunes starting Tuesday and in stores globally on May 13.
As fans of the pop icon are undoubtedly ecstatic for the prospect of new material, it also has to be acknowledged how exploitative the release of posthumous Jackson music seems.
Of course, posthumous releases aren’t a phenomenon exclusive to the King of Pop. Jimi Hendrix, Tupac Shakur, John Lennon, Otis Redding and countless other gone-too-soon pop stars have seen their vaults pillaged for profit. Because, for all of the talk of “legacy” and wanting the fans to hear more from their favorite artist; one shouldn’t be oblivious to the fact that this is a major cash-grab for record labels and the families of the deceased.
Jackson died at 50 on June 25, 2009, while preparing for his “This Is It” comeback tour. At the time, “MJ” hadn’t released an official studio album since 2001s Invincible.
Now, since Michael Jackson’s brand has skyrocketed even higher since his passing, Sony/Epic is back in the Jackson business. The posthumous odds-and-ends album Michael was released in 2010, to a mixed reception from fans and critics. In 2011, the remix album Immortal appeared. It also received mixed reviews.
So the label that seemed to treat it’s aging star like an afterthought in 2001, now is operating under the guise that it wants to preserve Jackson’s visionary legacy by releasing more “new” material.
“Michael left behind some musical performances that we take great pride in presenting through the vision of music producers that he either worked directly with or expressed strong desire to work with,” Reid says in the label statement. Epic’s parent company, Sony, famously feuded with Jackson during the promotion of Invincible. Jackson accused the label of under-promoting the album following a contractual dispute. Where was Sony’s “pride in presenting” MJ’s latter-day material before he died? Did they promote Invincible with the same fervor as they are promoting Xscape?
The release of posthumous albums sometimes feels reverential, but more often that not, it’s exploitative. And Michael Jackson, given his late-career label issues, massive popularity and abundance of unreleased material, stands to become one of the most exploited dead stars of our time. It’s too bad label executives didn’t see more merit in his material before his final, fatal encounter with Dr. Conrad Murray’s needle.
The Epic press release included a quote from Jackson estate co-executors John Branca and John McClain voicing their support for the new album. “Michael was always on the cutting edge and was constantly reaching out to new producers, looking for new sounds. He was always relevant and current. These tracks, in many ways, capture that spirit. We thank L.A. Reid for his vision.”
Is this release an example of L.A. Reid’s “vision,” or just his business savvy?