Michael Jackson was a legend in his time, but in his final decade or two, he was something of a punchline, too. The press dubbed him “Wacko Jacko,” and people mocked him for his drastically altered physical appearance while condemning him over child-molestation charges.
The near-decade since his 2009 death at age 50 has been kind to the legacy of “The King of Pop,” who is now among our most-revered legends. So much so that apparently, to know him and his music and not love at least the music has become unacceptable.
That certainly seems to be the case with Sam Smith, whom social media made the villain of the week for not being a Michael Jackson fan.
As someone with unpredictable taste in music, I know what it’s like to duck attacks for having an unpopular opinion about a popular singer. Last year, the Beyhive turned me into a Twitter pariah over my HuffPost essay declaring that Beyoncé didn’t deserve the Album of the Year Grammy that Adele won.
I also know what it’s like to be hit with the R-word over something totally unrelated. Some Beyhivers diagnosed me with internalized racism, and one even posted a photo of me with three white friends in Buenos Aires as proof that I hate black people.
So much for diff’rent strokes.
In case you missed Sam Smith trending last week, here’s what went down. The singer was hanging out with fellow singer Adam Lambert when Michael Jackson’s 1983 hit “Human Nature” came on.
“I don’t like Michael Jackson, but this is a good song,” he said.
For reasons only he would know, Lambert captured the moment on video, posted it on Instagram, and then deleted it, but not before Music News Facts captured it, shared it on August 10, and sent it viral.
Adam Lambert accidentally posts a video of Sam Smith saying:
‘I don’t like Michael Jackson, but this is a good song’ pic.twitter.com/Rhw1lnA5O0
— Music News Facts (@musicnewsfact) August 10, 2018
Smith was roundly rebuked on social media, but the most vicious read came from the great Stephanie Mills, who went after the Grammy and Oscar winner with gusto.
The R&B queen wrote on Instagram: Don’t come for MICHAEL JACKSON when you wish you have sold as many records and you wish you were the King of Pop like he was. I’m so tired of you people studying our music, and studying our artist and claiming that you don’t like our music. Go sit your 1 HIT WONDER ass down and learn how to finish a tour. When you can sell as many records as the king of Pop, Michael Jackson then maybe you can say something. So I say to you Mr. Smith have several seats and come for me if you want to.
Now, I love me some Stephanie Mills all day, all night (to quote the title of her underrated 1992 single). She once sent me a lovely tweet after I posted something about her on my blog. But since when did it become a crime not to be a Michael Jackson fan and to say so during a private conversation? Is it a problem because Smith made his musical mark as a white Brit singing soul music and duetting with the likes of Mary J. Blige? Would it be OK if, say, Elton John declared himself #NotAFan while in bed with his husband David Furnish?
Should BET revoke Smith’s 2015 Best New Artist award? Should his four Grammys and his Best Original Song Oscar (for “Writing’s on the Wall,” from the 2015 James Bond film Spectre) be rescinded, too? He didn’t sexually harass anyone. He didn’t pull a Roseanne Barr by comparing Michael Jackson to a monkey. But apparently, in this age of social media outrage over everything, he’s a villain for not liking the wrong music.
And why is a vote against Michael Jackson a vote against black music–or against black people–as Mills implied? In another since-deleted post, she referenced an alleged incident in which Smith yelled “black c*nt” at someone outside Freedom Bar Soho in London.
Why is that even relevant? I don’t know what went down at Freedom that night, but even if he did call someone a “black c*nt,” would that be grounds to conflate his feelings about Michael Jackson’s music with racism?
The supposed “black c*nt” incident was reported on Twitter in January of 2016, only minutes before Smith posted the following series of tweets:
Just experienced my friend getting verbally abused racially in London. I am absolutely SPEECHLESS.
I never ever ever ever thought that would happen here. Absolutely speechless and hurt.
I feel like I have to shine some sort of light on it. The police were so unhelpful in the situation and its deeply shocked me.
Humans are HUMANS.
I feel like I have to say something. I’m just so upset. So UPSET.
I just got home and Nina Simone is on the radio–fitting.
Almost as if on cue, people attacked him for making the incident all about him, for not previously being aware that racism exists, and for whitesplainin’ racism.
