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The King of Hype?

Published Oct. 10, 2005

Nineteen ninety two is barely under way and already the Hype of the Year has been perpetrated on us.

Michael Jackson: The King of Pop.

Says who? Says Michael and his image-makers.

The coronation began in January during the buildup to Jackson's controversial video for Black and White. The Fox network and MTV, which won rights to show the clip, were instructed to refer to Jackson as the King of Pop in promotional spots. The networks, of course, complied. Part of the deal.

Soon, press releases from Sony Music and publicity agencies started to arrive, trumpeting the accomplishments of the King of Pop. MTV stuck with the moniker. DJs started using it. The Hype Ma-chine was at full tilt. Jackson had been crowned.

The most disturbing part is that legitimate news media bought it. Critics, entertainment writers and talking heads started throwing "King of Pop" into their copy.

It's convenient. Writers are always looking for that clever second reference. Repeating the subject's last name gets so dry after a while. "Jackson is .


." "Jackson's albums have sold .


. " "Jackson will tour".


. zzzzzz. Ahhh, "And so THE KING OF POP sets out to extend his reign worldwide." TV entertainment reporters are especially fond of such appellations.

There's nothing at all wrong with snappy second references _ if the writer thinks it up, or even jumps on the bandwagon when one catches on. Remember the "Gloved One?" But this time it was spoon-fed to writers, who opened up and went "ahhh." They are now in the court of the man who would be King. Part of the machine.

Hyperbolic show-biz nicknames have been around for a long time, but they've generally been bestowed on the star. Frank Sinatra, the Chairman of the Board; James Brown, the Godfather of Soul; Ray Charles, the Genius of Soul; Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul. Who's gonna argue? The one most etched in the American psyche is Elvis Presley, the King of Rock 'n' Roll. The King.

Which is why "the King of Pop" may hang around for awhile as a second reference, but will not catch on with the public. Fans have a natural tendency to shorten these nicknames _ the Chairman, the Godfather _ so Jackson has a problem. He'll never be the King. There already is one.

Whether Jackson deserves to be known as the King of Pop seems the least relevant issue in all of this. When you get right down to it, this whole nickname business is a little silly. If one happens to stick, fine.

That's why it's perplexing that Jackson Inc. would go to such great lengths to secure his regal status. There's probably some long-term marketing benefit if, in time, "the King of Pop" rolls off the collective tongue. But I suspect that an underlying motive is Jackson's desire to be thought of as such. If true, it's sad. It just underscores the fragility of the man. At 33, Jackson is already a legend. His vain, insidious attempt to solidify the status with a slogan seems an act of quiet desperation.

It also throws further doubt on Jackson's commitment to his artistry, or at least questions the balance he puts between personal expression and commercial success. This is an artist who, during the making of Bad, the follow-up to Thriller, reportedly put a sign on the studio wall that read "100 Million." It was there as a constant reminder that Jackson had to not only surpass, but obliterate, the record-setting 40-million copies Thriller sold. It didn't happen.

Most artists worthy of our respect make the music that's inside of them, hand it over to the marketeers and promo folk and ultimately let the public decide.

You'll probably be reading plenty about Michael Jackson in the Times. His album is hot, as expected, and he just started a tour. In fact, recent appearances in Africa have shown that his pop monarchy is getting off to a shaky start. He offended those in the Ivory Coast capital Abidjan by scurrying from a jet to an air-conditioned limo while holding his nose.

Perhaps even more apropos, he was actually made a king in an Ivory Coast village, but peeled off the royal robes before departing. Another gaffe.

Hardly actions befitting the King of Pop. It seems a good time to explore some other nicknames. The Mutating Man. The Incredible Shrinking Nose.

Or how about _ Michael Jackson? (Second reference: Jackson.)