We’re well aware that MTV has long since abandoned any pretenses of being a network that actually cares about music, but perhaps reflexively, that was one of the first places we tuned in to last night when we heard the news about the untimely passing of Michael Jackson. After all, MTV was where we collectively grieved over other music-world legends like Kurt Cobain, 2Pac, and the Notorious B.I.G., so it only made sense that we’d flip over to see how (if?) they would pay tribute to the most important and influential artist in the history of not only their channel, but the entire medium of music videos. Thankfully, MTV delivered on every conceivable level.
Unlike their Viacom siblings over at VH1 (who didn’t even interrupt their airings of a talking-head special called Black to the Future with a crawl to announce the news), MTV responded fairly quickly. They began by rolling out a fascinating sequence that combined some of Michael Jackson’s most famous music videos alongside some truly compelling and nearly forgotten clips that some enterprising intern unearthed from their deep vaults; MJ comforting Ryan White in the days before he passed from AIDS, his duet with Slash on a medley of his greatest hits at the ‘95 VMAs, a star-studded, PSA-like video for “Liberian Girl.” These clips were interspersed by live cuts to Sway in the MTV studios, who not only passed along the news to viewers in 30-second segments, but also moderated a nearly hour-long discussion featuring MTV vets like Kurt Loder and (the recently laid-off) John Norris. Watching Loder and Norris wax rhapsodic about their experiences covering (and sometimes traveling with) Michael Jackson helped remind us of all of the good things that made us fall for the King of Pop in the first place.
There will be plenty of time to dissect the events that led up to the death of Michael Jackson and, if cable news coverage this morning is any indication, also plenty of time to discuss the peccadilloes and eccentricities that tainted his reputation during the last fifteen years of his life. But last night, we’re proud to say, MTV did right by Michael Jackson by focusing their efforts on paying tribute to the man’s undeniable musical legacy.