Wait. Woah. So now a white person isn’t allowed to be “speechless” after witnessing racism? How is expressing how the incident made him feel making the incident all about himself? Can a white person talk about racism at all without “whitesplainin’” it? Is social media’s peanut gallery just worn out and in need of a long holiday?
Yes, Smith did come off as being a bit naive and clueless in those six tweets, but he was 23 years old at the time. Was anyone expecting the eloquence of Martin Luther King Jr.?
Frankly, we’ve got much bigger fish to fry. Smith’s taste in music is far less offensive than Kanye West’s taste in politicians. When the rapper praises Donald Trump–the U.S. President who declared that there are “very fine people” among white supremacists–and calls slavery “a choice,” fans treat him like the crazy, loveable uncle who always says inappropriate things. His black cred remains intact.
Smith’s, however, appears to be endangered. I’m not a fan, so I have no stake in whether or not he gets to remain at BET’s VIP table. But coming in a week in which white supremacists marched on Washington D.C. to commemorate the one-year anniversary of another rally in which three people were killed, who’s not on Sam Smith’s Spotify playlists gets a shrug from me.
Social media always wanna be startin’ somethin’, but sometimes, we all need to just beat it.
I never liked MJ or his music either. I don’t like SS’s music too. So what if someone says they are not a fan? Don’t see an issue here.
I don’t know if Sam Smith is racist but I do know that Sam Smith and Adam Lambert are two of the bitchiest queens since Elton John.
Okay this seems suspiciously sane and nuanced where’s the catch?
I don’t like Sam Smith either as an artist or as a public figure. But at least the sex he has is consensual and the males he lusts after are of legal age. Sadly we can’t say either about Michael Jackson.
Michael Jackson was a child sex fiend. If anything, Sam was much too kind in his assessment about that disgusting freak. He, and other musicians, should come after that sociopathic abortion more often and with more gusto.
The only reason people are overreacting to his mild criticism, is that the media and the music industry are overdoing in their celebration of Black musicians. As a result, people on Black Twitter are getting too coddled by the excessive adoration coming from white critics and musicians towards Black figures. So, if a white person of certain fame breaks ranks and says what he truly thinks of a Black icon, some feel shocked and take it too personally because they’ve become unused to the criticism.
They’re in for some reckoning because not only is Michael Jackson overrated but so are Whitney Houston, Beyoncé, and whatnot. And as the years pass and their celebrities fade, the more comfortable people will be to speak those facts.
“Their celebrities”? Racist much?
Uh. No. ?????
Yes, “Beyoncé’s celebrity”, “Michael Jackson’s celebrity”, etc. I don’t see how that would be racist. And even if by “their celebrities”, I meant “Black people’s celebrities”, I don’t see how that would be racist. Minority groups are often quite possessive of their own luminaries and see a famous musician, or writer, as being “theirs” somehow. Gay people are not immune to this, either.
meghanada – You think Whitney Houston is overrated? I’d be curious to know who you think has a good voice then…
You’re a joke, but keep posting.
btw i don’t see anything wrong in Sam Smith disliking the king of pop (as he so rightfully is whether you think he’s overrated OR not), but your post just goes to show that you don’t like the fact that these black artists get the accolades they deserve.
Don’t deceive yourself cause no one’s fading away. There will always be black legends and stars in every generation to replace the ones who pass away into immortality.
PS: Your comment just reeks of general dislike for the amount of respect black artists command. That just makes it all the more biased and of no value.
@Craig – Whitney had a good voice but she misused it with her idiosyncratic renditions and flamboyant performances that are intended more to showcase her talent than to please the ears of the audience. She’s sort of to blame for the fact that so many female musicians with powerful vocals, such as Adele and Christina Aguilera, ruin their voices (and, at times, their songs) with melismas.
@theafricanwiththemouth – Not “king of the pop”, sweetie. It’s spelled P-E-D-O-P-H-I-L-E.
@meghanada call it what you want to, spell whatever you like, still won’t change what’s etched in history.
The King of pop is the king of pop, is the king of pop (and that just hurts you to the core).
Wow. This is about as pointless as calling someone a racist because they’re not attracted to you.
