The recent “Michael Forever Tribute Concert” in Cardiff, Wales came in for withering criticism. With the trial of Jackson’s doctor Conrad Murray underway it was too soon, or so some—including sister Janet and brothers Jermaine and Randy—felt. There were also accusations that, with the Jackson estate now phenomenally lucrative, the star-studded Oct 8 affair was nothing but a brazen attempt to cash in by other members of the family.
With the upcoming “Michael Jackson Tribute Live” concerts in Yoyogi, some of those concerns seem to have been resolved. “The way this concert happened,” begins Tokyo-based American music director Kaleb James, “was that [Japanese singer] Ai is a huge fan of Michael’s. When he died, she went to LA and arranged interviews with his music director and other people around him.”
Michael’s mother Katherine was reportedly so enthused by Ai’s interviews, which she said ignored the glitz and rumors, that she allowed the J-pop star access to the Jackson inner sanctum.
“She said they were some of the best interviews she had seen. So much so, that she granted interviews for Ai with the Jackson 5, which is something no one else was getting,” James continues. “So Ai interviewed Tito, Jackie and Marlon at their compound in Encino and created a video with the Jacksons speaking about doing a concert in Japan. They said that Ai would perform with them—and these upcoming concerts are the culmination.”
With Murray’s trial ending in a guilty verdict, the concerts should take place in a much less heated climate. Bronx-born James, who in a varied two-decade career in Japan has worked with SMAP, says they are to feature the three Jacksons as well as Ai and big J-pop names like Crystal Kay and Chemistry performing a mix of MJ and Jackson 5 material. A recent high-profile additions to the bill comes in the form of soul singer Macy Gray.
How do you choose the repertoire for what is to be a roughly two-hour concert?
“It’s the Jackson 5, and these guys have egos, and they are artists in their own right,” James answers. “So a big part of the songlist is going to be Jackson 5 songs they feel they can do well enough without Michael. As far as other tunes, it’s a Michael Jackson tribute, so they will do his solo tunes. With the Japanese artists, I think we’ll have some leeway. We won’t do many obscure tunes, but the bigger ones like ‘Billy Jean.’ Those are the defining tunes—you can’t do an MJ tribute without doing half the Thriller album.”
Why Japan this time?
“Japan is artist-friendly,” says James. “There is an old saying, ‘Everybody’s Big in Japan.’ Japanese are accepting, and you get a little leeway with mistakes. There’s not going to be a great deal of pressure to be anything more than yourself, and that works in the Jacksons’ favor.
“When you look at the ages, Jackie is 60, Tito is 58… It’s weird to say but it’s the truth, these guys are getting on in age and you can’t expect them to be as tight as they were in their youth. They are basically strolling down memory lane, and I think they’ll get away with that here.”
And how about the other controversies associated with all things Jackson?
“People will always find something to complain about, but in the end it’s the music that counts,” James believes. “I’ll be honest, I don’t think there will be a great deal of merchandising at this gig. Other than the new single, there is not a great deal to merchandise. There will be MJ stuff of course, but you can pick that up easily if you’re a fan, anyway. There’s not going to be a barrage of key chains and t-shirts. The focus is going to be on celebrating the greatest artist we’ve ever seen.”
“I believe Japan was one of Michael’s favorite places,” adds Katherine Jackson in a letter published by promoter Team. “He has millions of fans there that were awaiting his return, and I am glad we are able to return to Japan with this great tribute just for him.”
Tokyo Kokuritsu Yoyogi Kyogijo Daichi Taiikukan, Dec 13-14
Kuri and Chemistry \^0^/ I'm so proud of them <3 and I need to check out AI's songs again :P