Four years after the tragic death of global superstar and troubled singer Michael Jackson, it's hard to say if anyone has truly claimed his throne as King of Pop. But that hasn't stopped today's music stars from trying.
Jackson's aesthetic – the epic music videos, the thrilling dance sequences, the glittery gloves – continue to manifest themselves in the performances of today's stars. Here is how Justin Timberlake, Usher and Justin Bieber still borrow from MJ:
The music video was still in its infancy when Michael Jackson released the video for "Thriller" in late 1983. The 14-minute masterpiece set the standard for the platform, taking on a narrative framework and production values at the time reserved for feature films. (There was even a special theatrical screening of "Thriller" so it would be eligible for the Academy Awards.) Costing $800,000, a budget unheard of at the time, it was more ambitious than any other music video before it. No wonder MTV chose it as its first world premiere music video.
In an age that demands brevity and immediacy, some pop stars are still bold enough to demand many minutes of their audience's attention. Clocking in at over 8 minutes, Justin Timberlake's hit "Mirrors" tells a love story which, like many of Jackson's videos, plays with elements of cinema, time and fantasy. It culminates in a solo dance performance in which the influence of MJ's choreography on Timberlake is evident.
Usher loves to borrow from Michael Jackson, from his outfits to his dance moves – moon walk included. His video for "Yeah" is also a clear modern-day riff on a Michael Jackson classic.
Usher may be in the club, but that shot of his silhouette in front of flashing green laser lights is straight from Jackson's 1979 video for disco hit "Rock With You."
Every precious child star has to grow up eventually. Jackson was just 5 years old when he got his start as lead singer of the Jackson Five, Once he broke off into a solo career, his videos got edgier as he asserted himself as a full-grown adult. In 1983's video for "Billie Jean," Jackson danced around a gritty, street scene as he is trailed by the paparazzo and the cops.
Then came "Beat It," which had Jackson revisit the dancing street gangs motif of "West Side Story" – heavily choreographed fight sequences and all.
Justin Bieber, who, like Jackson, found fame before he was even in high school, has also turned to an urban noir aesthetic to shed his child star skin. Last year's "As Long As You Love Me" had the Biebs dancing through the streets of L.A., while facing off with the thuggish father of his girlfriend.
Bieber's "As Long As You Love Me" fight scene may be more graphic than the one in "Beat It." But that whole dance break in a parking garage sequence? That was ripped straight from Jackson's "Bad."