I do think Mills went way overboard w/ her criticism but I do kind of agree w/ her that there are a lot of white artists that appropriate black culture in terms of music, dance, clothes and especially slang. A white co-worker of mine in her late 50 repeatedly uses phrases like “Its the bomb-diggity” and “step off son”. So ridiculous.
Everyone from Justin Timberlake to Justin Beiber , Robin Thick have ripped off blacked music. So for that, Mills has a valid point.
YOu hAve a VaLId pOinT!
Rihanna and Azealia Banks have appropriated disco and vogueing. Banks, in particular, has also appropriated a shit ton of gay male lingo in her lyrics despite the fact that few people in pop culture are as anti-gay male as she is. Yet I don’t see gay men vindictively using these facts to undermine these Black women, either.
I don’t see what the problem is in the fact that Sam Smith likes some Black musicians and others not.
That some people, like that ugly woman, are attacking him for “racism” based merely on what he thinks of Michael Jackson, a disgusting-looking pedophile, only goes to show that some people are being coddled by excessive adoration from the music industry, and now feel emboldened to scream racism if people of other races as much as disagree with their musical tastes.
All art is appropriation to some degree or another. People are influenced by who came before them. The issue is that black performers–and black labor generally–were historically exploited in that they were not got given their financial due or power over their careers. (Heck, MJ was exploited by his father for years.) But you can’t blame the artists. Blame the record companies, politicians, and society at large.
Today ain’t the fifties, sixties or even seventies. Black artists are more in control and reaping the financial rewards. That said, I don’t think anyone can deny that MJ is a million more times talented than Smith. But he is surely entitled to his opinion, as misguided as it may be. We live in such an era of language policing, it’s ridiculous. Now, Adam Lambert–“accident” huh? She sounds shady to me.
Great opinion piece, btw. Nice to see saner voices in these insane times.
This reminds me of that episode on the West Wing. The president’s aid told the media about what sort of meal the president will have then said something about the president not liking peas.
Suddenly everyone who heard it were shocked and started going into panic saying they need to run another press conference showing the president actually eating peas and saying it was wrong of the aid to say it.
Then somehow near the end someone told them the public isn’t stupid and they know the difference between the president not liking peas and the president not liking people who like peas.
And… I guess in real life that isn’t the case?
I’m starting to think that psychologists need to come to terms with racisim-phobia were people see racisim everywhere they go.
I don’t see anything racist about what he said. Not everyone likes everyone’s music or performers. He didn’t say whether he didn’t like MJ personally or his music and he has a right to opinion. Stephanie Mills was just being a bytch.
No person has to like any type of music or musician, though categorical dismissals of entire genres of music show, at the very least, a lack of imagination and artistic appreciation. I love Michael Jackson’s music, but abhor his alleged pedophilia. I like David Bowie’s music, but detest his flirtations with Nazi iconography. I cannot stand Bob Dylan’s music and think he’s one of the most overrated musicians ever, but I acknowledge that millions worship him. Sam Smith has the right to say he doesn’t like Michael Jackson, and people have the right to call him or others out on forms of cultural and artistic appropriation, though it’s the case the musicians, like all artists, do tend to borrow from a range of traditions, and many are willing and able to give credit where due. The Beatles could do it, Aretha Franklin could do it, and one hopes Sam Smith can as well.
bob dylan’s songwriting–both lyrically and musically–are genius, sorry. His is quite aptly rated. (On the other hand, Joni Mitchell, as a woman, quite underrated as a composer.) Unfortunately, Dylan’s singing style is an acquired taste, but musically, I’d advise spending way more time with his compositions; hundreds of other artists have recorded them.
Still, we are all entitled to our lonely, divergent opinions from the back reaches of our solitary, unlit caves. (I’m one of the few fervid gay fans of Dylan, but then again, much of my musical tastes veer quite far from most gay men.)
Yeah, stop making Sam Smith a racist, he is just a poor singer.
Would this dear Jeremy Helliger be this nice if it wasn’t about his beloved singer ?
How his awards and grammy are any arguments ? Seriously, his song for the James Bond movie was very shitty.
Do you really thing there was any necessity of making an article about that, about a cat fight between 2 uninteresting personality ?
Saying Sam Smith is a poor singer is the same that being deaf.
Sorry, you are perfectly entittled to not like his music or not like the way he sings, but saying he is a poor singer is poor bullshit. In fact he is one of the few singers that sound live the same that recorded.
