By Dom Cioffi
It happened on the evening of May 16, 1983; one of those events that was burned into my mind as well as the minds of millions of other people around the planet. It took only five minutes, but those five minutes would change the world forever.
Growing up, we had two televisions in our house: one in the living room and one in my parent’s bedroom. My father controlled whichever one he was in front of, so if I didn’t like what he was watching or if I was interested in another show, I had to head to the opposing TV.
On this particular May night, I was a 16-year-old music fan who was looking forward to watching the much-hyped NBC broadcast, “Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever.” My father couldn’t have cared less so I headed upstairs to my parent’s bedroom and settled in to watch.
The show was celebrating the quarter-century anniversary of the Motown record label. Originally launched in Detroit in 1959 to cater to the burgeoning interest in soul music, Motown had now blossomed into a powerhouse in the entertainment industry, with projects in film, music and television. This event was meant to highlight their great success. Little did anyone realize that it would ultimately usher in a new age of superstardom for one man and change the course of popular music forever.
There were many great musicians on the show that evening, including Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and Diana Ross. But the one artist everyone was buzzing about was Michael Jackson (who’s new album, ironically, wasn’t even on the Motown label).
At that point, Michael was still referred to as “Little Michael” by many; he was still recognized as the soulful child singer of the Jackson Five. But Michael was already an established star in his own right with his previous solo albums finding a wide, cross-cultural audience.
His new album, “Thriller,” released just six months prior to the broadcast, was already topping the charts. But while it was arguably a hot commodity, it was still far from being recognized as the monumental work that it is today. Fans of MJ were enjoying the upbeat tracks, but the masses were still not totally on board.
So, like a pitcher throwing a shut out in Game 7 of the World Series, Michael walked onto the stage that evening and mesmerized the masses with his unique talent as he sang “Billie Jean.” I remember watching and being completely captivated by the way he moved, by the way he delivered his lyrics, and by the way he took command of the stage.
Of course, the highlight of his performance was the moon walk, which most people forget barely lasted three seconds. But those three seconds sealed the deal. In that instance, for me, Michael became larger than life. And apparently the rest of the planet agreed.
I did not own “Thriller” at that point and had only given Michael the briefest attention, but all that changed after his performance. Like so many other people, I ran to the record store the following day to buy my own copy.
“Thriller” went on to win eight Grammy Awards and has since sold close to 65 million copies worldwide, making it the greatest selling album in history. The video for the title track jettisoned music videos into a new realm and helped make MTV a household name.
You can pull this landmark moment up on YouTube and watch it again. It’s fair to say that even given the few things that failed to stand the test of time (that diamond studded white glove now appears to be ridiculously oversized and that post-disco sequined shirt would get you laughed out of any club), the performance still resonates as timeless.
Critics agree that Michael’s routine that evening was the moment he became the King of Pop. He was given a grand stage and seized the moment.
Likewise (albeit on a smaller scale), comedienne Amy Schumer was just given a grand stage with a starring role in her first feature film, “Trainwreck.” And like Michael before her, she may have just hit one out of the park.
Schumer has been navigating the waters just below super stardom for some time. She has her own show on Comedy Central, “Inside Amy Schumer,” and has made several appearances on various sitcoms and lower-level talk shows, but now she’s rolled into the bigtime with a biting, sexually-charged comedy that will undoubtedly offend as many people as it wins over.
The story revolves around a thirty-something woman who, because of unresolved childhood issues, cannot maintain a lasting relationship with a man. All that changes, however, when she meets a quirky doctor who falls head-over-heels for her.
I will admit that I laughed constantly during this film. But in the same respect, I was also shocked at how far Schumer pushed the lines of good taste. This is a very funny movie, but I cannot emphasize enough that the subject matter delves into some seriously taboo places. In other words, keep your mother and daughter away from this one!
It will be interesting to see if Schumer can expand on her obvious comedic abilities or if she, like so many others, beats her particular style into the ground with repetition. Only time will tell, but for right now, she’s a bona fide star.
A lewd and lascivious “B” for “Trainwreck.”
Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at [email protected].