Michael Jackson’s Global Influence

Michael Jackson Performs At Super Bowl XXVII Halftime Show - January 31, 1993

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The aim of this post is to discuss music and its significant role in culture, the bandwagon effect which is described as a cultural phenomenon and Jeffery Alexander’s six steps to analysing performance and how it relates to culture. The post will further discuss how music talent shows depict the relationship between music and culture, and how music has been used to move society towards modernity.

Culture is the characteristics and knowledge of a particular group of people whom share similar ideas, customs, social behaviours, cuisine, art and music (Herndon and McLeod, 1980).

“Without music, life would be a mistake (Friedrich Nietzsche)” (Trohidis et al., 2008).

Music has been acknowledged as part of culture for centuries. Music is a human structured sound in which its aspects vary from culture to culture. It has been viewed as a fundamental aspect of human culture as it has been used for celebrations, enjoyment, dance, and in many other daily activities (Shah, 2015). Many great philosophers studied music from a harmonic point of view, Arthur Schopenhauer stated that “the inexpressible depth of music, so easy to understand and yet so inexplicable, is due to the fact that it reproduces all the emotions of our innermost being, but entirely without reality and remote from its pain…music expresses only the quintessence of life and its events, never these themselves.” (Shah, 2015).

“My goal in life is to give to the world what I was lucky to receive; The ecstasy of the divine through my music and dance.” – Michael Jackson 

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The Bandwagon Effect:

Culture is defined in many different ways, dependent upon what the view of culture is to a particular group or individual. However, one of the most frequently relied upon definitions under the study of sociology is that culture is essentially what humans produce and is considered to be ordinary (Williams, 1989, p.3). The most symbolic forms of culture are those regularly practiced traditions which make an impact on multiple people across the world, being the bandwagon effect. The bandwagon effect is described to be a cultural phenomenon whereby particular groups or individuals begin to express their behavior in a certain way due to the fact that they see others behaving in such a way. A clear demonstration of the bandwagon effect is shown through the artistic works of Michael Jackson (herein referred to as “Jackson”), who began a cultural phenomenon through his dance and music.

Billie Jean at school talent show

One of the most distinct moments during Jackson’s career was on or about 25 March 1983 when he first had performed the moonwalk on stage to the song Billie Jean. The moonwalk was the name given to a dance move whereby Jackson walks backwards whilst assuming the position of walking forwards. The moonwalk became a culture of its own, followed by the glove and hat which he would wear, which became a cultural phenomenon in almost every region around the world and amongst almost each and every age group. Jackson’s work conducted as an artist in the music industry shows a clear indication, through a sociological perspective that culture is common as well as mimetic given the impact it can have across a global domain (Billboard, 2009).Music has been playing a significant role in our society as well as being an influential tool. For instant, Michael Jackson’s music has influenced thousands of people from many different backgrounds and cultures. He is one of the most recognisable individuals on this planet and possibly the most influential artist of the 20th century. He was acknowledged for his extraordinary talent and passion for music from such a young age (Stevens, 2010).

Despite different ethnic backgrounds, languages, different sociological and cultural aspects Michael Jackson’s music, entertainment and legacy have had a huge influence on cultures from all around the world. He was able to relate his music to many different cultures, which only proves the power of music (Stevens, 2010).

Michael Jackson – Black or White 1991 Music Video


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Sociologist, Jeffrey Alexander rethought the theory of culture whereby he labelled it to be a an independent variable for analysis under sociology (Alexander and Smith, 2003). In making this determination, Alexander devised six steps which he believes could assist in understanding how culture is performed. In order to determine the cultural impact which Jackson has created, Alexander’s six steps to analysing performance will be used to understand the meaning of Jackson’s short film titled “Black or White” (Bottrell & Jackson, 1991).


The actors in Black or White are Jackson as himself, Macualay Culkin playing a young boy, George Wendt playing a father, Tess Harper playing a mother, African hunters, traditional Thai Dancers, native Americans, Indian and Russian dancers, Tyra Banks and other actors. The actors featured in this short film all represent different cultural groups coming together and dancing to the same song, showing a strong link between music and culture.

Collective Representations:

One of the main representations depicted in the short film which shows specificities in communication is that of the morphing shown towards the end of the short film. This is whereby different actors such as Tyra Banks are shown dancing and laughing to Jackson’s music and each actor who were mixed in race morphed into the next actor i.e. from a black skinned actor to a white skinned actor. This particularly shows how Jackson’s music connects all different types of ethnicities.

Means of Symbolic Production

Different types of edifices in the world are shown throughout the short film such as the Sphinx, The Parthenon, the Taj Mahal, the Eiffel Tower and other cultural structures which shows the unity of different cultures incorporated to strengthen the message the music wants to bring to relate to different groups of individuals which strengthens the sense of a bandwagon effect.