I know a lot of people don’t like his voice or the way he sings, but that doesn’t make him a poor singer in any way.
And if you are not interested in an article you are totally free of not read it
As a person, Jackson wasn’t one of my favorite people. His lifestyle was everything I didn’t want to be.
That being said I liked his music and still listen to it today.
Performers with fan bases who express an opinion about another performer with a fan base should expect a reaction. That’s the reality of social media. Live by the sword, die by the sword.
I think a lot of these people who get their undies in a bunch over nothing, especially celebrities, only do this to get themselves in the news. Quite often the only reason we know someone is still alive is because they launched some out of the blue Twitter rant against another celebrity.
I don’t give a single f*ck about Sam Smith, as a person or his music. I don’t listen to him, and I stay out of Western “celebrity news”, for the most part. Too much is fabricated or misconstrued, and turned into tabloid garbage. If he’s not a MJ fan, then that’s his choice, and it’s valid for him. I think he’s missing out, but having heard a few of his songs(it’s unavoidable…), I already felt he had bad taste. But again, that’s his choice, and it doesn’t effect my life, or anyone else’s, so why does anyone give a f*ck about it? The only thing I can see from any of this, that is valid grounds for thinking he’s racist, or at least prejudice(spoiler, we’re all prejudice to some degree), is if he did in fact call someone a “black c*nt”, because there is absolutely no call to bring race into an insult. I can do that to assholes just fine, without calling out their race. The biggest mistake made in all of this, was on Adam Lambert, for posting that at all. He should have known better, but I believe his choice to post it was likely just naive. Sam is at fault, IF he was 100% aware that Adam was recording(which he seems to have been), because if he thinks that kind of statement won’t receive negative attention, he is also playing a very naive card.
I love MJ, both him and his music. I wasn’t lucky enough to ever go to a concert or event of his, much less meet him. However, I know and have known people who were friends with him, and spent time with him. So nothing anyone ever says, will make me believe the allegations and rumors about him being a pedophile or child pornographer, or any of that other bs. He also was not a racist who was “trying to become white”. HE HAD A LEGITIMATE MEDICAL CONDITION AND THE PIGMENT IN THE EPIDERMIS IS EFFECTED BY THE TREATMENT!! Ehem, anyway… I do not care much for the majority of Western music, or pop culture. But Michael is sacred to me, and my favorite song in existence, is “Will You Be There”. The song, and the film(Free Willy) it’s attached to, were a big part of the driving force I had growing up, that showed me the path of what I wanted to do with my life. I’m now 30, working on a PhD in marine biology, and one of the foremost experts on orca and orca behavior, as well as being one of the country’s leading activists for the protection and conservation of marine life. Not a day goes by that I’m not thankful to Michael, for all he did for marine life, and the environment as a whole. He was a very strong and loud activist, and he made no bones about it. That took courage, and gusto that I don’t really see in the majority of Western artists, anymore.
I understand Sam’s position, though. If you’ve actually read this far, you’re probably wondering what the hell I mean when I am calling something “Western”, and no, it doesn’t have anything to do with cowboys… The majority of pop culture that I soak up, comes from the Asian countries, primarily Japan and South Korea. Music, dramas, anime, manga, novels, movies, fashion, culture, etc. You name it, I’m probably into it, and have been the majority of my life. I’m not Asian(unless you count my blood tie to the Ainu tribe of Japan), but I grew up with a lot of Asian influence from a Japanese cousin who married into my family. This built a love for the pop culture over there, as she would bring me movies, anime, music, books, manga, etc. as gifts, and I fell in love with all of it. I was listening to Kpop, before it was “Kpop”, and watching anime, before the craze created by the likes of Pokemon, Sailor Moon, Yugioh!, and Inuyasha hit US soil. Other kids watched Disney movies, I was watching Studio Ghibli and other Japanese and Korean animation. This lead to a love of the music these things included, so my first band love was X Japan. You can see where all of this is going, so I’ve gotten extreme racism for being a “Yellow Lover”, a term thrown at me a lot. Then I get hate for not liking music by people like Sam Smith, or Beyonce, or any of whoever else is popular, these days. I have my handful of artists I do enjoy, like Maroon 5, Linkin Park, Pink, Fall Out Boy, Panic! at the Disco, and a few others. But outside that, if you want me listening to Western music, it’s going to be Broadway, cause I’m a musical junkie. Same goes for all forms of Western pop culture. Though Western fashion and make up, I DO NOT LIKE AT ALL. Aside from Vivienne Westwood. She’s amazing, and she gets a pass. So, I’ve been racially bullied from a young age, because of my love for Asian cultures. Kids tried to spray paint me yellow on Pearl Harbor day, when I was in high school. They didn’t get me, and they ended up locked in the off campus bathroom for an hour or so. But that kind of hate thrown at me, has never stopped.
