How Michael Jackson Transformed the American Music Industry and Culture - Research Paper

Published: 2023-01-29
How Michael Jackson Transformed the American Music Industry and Culture - Research Paper
Type of paper:  Research paper
Categories:  Music
Pages: 6
Wordcount: 1498 words
13 min read


Over the years, American culture has shaped and influenced the world in a great way. This led to the emergence of the concept of Americanization. Though different avenues are used to spread American culture, music arguably played the most significant role. This was successful because the American music industry is the largest in the world. Just like all other big industries, the music industry boasts giants whose influence spread beyond the American borders and is felt throughout the world. Icons who transform the industry and impact on the culture of the country and the planet in such a big way that their influence lives on even after they have departed. Michael Jackson is such an icon. He challenged racial boundaries, set incredible records, and completely revolutionized the music industry. Though the world lost this legend in 2009, his influence lives on through his revolutionary work. His album, Thriller, completely revolutionized the music industry and had a huge cultural impact.

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Michael Jackson the King of Pop

His was a natural talent. He started singing at an early age, and when disco arrived, he started leading his brothers through hits such as Shake Your Body and Dancing Machine. However, it is his partnership with Quincy Jones in 1978 that revealed his huge capabilities. Their first album had four songs on the Top 10 hits. By 1980, his success had outgrown that of the band. The release of his album, Thriller, in 1983 greatly increased his popularity around the world. The album has 33 Platinum certifications. He became popularly known as the king of pop in the world of music. Looking at the accolades he garnered during and even after his life, the title suits him. At the time he passed on in 2009, he had 372 recognized awards, making him the most awarded artist in history. The Diamond, Platinum, and Gold Certifications are not included in the number. He was named the biggest selling artist in history in 2000, having sold more than 380 million records. At 110 million copies sold, Thriller is the most sold single in history. Michael Jackson's 1993 Super Bowl half time show attracted an audience of 133.4 million people, a record that is yet to be broken. The list of the records he broke and set goes on and on. However, it is in his transformation of the music industry and effect on American culture that his real influence lies.

Transformation of the Music Industry

The album, Thriller, transformed the way new releases were produced and promoted in the industry. At the time of its release, it was the most expensive music video in history. His immense creativity led to the improvement of the infrastructure used to produce and promote music. Normally, albums released by African-Americans were marketed to exclusively black audiences. However, Jackson challenged this. Epic, his record label, advertised Thriller to all audiences. This completely changed the way African-Americans promoted their music. Following the release of the album, the presence of African-Americans in the industry started being felt more. For instance, they were featured more prominently on MTV. Thriller and Billie Jean were the very first videos by a colored artist to air on MTV. Though he faced resistance at first, his success paved the way for other African-Americans such as Whitney Houston and Prince.

The incorporation of music with visuals in the album was a ground-breaking move. It opened the door for R&B music videos. The technique also opened a market for commercial videos. The blend of dance, movement, image, and video made MTV preferred over radio. His music also transcended genres. His tune was a blend of jazz, disco, rock, and pop. By doing this, he gave other artists the courage and freedom to explore different genres. He also helped reduce the polarization that had existed in the industry for years. For instance, pop stars and rock stars would never collaborate. His collaboration with artists from other genres such as Paul McCartney and Eddie Van Halen broke down these barriers. His 1984 mega-tour opened a whole new world both for artists and fans.

The millions of fans who watched him moonwalk to Billie Jean became more receptive of artists who incorporated wilder rhythms and dance moves to their music. This opened the door for performers such as Prince and Madonna. Before Jackson introduced the dance moves in music, only British dance music was played on MTV. Following the groundbreaking album, the channel became more receptive of other genres of music such as hip-hop and rap. He is considered to be the greatest performer in history. His lyrics, dance moves, and movie-like music videos raised the bar for other artists in the industry. It can, therefore, be said that he changed the course of music and the industry.

Impact on American Culture

Racism has been a divisive and contentious issue throughout the history of this country. While some artists choose to avoid the issue, Michael Jackson being the revolutionary that he was, chose to address it. His lyrics challenged the long-held perceptions of how colored Americans ought to behave and be seen. He is seen breaking various cultural taboos in his works. For instance, Billie Jean depicted him as everybody's admiration. Human Nature revealed a sexual side while Bad showed him as a rule-breaker. None of these was the norm at the time. Therefore, Jackson comes across as a man who was not afraid to challenge the established norms. The music video of Thriller was a metaphor of racism and the contradicting emotions towards African-Americans in the country at that time. In the video, Jackson transforms from a handsome young man to a beast. The conflicting emotions of the whites towards the blacks are also captured in the video. The Girl Is Mine, the album's first single featuring Paul McCartney is an easygoing song with immense cultural significance. By showcasing men from different races pledging their love to the lady, the song alludes to interracial affairs, which were not common at the time.

Fashion is considered an essential aspect of people's culture. Michael Jackson influenced the fashion of his audience in a big way. Touches of the eccentric style he loved are still influential in the music industry today. Different facets of his iconic style have also been adopted by several artists such as Kanye West and Justin Bieber. Michael Jackson was also the first artist to own a clothing line and venture into other entrepreneurial activities. This example has been followed by other artists such as Rihanna, Beyonce, and Jennifer Lopez.

Michael Jackson's influence was not only felt domestically but also on the international stage. Through his music and dance moves, he helped create a global culture. His fame and influence spread even to places untouched by Western influence. A sense of connection, resembling that created by digital connectivity today, was formed between these places and the rest of the world. The people in these places bought the American identity sold through the lyrics and music videos hence promoting Americanization. The inspirational songs he sang on racism, charity, environment, equal rights, corruption, and other noble causes set an example that has been followed by other celebrities who use their fame and money to champion for various causes.


Michael Jackson rightfully earned the title, 'king of Pop.' His exploits in the music industry did not only transform it but also significantly impacted on the culture of the country and the world at large. He reached levels of success not reached by an African-American before hence setting the bar higher for colored artists. He also helped break the color barrier at MTV, which in turn aided the growth of careers of various colored artists. The incorporation of visuals in Thriller completely transformed the production and promotion of music in the industry. Thriller also addressed various cultural and ethical issues in the society such as racism and interracial affairs. Most importantly, the legend used his fame and status to champion for various social causes. This spread his fame worldwide, and the American culture was sold to the world in the process.


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Wilburn, Aly. 2018. "The King of Pop: How Michael Jackson Revolutionized the Music Industry." Medium Corporation. May 1. Accessed July 22, 2019.

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