The Super Bowl Performance of Michael Jackson

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Live musical performances are often unique in respect to the artists involved. The choice of stage appearance, outfit, instrumentals, genre, performance technique, and the stagecraft usually depends on what the artist intends to display to the audience (Kurosawa, 2005 p.112). It is what defines the individual artist and is often directed to appeal and enable the audience to identify with the artist. One such example is the ‘Super Bowl’ performance by Michael Jackson, a renowned pop artist.

              Michael Jackson was an American pop musician popularly known as ‘King of Pop.’ He doubled up as a leading dancer, songwriter, and model of his time (Silberman, 2007 p.417). He was born on 29 August 1958 and passed away on June 25, 2009. Some of his popular music albums include; ‘Thriller,’ ‘Off the wall,’ ‘Dangerous,’ ‘History’ ‘Billie Jean’ and ‘Beat it’ (Taraborrelli, 2009). In the wake of his death, relating domains to the pop star sold worldwide including,,, and including several others. His musical styles of genre spanned through blues, rock, jazz, hip-hop, funk that often incorporated a tinge of African beats (Martin, 2012 p.286). As a fashion icon, he donned military jackets, gloves, fedoras and colored denim clothes.

            The Super Bowl performance at Rose Bowl Pasadena stadium of California in 1993 during the halftime break of the game, MJ makes a remarkable entrance that leaves the crowd fascinated and stood on stage for 1 minute 45 seconds to the amazement of the surprised crowd. Pop music creation requires creativity (Toynbee, 2003 p.103). The choice of clothes is spectacular with himself putting on a jacket that resembles that of Muammar Gaddafi and the dancers in police uniforms. He performed various songs including ‘Jam,’ ‘Billie Jean,’ ‘We are The World,’ ‘Heal the World’ and, ‘Black and White.’

            Michael Jackson’s stage performance was often marked by unique moves like dance, moonwalking, choreographs touching his torso and chest yet again he would still make an entrance and have minutes of silence. His stage art was unique with new moves every time he appeared for a performance. In one of his videos, “Smooth Criminal,” a performer was displayed leaning forward beyond his point of gravitational center at about 45 degrees; an excellent move there ever has been.

            The super bowl show producer, Don Mischer, played a significant role in staging and directing Michael Jackson’s performance. It took about 28 days of elaborate rehearsal before January 31, 1993, show. Maintaining motionless on stage for 90 seconds was a way of captivating the attention of the audience in the stadium and over 120 countries worldwide tuned in. It is a unique stage art MJ uses to build up emotions and have stage control among his audience. He took a pose, and the music director came in so classy breaking the prevailing pin drop silence with the beats of drums. This move brought an ecstatic explosion in the crowd response. Everyone evidently held into the magic of the moment.

            Coupled with fireworks and his stage attire of gold and black military style, the plan was stunning. A medley performance of three classics was the beginning of the set before climaxing with ‘We Are The World’ backed up by a 3,500 choir of children. The transition by Brad Buxer who was also a music director in the performance was classically marked by MJ’s remarks as an opening chord of ‘Heal the World.’ Good music direction ensures a controlled rhythm between parts of a performance (Clayton, 2003). He was later joined by the choir with the appearance of a giant globe on stage symbolic of the world’s need for unity.

            The musicality of the performance can be considered well-structured with controlled rhythm, pitch and acoustic states of the audience (Schenker, H., 2000). The emotions of the viewers were raised as they were surprised at how MJ entered the stage motionless leaving them to anticipate his next move. The different techniques employed were well considered with the dynamics of volume quite distinct as the voices of both the lead artist, choir, and instruments were articulated. The tempo of the performance was a mix of fast and slow music. There was also a similar quality of sound from the band, further enhancing the performance.

            The tonality of the music direction differed on specific songs thus fitting well in the production. By the way, attention was captured towards the artist, he solely had command in the presentation delivering the message as clearly and elaborated as it was intended. The stage location was centrally placed, significant for viewing from the audience above (Shuker, 2016). The audience smoothly blended into the beats of the performance occasionally singing and clapping along. The volume and delivery of the message were successful in line with the body language of the performer and, considering that the audience joined in the song. The song choice was right at the time as it was popular having won several lead awards on the trend.

            ‘Black or White’ is a single release by MJ on November 1991 in his popular album, Dangerous. The song can be categorized in the genre of hip-hop or hard rock bearing elements of fast tempo, guitar sounds, dance, and vocals. In the category of hip-hop music, the song’s style has rhyming words that are chanted by the performer accompanied by rapping vocals, break dancing and instrumental bass sounds. Under rock music, the performance of the song along with the use of drum beats, bass or electric guitars that are usually played in a distorted fashion.