I’m personally Native(strongest is Cherokee) by race, but even though my ancestry is primarily from Native tribes, there’s also Irish, German, Russian, and a bit of Greek, too. So my skin and hair color, do not match what people assume a Native should look like. I have been subjected to racism since I was 4 years old. But it wasn’t all just for being Native. Most people assume I’m “just white” when they first meet me, so I’ve been bullied by mostly black and Hispanic/Latino communities, simply because of the color of my skin. The only race/ethnicity communities I have never felt racism or prejudice from, have been Asians, and Native. So, being racist against white people, is a thing. I have my own set of “white hate” issues, that stem from how I’ve been treated by white people, as well as the ongoing hate and evil done to my people. Yes, it happens to this day. I tend to be overly cautious when I meet or encounter new people, who are white, because it’s become second nature, and I don’t consciously do it. I don’t want to feel that way towards white people, but my reactions are product of the cruelty and evil that has been done to me, that has happened to come from white people. It’s the same reason I’m always suspicious of new cisgender male encounters, because I’m a 2 time attempted rape survivor, as well as survivor of other forms of sexual assault/harassment, and all those encounters have been with males.
The bottom line, is that we all have our own tastes in pop culture, and every taste is valid to the individual person. I wish we lived in a world where everyone thought that way, and wouldn’t attack a person for having an “unpopular opinion”, but we don’t. So Smith needs to watch his words, and Lambert needs to better monitor what he posts on social media.
wow, did anyone even read this post after the first few sentences. but I hope you feel better; you’re obviously impassioned.
Sam Smith’s comments were disrespectful. In his case much of his success was pioneered by previous black entertainers such as Michael Jackson. The point here was, as an entertainer, you need to give props. As a white entertainer whose popularity is in part due to black entertainers who paved the way, it comes across as benefitting from their legacy without acknowledging their legacy. Michael Jackson was quite a legend. Further, I’m not seeing the connection between the need to refer to anyone as a black cunt and their racist behavior. The fact that this person was black is irrelevant. The fact that they were being racist towards Sam’s friend is the only relevance here. I don’t think Sam smith is racist. I just think he doesn’t get who opened the doors for him as a white artist who is popular in the black community. Pay your respects!
Would have anybody said anything if he said he didn’t like another white R & B singer? Definitely not. As for Stephanie Mills: aside from her 10-minute role on “The Wiz Live”, she hasn’t done anything since the early 80s. Who is she to criticize?
You’re right, nobody would have got upset, because this wasn’t about color.
Sheik JUST keep on drinking the MJ cool aide.
You don’t have to like Michael Jackson, but he paved to way for a lot of recording artists, and especially R&B artists like Sam Smith. I’m old enough to remember when MTV wouldn’t play black artists, and when the Grammy’s put black artists, even pop ones, in a whole separate category during award season. Michael broke that barrier. Sam Smith is entitled to his opinion, but people are also entitled to read him for his opinion, especially if he spouts it from a position of comfort in R&B music that was carved out for him by the artists who came before him.
People are entittle to their opinion, but not to accuse him of racism or demanding an apology.
And let’s be honest, Michael Jackson influence on Sam Smith’s music is almost zero. It’s quite clear he had a lot of black artists influences but Michael Jackson is not one of them.
And he didn’t say that Michael Jackson was groundbreaking or an influencial artist, he only said he didn’t like him (but found Human Nature a great song)
What kind of sick person would accuse you of being racist just because you didn’t like Michael Jackson or Beyonce?
She didn’t accuse him of being racist for not liking Michael Jackson. The author of this piece totally twisting this incident for shock value.
