After Dan Reed’s bombshell documentary Leaving Neverland Regarding the sexual abuse allegations against Michael Jackson, which debuted in 2019, the public seemed to have set about the pop superstar: It was inexcusable, case closed. And that seemed to be the guiding discourse, at least for a short time.
“Then I remember thinking it was the end. The new podcast Think Twice: Michael Jackson co-host Leon Neyfakh really felt like a turning point, based on conversations I had with people in my social circle who watched or at least read about him.” When you look around, you don’t feel like you’ve made such a big dent. We were interested in why and how this works. How do we as a culture decide what to start with and what not to move on from? How do people decide what to believe?
Think Twice, a new podcast from Audible and Wondery, co-produced by Prologue Projects, seeks to answer these questions by exploring Jackson’s permanence as a pop culture icon faced with horrific allegations. He continues his work on deeply publicized podcasts for Neyfakh, including Slow Burn, where he tells stories about Watergate and Clinton’s impeachment, and Fiasco, which covers key historical events like the AIDS crisis and the Gore election against Bush. . According to Neyfakh, the Michael Jackson phenomenon is another culture-changing story.
“If you have a joke to bring out unconventional corners of a story that looks really familiar, you can’t do better than take down Michael Jackson,” he tells The Daily Beast. “It started with realizing that Michael Jackson was probably the most interesting person who ever lived. Both for having this unique, world-historical talent, and for sustaining this completely unique life, for better or for worse.”
After devising the idea for Think Twice, Neyfakh hired his co-host: hip-hop radio veteran Jay Smooth, who grew up in Harlem as a huge Jackson fan. Neyfakh had seen and heard of Smooth’s work, and points to a YouTube video in 2009 in which, after Jackson’s death, Smooth interviews bereaved fans gathered at the Apollo Theater trying to process the shocking news. Neyfakh rightly admitted that Smooth dealt with the same “grey areas” as Jackson’s legacy itself—although the radio host admitted it was a daunting undertaking.
“He told me it was going to be Michael Jackson, and I had very mixed feelings. Because it’s a fascinating subject, but it’s still a tense and ambivalent subject for me,” Smooth says. I’m still trying to figure out what to do with it. And that’s still inside of me as I wonder if he’s done unspeakable things. I’m still trying to figure out exactly where to put all this in 2023. And I think that’s true for a lot of people, and this podcast can be a way to revisit his life and story with that in mind, and see what we can make sense of, how we might understand things differently.
As we revisit and reexamine this story, Neyfakh and Smooth take us from Jackson’s birth to the aftermath, with many enlightening and entertaining breaks along the way – for example, we learn about Jackson’s insightful relationships with the tabloid press; We open a window into New York’s days in Studio 54; and we learn what happened behind the scenes of the 1993 Super Bowl halftime performance. what you habit The finding found in Think Twice is a retrial of all charges against Jackson; of course they are told at length, but the presenters are more interested in reconstructing how the story of his legend unfolded in real time and then dissipated.
“For some people it was probably important that we weren’t here to bury Michael forever,” says Neyfakh. We do not intend to do so.”
“I think it was probably important for some people that we didn’t try to definitively bury Michael here.”
The podcast’s biggest appeal may be the coverage of the people involved in it. Neyfakh and Smooth estimate that for 10 episodes of the series (all currently available), they interviewed close to 100 people and tended towards the “non-obvious people.” Among them: a talent bookstore in Gary, Indiana that put The Jackson 5 on its first talent show; One of Jackson’s Bible study friends; sculptor of the statue of Jackson, featured on the cover of his ninth album, History; In his 2005 trial, the members of the jury; and even Jehovah’s Witnesses, who go door-to-door with a young Michael, giving perspective on the friction he feels between his church and his creativity.
“I’ve always been amazed at how much you can learn by talking to people who have seen something directly in front of their eyes but haven’t been interviewed a million times. People who look like peripheral characters for no better word,” says Neyfakh. “I’m attracted to people who sit at the forefront of history and can tell us a little corner of history.”
This is immediately apparent from episode one – the first person you hear is actor/comedian Doug E. Doug (yes, that’s Doug E. Doug). support among child abuse allegations. Doug was in the audience that night and would later become a meme for his over-excited reaction to seeing Jackson on the runway. But decades later, he brilliantly observes in the podcast: “This may be one of the first expeditions in the world. [Jackson’s] His career, in which he made such an overt leap, was only at the service of his own skin.
Later in the first episode, we hear from Stephen King, another person you’d probably never expect to hear on a Michael Jackson podcast. Jackson’s horror-themed short film “Is This Scary?” there to talk about. and do magic for them. (Real-life parallels are not lost on anyone.)
Of the never-released film, Neyfakh said, “We were all so shocked that Michael wanted to make this video before anyone even made any allegations against him.” He adds: “The big surprise for me from doing the show was that Michael himself didn’t seem to really think you could or should separate him from his art. made art about Claims communicated with them through his music and music videos.”
This comes down to the age-old question of whether anyone can or should separate art from the artist. It’s an enigma for Smooth, who avoided playing Jackson on his own radio show, but admitted that his all-time discography would never just disappear.
“Michael himself didn’t really think you could or should separate him from his art. He made art on allegations. He communicated with them through his music and music videos.”
“It isn’t happening. I mean, the most perfectly executed pop music ever made. People will be drawn to him and will love him forever. There’s no escaping it,” Smooth says. “I guess it’s up to us to figure out what to do with the feelings the music brings us about the person it’s coming from? That is the bigger question we have.”
Neyfakh, who didn’t grow up to be a Jackson fan and came to her music only later, admits that Think Twice actually digests her music more easily.
“This may sound counterintuitive, but now I can enjoy Michael Jackson’s music so much more than I used to. Because even when I listen to the songs I love, I always had a feeling that I didn’t know the whole truth, or that I didn’t know enough. ”He explains.
“If all you know is the legend, if all you know is the canonical version of his story, filled with sort of half-remembered vibrations, it’s a kind of stunted thought process,” he continues. “Some of these questions are hard to solve. But I think that when you dig deep and meticulously craft the story, you can feel more confident in your thought process, and it may not get you chasing your own tail forever. It might actually help.