“We had the feeling that when people saw the true side of Michael, they would fall in love with him all over again,” Branca continues. “The public would see Michael as an artist, a perfectionist; a man who insisted on getting his way, but who did it with great charm. And most of all with great talent.”
Demand for that talent has never been higher, although some reluctant fans took their time embracing him again. “It sucks that people decided after he was dead to stop with all the bullshit about him being a pedophile and all that other silly stuff,” says platinum singer-songwriter Ne-Yo, who was recruited by Jackson to write songs for his unreleased comeback album. The much anticipated set, reportedly due out by the end of the year, features production by The Black Eyed Peas front man will.i.am, Lady Gaga collaborator and R&B singer Akon, New Jack Swing architect Teddy Riley, and the artist himself. “If a Michael Jackson album were to come out today, it would crush everything,” says Ne-Yo.
But few could grasp the relentless, even obsessive lengths Michael would go to establish and later resurrect his history-making career. “You are talking about someone who used to write on his mirror, ‘I will sell 30 million records,’” says Tito Jackson, guitarist for the legendary Jackson 5, by telephone from his California home. “We thought he was crazy,” says Michael’s big brother with a laugh. “This boy is putting up 30 million when most people would be happy with selling 5 million albums. He reached way higher than any normal goal.”
Composer David Michael Frank was equally impressed with the power of Jackson’s conviction. The Baltimore native planned to collaborate on an unfinished classical album with Jackson just months before his death. In late April 2009, Frank was invited to the singer’s Holmby Hills home to discuss the compositions. Michael revealed his plans for additional projects to Frank that evening: a tour and the album of pop music.
“He played me some pieces and we talked about the orchestration,” Frank says. “They were very simple, pretty and childlike.”
LYING ON THE floor of Las Vegas’s The Palms Studio, Michael Jackson was meticulously dissecting the sounds emanating from the monitors. It was early 2008 and he was in a fight to save his career. A year earlier, he’d asked producer will.i.am to fly out to Ireland to work on new music for a projected comeback album. Will found the prospect more than a little intriguing. “Michael’s people wanted to pay for my plane ticket to Ireland and asked me how much money I wanted,” he says. “And I’m like, ‘I don’t want any money. I’ll pay for my own plane ticket.’ I didn’t want to be one of those producers that took advantage of Michael Jackson and his money. He was emotional, so vulnerable. He had been taken advantage of by so many people in the past.”
Speculation about Jackson’s return to pop music had been the subject of exhaustive debate throughout the music industry. Michael had spent his previous 20 years as a pop culture pinata. The press never seemed to tire of printing disparaging headlines or grotesque photographs of his latest cosmetic surgeries. But the media’s tone hardened significantly after the second sexual molestation scandal involving a young boy.
No matter what verdict was handed down by the court of law, Jackson was losing in the court of public opinion. Even staunch supporters saw him as a troubled soul. Reports of drug problems and financial woes painted him as a vagabond who depended on past associates to bankroll his lavish lifestyle.