Michael Jackson – Stranger in Moscow (dir. Nick Brandt) (1996)

When I was a kid, my father sat me down and made me watch “Thriller.”

I was scared.

I couldn’t have been more than six years old and the concept of monsters was completely relevant and wholly more plausible than a fat man in a red suit, sliding down a chimney.

So, there I was, a single eye peeking through the protective cover of tiny hands. I was captured by the unseen, not knowing what to expect.

What I saw was a man, gliding down the street with a very pretty girl. There was a particular groove in his step that I couldn’t quite grasp, but I knew it was cool. See, I never learned the eponymous “Thriller” dance like everyone else, but on that day, I wanted to walk like Michael Jackson.

There are few music videos that I remember in their entirety. Of those that I do, most involve MJ.

“Thriller” is the classic. We all know that. “Remember The Time” will remain in memory, if for nothing else than its royal treatment of the Black elite. And “Scream” is just one of the most expensive music videos of all-time. So, there’s that.

For me, however, as we reflect upon everything that is MJ, one video stands out amongst the rest.

“Stranger in Moscow” is an incredible record, perhaps his best. Throughout the career of MJ, we find an artist perpetually vulnerable, fragile even. And yet, I’ve never felt his truth more than at this moment. MJ wasn’t singing about a love lost or a better tomorrow. We love that side of MJ. It’s abundance of sentimentality, sugary sweet to the ear. But, this record was different. It wasn’t trite or cliché. There was a demure manner about him that was rarely seen. Nevertheless, this side existed. “Stranger in Moscow” was the most genuine moment in a career built on an iconic persona.

The narrative focuses on six individuals, silhouetted against an occupied background. They are of their surroundings, but not an actual part of them. The black and white portrait is amplified by a visually stunning downpour, one embraced by our characters. Where others retreat, they find solace in this torrential display.

Isolation amongst a crowd—it’s the contradiction inherent in being the King of Pop. To his final days, public perception was, at best, accusatory and this was the beginning of it all. The mid-90s have been oft-chronicled in the legend of the enigmatic pop star, so I needn’t rehash the details. However, in our peripheral view and understanding of him, his internal struggle is something that we can never fully understand. He faced his tribulations alone as every single one of us watched.

With everything Michael Jackson has done, this was his most revealing and under-appreciated endeavor. “Stranger in Moscow” captures a moment in the life of one of our greatest stars. It is beautiful and it is dark. But, above all, it is real.

“Even at home, I’m lonely. I sit in my room sometimes and cry. It’s so hard to make friends …I sometimes walk around the neighborhood at night, just hoping to find someone to talk to. But I just end up coming home” – Michael Jackson

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Michael Jackson – Stranger in Moscow (dir. Nick Brandt) (1996) | Written by @PaulPennington | http://t.co/EQ3o5Ehx

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