Page last updated at 23:13 GMT, Thursday, 5 March 2009

Michael Jackson: Still King of Pop?


Michael Jackson's appearance at the O2 lasted just a few minutes

By Ian Youngs
Music reporter, BBC News

After the years of scandal and seclusion, is this the beginning of the rehabilitation of Michael Jackson?

Stepping through the red curtains at the O2 arena in London to the hysterical screams of his loyal fans, the King of Pop almost seemed like his old self once more.

There were broad smiles, sparkling silver and jewels adorning his black jacket, and waves and peace signs for his army of followers.

There was no mask over the face, no trace of the supposed "flesh-eating bug" and no sign of the Michael Jackson who looked frail while shuffling into court in his pyjamas during his child abuse trial and deluded as he danced on a car.

Michael Jackson at the O2
Michael Jackson appeared touched by the fans' show of support

His appearance to announce 10 dates at the O2 in the summer was a day that some thought would never come.

Given his past behaviour, there was a suspicion that he might fly into London, feel a bit funny and get straight back on the next plane home.

Or that if he did arrive at the O2 announcement at all, that he would hover in the background for 20 seconds, mumble something incoherent and then disappear again.

In the end, his appearance lasted less than five minutes, and his speech was filled with hesitant pauses.

But that can be put down to the fact that he was too busy grinning as he surveyed his fans, listening to their screams of support and making various gestures in response.

"I love you. I really do," he told them. "You have to know that. I love you so much. Really. From the bottom of my heart."

It was a far cry from a two-hour stage show, but it was a start.

He did not break into song, but he looked fit enough to persuade most fans to want to part with their cash.

There may have been fewer fans queuing up here than there would have been 10 years ago, but the hardcore are still as fervent as ever.

For them, seeing the King of Pop is a quasi-religious experience, and they went into rapture when he appeared.

New music

Some wore his face on their T-shirts or jackets, while a few had their hair and make-up inspired by different Jackson eras.

There was even one lookalike who was so convincing that when he tried to leave the area, he was mobbed by TV crews and fans thinking it was the man himself on an impromptu walkabout.

If this is the start of the rehabilitation of Michael Jackson, what will be the end result?

Michael Jackson in Thriller
Jackson's Thriller is the best-selling album in chart history

It is probable that the initial 10 announced concerts will become more, and if they go well he is likely to take the show to other venues around the world.

He is also thinking about new music, movies and possibly other ventures as part of a new "relationship" with promoters AEG Live, which could be worth more than $400m (£283m) to him over three-and-a-half years.

That should be enough to keep even Michael Jackson in jewel-encrusted jackets for the foreseeable future.

But he will never again create music as great as he did in his glory days, and his forthcoming shows - however many he plays, wherever he plays them - are to be his last.

At least that is the plan.

So he does not have a long-term vision to return to the peak of the pop hierarchy and keep performing for the rest of his days.

For now, he will try to recapture a brief glimpse of glory.

Today was a start. The next test is whether he can get back on stage and put on a series of spectacular shows - something he has not done for 12 years.

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