Statues & Icons
This story is one in an occasional series that will explore how America, and other countries, honor their icons — from famous politicians and military leaders, to movie stars, TV celebrities, and sports heros. Societies have been erecting statues or otherwise commemorating their famous and beloved figures for thousands of years. But in modern times, even fictional characters, their ranks swelled by cinema and television, are now joining those up on the pedestal, some for purely commercial reasons. As statues and busts, the famous personages are typically cast in outsized proportions, some placed in parks or other public spaces. Still others are found on postage stamps, murals, buildings, near sports arenas, or in this case, used in a special promotion. Not all of those so honored, however, meet with public approval, though some have broad and continuing support. The stories offered in this series will include short sketches on some of these figures — past and present — providing a bit of the history and context on each and how the proposed honor came about.
HIStory was Michael Jackson’s ninth studio album. It was a double disc set, a combination of past hits and new material. Recording started in September 1994 and continued through early spring 1995. Some of the songs Jackson wrote attacked the press and tabloids for their criticism of him. By this time in his career, Jackson had begun facing criticism and there had been one 1993 charge of sexual abuse charges from a 13 year old boy — a case that was later settled out of court. Still, Jackson had a huge global following and he became personally invested in the success of his HIStory album and its related activities. He was heavily involved in the production of the album and its promotion. He also made an extravagant “teaser” video to promote the album that would run on MTV, in movie theaters and elsewhere. In the video, Jackson is shown in full military garb, striding amid hundreds of Eastern Bloc-type soldiers past delirious fans. He shot the video in Hungary and hired Hungarian soldiers to march in it. The video cost some $4 million to make. “When they were shooting this thing in Hungary,” said Dan Beck, a senior marketing executive who worked on the video, “the production company would call me in the middle of the night and say, ‘Michael wants more troops’.” Beck, relaying this tale to the New York Times years later, added of Jackson: “He dreamed the big dream. It was P. T. Barnum.”Prior to the release of the album, Jackson — then married to Lisa Marie Presley — appeared on U.S. television. On June 14th, he and Lisa Marie appeared together on the American TV show, Prime Time Live, for the full hour in an interview with Diane Sawyer. On the show Jackson and Lisa Marie revealed some details of their marriage and Jackson discussed his music and career. The program was seen by some 60 million viewers and was one of the most watched programs that year. The following day in London (Friday, June 16, 1995), Sony floated the huge Michael Jackson statue down the River Thames to publicize the next day’s release of the HIStory album. This statue, and eight others, were each 32-feet tall, weighed about 4,625- pounds, built with a steel truss frame and fibreglass surface. According to one report, it took a team of at least 30 people to build the statues over a three-month period, and additional expense and manpower to put them into position. There were also 6-foot cardboard versions of the statue as part of the promotion.
HIStory, meanwhile, was released for worldwide sale on June 18th, 1995. The two-disc album was a compilation of old and new material. The first disc featured 15 Jackson hits from 1979-1991 period. The second featured 15 new tracks, some collaborations, including those with rappers Shaquille O’Neill and Notorious B.I.G, singers Boyz II Men, and guitarist Slash. A few of Jackson’s songs struck some reviewers as angry and defensive, as Jackson used some of his song lyrics to fight back against the bad press he was then getting. The album/CD also came with a 52-page color booklet with photos, lyrics, and artwork, featuring Jackson as a popular and beloved figure with endorsements from Stephen Spielberg and Elizabeth Taylor. The booklet also listed Jackson’s various music awards and showed him in photographs with U.S. Presidents and surrounded by adoring children.
“From its packaging to its songs,” wrote the New York Times’ Jon Pareles in June 1995, “HIStory is a psychobiographer’s playground. Everything is on a gargantuan scale…” Pareles especially noted the military and statue-related scenes in Jackson’s video teaser released to promote the album. Chris Willman of the Los Angeles Times, also reviewing the album and its video promo, noted the “King of Pop” placards placed among the admiring throngs in the video, and also a well-placed child calling out, “I love you, Michael!” Willman concluded: “The clip doesn’t just stop at representing previously known levels of Michael mania, it goes well beyond the bounds of self-congratulation to become perhaps the most baldly vainglorious self-deification a pop singer has yet deigned to share with his public, at least with a straight face.”
HIStory broke sales records in its first week on the charts. In the U.K. it sold 100,000 copies in just two days and in Australia the advance order of 130,000 copies was the largest initial shipment in Sony Australia’s history. Similar sales figures were witnessed all over Europe. In the U.S. and 18 other countries, the album went to No. 1. In the U.S. and 18 other countries, the album went to No. 1. Sales would eventually surpass 15 million copies. Sony reported in August 1995, that sales at its two music subsidiaries in Japan and the U.S. rose 2.2 percent largely because of Jackson’s HIStory album. Sony added in its report that the album had sold six million copies worldwide. Sales would eventually surpass 15 million copies. In addition, five singles from the album were also released. “You Are Not Alone,” for example, broke a world record becoming the first-ever single to debut at No.1 on the Billboard music charts. In the year following the album’s release, a HIStory World Tour began on September 7, 1996. Jackson performed 82 concerts in 58 cities covering 35 countries on five continents. More than 4.5 million fans saw the show, and the tour became one of Jackson’s most successful in terms of total audience. The tour ended on October 15, 1997; it grossed a total of $163.5 million.
Jackson by this time appears to have needed every bit of money he could make from the sale of the HIStory album and his HIStory World Tour. By November 1995, for example, Jackson had sold a 50 percent stake in the Beatles song catalog he owned for more than $100 million, which one adviser at the time said would help shore up Jackson’s wobbling accounts.As for the nine, giant Michael Jackson statues, it is not known what their final disposition was in every case. Although built with substantial materials as noted above, these statues, as far as is known, were not intended for permanent installation anywhere. However, it appears that some of the statues have been placed in parks and other locations more or less permanently. In the photo at left, for example, this Michael Jackson statue from the 1995 promotion is found in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, according to Wikipedia, and may be a permanent installation there. It is quite possible that the remaining Jackson statues have also been placed in other locations following their use in the promotion. Others may have been destroyed, acquired by collectors, or perhaps are stored in a Sony Music warehouse somewhere.
It is known, however, that at the time of their use in 1995, there was a fair amount of criticism of Jackson and Sony for the initiative, some calling it “excessive,” “over the top,” and worse. But hey, Michael Jackson was a showman; this is what he did in life, all the world was his stage. He was also a businessman and an entertainment marketer. In any case, many of Jackson’s fans in 1995, despite his critics, were excited by, and enthusiastic supporters of, his HIStory promotion gig, however overblown it may have seemed to others.
Date Posted: 30 June 2009
Last Update: 30 June 2009
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Jack Doyle, “The Jackson Statues, 1995,”
PopHistoryDig.com, June 30, 2009.
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