Full disclosure: I love Michael Jackson. Deeply, completely and unironically.
In fact, one of my first major musical memories was requesting Beat It at our 6th grade roller skating party. It was a great party — Brian Something-or-other asked me to skate and, although I cannot now remember his last name, I do remember the amazing feeling of skating with a guy I was crazy about, to a song I was crazy about, in a black velvet sweatshirt I was crazy about and thinking to my 12-year-old self that life does not often get much better than that.
So, I will always love Michael Jackson’s music. At least the old stuff. Not so sure about the ten albums that are going to be released between now and 2017. Seriously, ten albums? The first of these, Xscape, will go on pre-sale tomorrow on iTunes. It supposedly has eight songs we’ve never heard before… meaning there are 80 Michael Jackson songs sitting around that we’ve never heard before?! 80 songs? Even post-mortem, Michael Jackson is making me feel lazy.
He’s also wiping the floor with me (and most everyone else) financially. The man is earning $1 billion a year. Billboard did a great breakdown of all of the places MJ’s money is coming from. Namely: Music sales, music publishing deals, DVD sales from This Is It, a hit show in Vegas and a bunch of huge record and ad deals with Sony.
In researching this piece, I watched a lot of old Michael Jackson videos on YouTube. The video for Remember The Time = Mind. Blowing. Eddie Murphy as the jealous Pharoah? Where was this man’s Oscar? Iman as the gorgeous Pharoahette … torn between her deep love for Michael Jackson and … well, actually, she doesn’t seem torn at all. Poor Eddie Murphy. I mean, MJ is an amazing dancer, but he’s in this weird see-through skirt and black slacks and a shiny gold breast-plate looking … you know, not exactly like a man’s man and he’s just out-and-out walking off with Eddie Murphy’s woman.
To me, this demonstrates a couple of things.
Number one: Women love a man who can dance (or skate… that was, as I remember, a large part of Brian Something-or-other’s appeal).
And number two: never underestimate Michael Jackson. The man is no longer alive and he is still out-earning, out-producing and out-dancing us all.
9 other artists who had posthumous success
By Shea Huffman
Michael Jackson isn’t the first artist to have continued success in their career after death. Popular musicians often resonate with audiences long after their passing, and their record sales sometimes see a sizeable bump shortly after they die, especially if it happens suddenly or tragically. Here is a look at artists that have continued to top the charts, or at least consistently sell albums, after their death:
Note: Sales figures are limited by the fact that Nielsen SoundScan only began tracking album sales in 1991.
Album sales since 1991: 31.2 million
“The King” helped popularize rock ‘n’ roll and became one of the first true music superstars. He continues to be one of the best-selling artists of all time.
Album sales since 1991: 7.8 million
Joplin’s best-selling album, Pearl, was actually release in 1971, after her death. Joplin influenced generations of singers.
Album sales since 1991: 4.4 million (solo); 57.6 million (The Beatles)
If you include his time with The Beatles, John Lennon has sold more poshumous records than any other artist. Shortly after his death, Lennon’s album Double Fantasy shot to the number one spot on Billboard’s charts, and included the top song, (Just Like) Starting Over.
Album sales since 1991: 15.5 million
Jimi Hendrix, considered to be one of the best rock guitarists of all time, only released several albums in his lifetime. Albums of unreleased material and recordings of live shows have surfaced over the years, however, with a number of hit songs.
Album sales since 1991: 25 million
The Jamacian musician responsible for hits like I Shot the Sheriff and One Love had deep roots in the beginnings of the reggae genre.
Album sales since 1991: 19.3 million
As the lead singer for British rock band Queen, Freddie Mercury was known for his over-the-top performances and powerful vocals.
Album sales since 1991: 24.9 million
The lead singer and songwriter of Nirvana was responsible for some of the most influential and popular alternative rock before his suicide. After his death, Nirvana went on to release two No. 1 albums, MTV Unplugged in New York, and From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah.
Album sales since 1991: 32.2 million
The controversial rapper has seemingly been more prolific in death than he was in life. With seven albums of previously unreleased material topping the charts decades later, fans have predictably spawned conspiracy theories surrounding his death.
The Notorious B.I.G.
Album sales since 1991: 11.9 million
The Notorious B.I.G. was partly responsible for boosting the visibility of the East Coast hip hop scene during an era when Tupac Shakur and other West Coast artists dominated the mainstream. He only released one album when he was alive, but his two posthumous albums, Ready to Die and Live After Death, quickly became No. 1 hits upon release.
There’s a lot happening in the world. Through it all, Marketplace is here for you.
You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible.
Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.