The scene and message which Jackson portrays through his short film is believable given that the lyrics unify different cultures particularly in the chorus of the song which state “It don’t matter if you’re black or white”.

Social Power

Jackson is the powerful figure in the short film. The power in Jackson’s character is shown particularly when he is walking through the streets expressing rage at signs portraying racism such as ‘KKK’. The source of the power shown by Jackson is the way in which he reaches out to all different types of cultural groups which is a message he portrays throughout the entire video in order to move towards modernity (i.e. acceptance of all cultures and sharing cultural aspects) as discussed by sociologist Ziggy Bauman.


The proposed audience of this short film is all ages, all cultures and all groups of people, which clearly shows why Jackson has, through his music caused a bandwagon effect which is important given that different people interact with music on different levels (Byrne, 2012).

Michael posing with backup dancers from the Black or White music video.

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Music and Culture:

Music and culture have been embedded in our society for a long time. The terms music and culture to some context are inseparable in regards to definition as they are conjoined in how they affect the social lives of the human beings. The culture of a point in time is reflected in the extent at which the popularity of the music is for that particular point in time. It is through the study of music and culture that we can fathom the fingerprints of a certain generation in the lyrics and the sound of that particular time. In the present times, our culture is changing at a faster rate than it did before due to the reflection of music styles that are being reused and new styles being developed. Music and culture have had enormous impacts on our society, and this post highlights on how it has impacted on the society morally, politically, and emotionally.

Even though music and culture are in constant change with time, there are places and times where the cultural practices and music have remained largely the same for over hundreds of years. One such place is Europe during the classical period whereby their music and cultural practices had remained quite constant and are internationally known as classical music. Morality is referred to as the beliefs a society have as to what is right as opposed to what is wrong (Garfias, 2004). Music has a significant impact on the morals of the society as it affects the cultural ways. Some effects are positive whilst others are negative. The realm of hip-hop and rap music, for instance, have been associated and stereotyped to relate to gang members. This is a vast majority of hip hop tracks have lyrics depicting the glorification of violence, drugs, and sex (Garfias, 2004). Although it is a way of artistry, it can offend and provide a negative influence on some members of society. On the other hand, some music genres have been associated with the aristocratic or ‘general’ classes of society. Pop music would appeal to the general population whereas opera would appeal to fans of drama, strong emotion, and historical themes.

“The meaning of life is contained in every expression of life. It is present in the infinity of forms and the phenomena that exist in all of creation.” – Michael Jackson

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Music has an impact in everyday life and can affect an individual’s decisions and can spark musical interest as a profession or hobby. Some people attend music school where they learn how to be experts in the crafting and composition of music. Most people have used the platform of producing music and made it their full-time jobs which in turn allow them to earn a living. Prominent musicians have elevated their social status and have altered not only their lifestyles but others as well (Borg & Russo, 2005).

More so, music and culture had adverse effects on the emotions of people. Music is believed to have profound effects on behaviour, spirit, and mind. It can help in educating individuals in society through the messages that are passed through lyrics (Wixom, 2013). Good music which is pleasant to the ear can help soothe the soul. The most important aspect of music is that it acts as a bridge to narrow the gap there is between languages and cultures. It is used as a means of finding the compatibility within one society and also link them well with others. Music is a common denominator, and all cultures in the society have it and share it. Music makes the community feel and respond in a certain way. It also sets the moods within the society by creating good atmospheres (Wixom, 2013). Since humans are behavioural beings, they are hence directly affected by the way they feel. This one example is among many other reasons as to why people choose a certain genre of music whilst undertaking various activities.

Michael’s exposure through MTV influenced a younger generation to express themselves through music.

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Jackson’s Influence on Shaping Culture:

Inclusiveness and acceptance in society is a concept that many individuals still fail in both practice and belief in present times. Due to prejudice and discrimination, millions of people in the world struggle to feel like they are a respected or accepted. Michael Jackson’s legacy has presented itself as a socially inclusive and creative one. Society is a direct product of human activity. Due to the strong influence of conformity through mass participation, society can confront an individual objectively (Berger 1967). This idea can be intimidating to many individuals. Society is very powerful and a single person who chooses to live an alternative lifestyle could face very serious consequences in different countries around the world. Subsequently, a unique performer such as Michael Jackson would dissolve some prejudice held towards those who express themselves differently than the societal norm. His eccentric and artistic self has inspired many others to push creativity to new dimensions. Due to this, many cultural and conforming taboos in societies were gradually overlooked and or accepted.

