Nightmares in Neverland: re-watching Michael Jackson's Thriller

Lily Hopkins looks into whether or not Michael Jackson's song thriller changes meaning after the allegations made against him.

Lily Hopkins
28th October 2019
Wikimedia Commons: Alan Light John Wiley
It’s 2006, I am watching my Year 6 classmates perform Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, as the video streams from the dodgy projector onto the wall in front of them. I am in awe. Awe of the rare talent that covered the crumbling assembly hall wall. I still remember the feeling of jealousy as I watched my more dance-centered (read, talented) classmates stomp along to the chorus. Now, sat in my university house, having watched the Leaving Neverland documentary, I recall that memory and I cringe.

It is essential to separate the artist from the art and it is undeniable that, in a time where individuality was the new lifestyle, pushing musical boundaries was praised and fashion was arguably the leading force in popular culture, Jackson managed to create a masterpiece that blended all three. His “Thriller”, directed by John Landis, was released in 1983 and revolutionised the music video world, bringing a musical platform that could reach all four corners of the world. One of those faraway lands was Australia, where 5-year-old Wade Robson ravaged the VHS copy of “Thriller” his mother had bought him. Initially defending Jackson in court, Robson recounted his earlier testimony, now alleging Jackson had sexually abused him from age 7 to 14. Since the 2019 release of Leaving Neverland, the Jackson legacy has been under fire.

It is neither my intent nor my brief to act as judge, jury and executioner, but to discuss whether the viewing experience of “Thriller” has been impacted by the allegations. In a purely analytical appraisal of the piece, the impressive nature of intersectional art forms still remains. However, having re-watched the video it is hard to deny the deeply sinister feeling that overwhelmed me throughout my viewing experience. Now, the lyrics “Something evil is lurking from the dark” draw uncomfortable parallels in one’s mind. The dark images of monsters evoke a feeling of haunted nostalgia. Nonetheless, amongst all the negative connotations I still find myself tapping my foot beneath my desk to the (still) irresistible rhythm. Ultimately, “Thriller” remains a pinnacle of musical artistry – that opinion is not impacted. However, for the individual, the mother, the father, the haunting memory of a class of Year 6's dancing to the beat, the piece’s impact has been altered for the worse by the cruel reality of the sexual misconduct allegations.

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