            During 1993, super bowl performance, Black or White was performed with a medley. The song was performed third after ‘Why You Wanna Trip on Me’ and ‘Billie Jean’ with a smooth transition of dance. He pulled off his coat remaining with a white unbuttoned shirt, black pants and at a point put on a black cowboy hat. The backstage dancers were in complete black. This stage appearance was symbolic and well-chosen by the song’s title; Black or White. He also put on a head microphone as an improvisation to allow adequate stage movement during the dance.

            The stage was centralized and well lit with lamps all round to enable a clear view of the performance by the robust audience. It also allowed adequate camera focusing, and a sound recording as the concert was being recorded live tuned worldwide. Through the production, MJ was joined by a bass guitarist who played a crucial role in showcasing her artistic skill, considering the genre of the music and the need for distorted hard guitar beats.

            The stage was also filled with theatrical fog symbolic to the wild nature of rock music. To the sides of the stadium, the cheerleaders and children displayed black and white colors in dance patterns and unity symbols that further enhanced the performance. It ended with MJ standing in an outburst of stage fog and the bass guitar playing alongside loud applause. The solo performance had a unique stage dance staging him in a backward movement that looks like he was moving forwards. Stage performance techniques involved the use of dance movements, microphone stands, instrumentals, focussed headlights, and background recorded music (Tagg, 2000 p.100). The dance technique was creating a gliding motion with the front of the foot resting flat down the floor and the back positioned in Tiptoe (Taraborrelli, 2009). After that, there is a smooth sliding of the front foot backward past the back foot and lowered to a flat position the move is repeated in quick succession to create an illusion. The gliding motion could be sideways, circular or forward causing an appearance like the dancer is being pulled backward by unseen person/force while trying to walk.

            The transition to the next song ‘We Is The World’ can be considered well directed, the two songs being of totally different genres. The instruments went silent and the expectation of the audience aroused by MJ pointing to a specific direction with some magic stick handed over on stage by an aide. The voices of a children choir then rented the air as colourfully as they stood in a fashion forming a pattern of kids from different races holding hands. It was followed by a short emotional speech by MJ that championed the rights and unity of the children. He was then joined on stage by the choir of children who sang along. The stage appearance was quite colourful displaying unity and quite interactive featuring MJ singing and chatting. A choir of adults also sang along with the instruments well aligned in tempo with them clapping. The song ‘Heal the World’ was sung through the air filled balloon rising the skies symbolic of the globe. The different races in the choirs, as well as their stage presence, is distinct attires symbolized the need for diversity and unity among people just as the message in the song represented. 

            In conclusion, both the performances demonstrate the significance of identity for artists in their stage appearances. Michael Jackson’s unique attire was stunning in every presence both to his fans and fashion enthusiasts. The need for uniqueness in every performance is key to an artist as the crowd is treated to an expectant mood every time the artist is on stage. Super Bowl performance by MJ founded the enthusiasm of halftime game shows with thousands of viewers tuning in and attending the events to catch a glimpse of the show. It can thus be conclusively demonstrated that the music direction in live stage performance should be directed to the presenting artist without much coverage of the backup artists like instrumentalists unless they play a vital role into the performance other than backing up.


Clayton, M., Herbert, T. and Middleton, R. eds., 2003. The cultural study of music: A critical introduction. Psychology Press.

Kooijman, J., 2006. Michael Jackson: Motown 25: Pasadena Civic Auditorium, March 25, 1983.

Kurosawa, K. and Davidson, J.W., 2005. Nonverbal behaviors in famous music performance: A case study of The Corrs. Musicae Scientiae, 9(1), pp. 111-136.

Martin, S.J., 2012. The Roots and Routes of Michael Jackson’s Global Identity. Society, 49(3), pp. 284-290.

Negus, K., 2011. Producing pop: Culture and conflict in the popular music industry. Out of print.

Schenker, H., 2000. The Art of Performance, ed. Heribert Esser, trans. Irene Schreier Scott.

Shuker R. Understanding popular music culture. Routledge; 2016 Jan 29.

Silberman, S.C., 2007. Presenting Michael Jackson™. Social Semiotics, 17(4), pp. 417-440.

Tagg, P., 2000. Analysing favorite music: theory, method, and practice. Reading Pop: Approaches to textual analysis in favorite music, pp. 71-103.

Taraborrelli, J.R., 2009. Michael Jackson: The magic, the madness, the whole story, 1958-2009. Hachette UK.

Toynbee, J., 2003. Music, culture, and creativity. The cultural study of Music: a critical introduction, pp. 102-112.

August 01, 2023

Art Entertainment Music

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