Yes, she did, Franklin. She even accused him of using a racial slur outside some club or whatever (though she deleted her post, probably out of fear of being sued for defamation).
This is incredibly ridiculous.
You can accuse him of having bad taste (if you are such MJ stan) but that’s all.
Everybody is entittled of his taste, and frankly is quite obvious that MJ is not a big influence in Sam Smith’s music.
Second, not liking a black actor/singer/writer doesn’t make you racist. I remember someone on youtube accusing Joyce Carol Oates of being racist because “she had arguments with black writers” (i don’t know if she was right or wrong or even if the arguments were about race because the poster didn’t care to make clear his/her point).
In fact you can dislike rap or hip hop without being racist, and i mention those genres because they seem inmune to criticism of some obvious flaws, for some reason the sexism, egocentrism, exaltation of violence and homophobia are perfectly ok if it’s a rapper the one who spread that shit.
And of course there’s the fact of MJ as epitome of blackness. Sorry but as someone who lived by the time MJ was a big star that it’s quite difficult to swallow. Even buying the vitiligo problem, there’s the thing with all the surgery and the straighten hair that makes me difficult to buy Michael Jackson as the black icon some people pretend him to be.
And i question the intentions of Adam Lambert posting the video. It was a private conversation and just a commentary (about liking Human nature, which is one of the MJ best songs) but he knew the comment will stir controversy and he posted anyway.
Liking MJ is not compulsory, like it’s not compulsory like any artist (in fact you can acknowledge how good is an artist without even liking him/her)
As a black man, I saw the title of this post and was convinced I would disagree with the author. Given today’s climate of ignorance, it was a gut reaction. However, once I read the article, I find that I couldn’t agree more with the author. Being immune to criticism or dislike is not equality; in fact, the opposite is true. To like someone only because he/she is black is racist.
I hope Sam withstands this unnecessary storm. I am not MJ’s biggest fan either, but even if I were, Sam not liking him is none of my business.
love this phrase: “damage done”… almost as good as this one: “yeah right!”
Fact: a ton of black Americans -revere- Michael Jackson for his musical contributions to both black and popular culture, despite his major personal failings. Fact: For many black Americans, MJ was the first black artist they had ever seen WHITE Americans celebrate so strongly. Fact: Sam Smith got that BET award because his work is very black. Fact: If Sam Smith wants to share that he dislikes Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, James Brown or any other black musical icon, he should expect a lot of black folks to be unhappy with that, and he should be fine with it. It’s his opinion. Opinion: it is a little bit racist, coming from a white soul singer. Then go sing country. (This is also coming from the guy who thought he was the first gay man to win an Oscar. #LearnYourHistory).
You’re loading a lot of backstory on this where it isn’t warranted–unless we assume Smith had all that in mind and said what he did deliberately, with that context.
Which is highly unlikely. It sounds more like he heard a song and off-handedly gave his opinion. It’s literally no different from hearing “Over the Rainbow” and saying “Nice song but I’m not a Garland fan.” (which could of course trigger similar outrage from Judy cultists–lots of idiots out there)
That’s silly. Not everyone is a fan of MJ, whether you’re white or black. If a grunge singer doesn’t care for Nirvana, would there be this much fake outrage?
It’s beyond that. Whitney Houston is Sam Smith’s favorite artist. Before Michael achieved global stardom, black artists didn’t get regular airplay on mainstream music and television stations; and they were all lumped into the soul category at the Grammys. After Thriller, many started to get the notiriety and fame they deserved for the work they put in, including Whitney. It’s about respect for those who paved the way. Without work of Michael, Sam Smith might not have even gotten the chance to know who Whitney was.
Someone slap this man. Slap him now.
I’m removing this queen from my music playlists.
I don’t have a huge opinion either way of Sam Smith, but Mills sounds unbalanced.
Beyonce .meh…hate all rap..dosent make me racists…there are black artist I like and many I dont..I’m not big into.showtunes either.am I supposed to like madonna..GaGa…Bette Midler…Patti Lapone because most gays do ? Drag…disco and..tea parties ? Sam Smith can make as many records he wants I dont have to buy them. ..I like having choices ..what I like you may not sometimes our tastes meet.
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