His music and performances sparked a diverse range of impersonators and tribute artists globally. Many people were brought together through Jackson’s songs and impersonators who appeared on talent shows are an example of that. On talent shows throughout the world, Michael Jackson’s songs and dance routines have appeared many times. When the performer steps on the stage dressed as Michael, the audience usually responds with warmth at the sight of familiarity. In the two videos below, it is clear that people of very different backgrounds, ages, and races, feel acceptance and pride through his music and dance:

Indonesia’s Got Talent

Britain’s Got Talent

Turkey’s Got Talent

Specific examples of inclusivity and acceptance are especially evident in his Super Bowl half time performance in 1993. The most notable segment was towards the end of his show, where Heal the World not only included the world through its lyrics, but through the physical performance itself. The racially diverse range of many backing singers and dancers of different ages created a blatant message that everyone should be respected within society. No one should be excluded, and everyone should feel accepted.

Jackson’s famous songs often contain lyrics that are based on the events that were nonconforming to the standards of mainstream music during the 80s/90s. Billie Jean described the story of a woman who claimed that she had a child with him but he denies the allegations. The lyrics are not explicit, but they provoke an image of promiscuity and taboo. The lyrics of Bad also glamorises the image of rebellious behaviour and anarchy. The music video for Remember the Time depicts infidelity and temptation. Such content reflected the taboos of society, and in a subconscious way, allowed individuals to face such events in the open. Michael Jackson has inspired many people to be more accepting of the non conforming people and ways of society, and many individuals feel a sense of belonging through him.

Michael at the 1993 Super Bowl halftime show.

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How Music Shapes Modernity:

Modernity is a multifaceted concept that comprises a number of factors in relation to society. Modernity cannot be subjected to just one era of time, since it is a continuous venture for advancement. All societies in history, from ancient to present, are all common in that at each stage in time, the people of those times believed that they were modern. This includes the fields of politics, science and cultural practices, like music.

The intended purpose of music has always been to evoke emotion. The utilisation of instruments, coupled with the synchronisation of lyrics to a beat or melody, induces an emotional state that is intended by the artist. When the national anthem is played, the intended effect is to appeal to the nation’s sense of patriotism and national pride. Likewise when Michael Jackson’s Black or White is played on the radio, the intended effect is to not only have fun dancing to the song but also to grasp the message behind the lyrics. The evocation of thought and emotion through the use of music is intended to not only appeal towards the masses through one specific medium, but also to relate to the masses on a platform that accessible to everyone.

Music’s appeal to self identity and individualism is what makes it an essential tool in the move towards modernity. On the one hand, it promotes the basis for individualism though at the same time, it forces a collective identity to be a product of the same source (Hesmondhalgh, 2013). It should not be misconstrued that music can only contribute to everyday culture, and simultaneously have no bearing on the affairs of world politics. Music is flexible in its usefulness and can be used in any cause, be it to introduce a toddler to the world of knowledge or to protest against an unjust government in a manner that is rhythmic and catchy.

Xscape album cover 2014.

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To summarise, when speaking of the progression of culture, it would be a mistake to overlook the impact of music in the everlasting progression towards modernity. For centuries, music has been used as a source of expression. Whether it be utilised as means of protest, as seen through the humble origins of Hip Hop and Rap, or as a means to create iconic trends and status, as seen through many examples including the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, music plays a significant role in modernity. The impact of iconic figures like the aforementioned artist on society is arguably pivotal due to their ability to express and shape perceptions in a way that welcomes people from different walks of life. In a stadium where one figure can influence the lives of millions through the words he melodiously delivers, where his/her fashion sense are readily accepted as the “in thing”, where their antics can arguably contribute to modern culture, the role of music and musical artists on modernity is undeniable.

Music and culture have an intertwined connection in which influences our society. Music has an important factor in our societies as it is used for enjoyment, celebrations and many other aspects of our lives. the power of music and culture were depicted through the legacy of Michael Jackson as he was able to influence people from various cultures. the objectives of our piece were to explore the bandwagon effect which is explained as a cultural phenomenon, the relationship between music and culture, Jeffery alexander’s six steps of analysing performance and its association with culture, music talent shows and how music was used as a tool to moving towards modernity.


Group members:

Dania Fayza   17265145

Ai Ling Sim   18468137

Siham Luqman   18094823

Ahmed Abdul Rahman   17810045

Ammar Esvandiar Bobsaid   18078853



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Stevens, H 2010, Michael Jackson’s Unparalleled Influence, The Atlantic24.

Trohidis, K, Tsoumakas, G, Kalliris, G, and Vlahavas, IP, 2008, September, Multi-Label Classification of Music into Emotions. In ISMIR (Vol. 8, pp. 325-330).

Williams, R 1989, Resources of Hope: Culture, Democracy, Socialism, London: Verso.

Wixom, RM 2013, The Influence of Music, viewed online https://www.lds.org/youth/article/the-influence-of-music?lang=eng


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