Justice — “D.A.N.C.E.”

Released: 11.5.07

Peak: Did not chart

 

Michael Jackson didn’t redefine pop stardom so much as refine it. His greatest performances distilled components from Broadway, Hollywood, Motown and the Chitlin’ Circuit into a composite realization of what it meant to be an American star. It’s not just that it’s impossible to imagine a Justin Timberlake or Usher (or, ugh, Chris Brown) existing without his example. It’s not even that Michael laid down certain rules that these guys felt compelled to follow. It’s that any for male singer born after the mid-70s, becoming a pop star meant becoming your own version of Michael Jackson.

Jackson’s most enduring legacy may have been to enshrine the artist-as-dancer at the center of pop music. Fitting, then, that the ultimate MJ tribute recording from his final decade alive would be a tribute to his physical grace: “The way you move is a mystery” sums up the inimitability of his movements as well as you could ask. And better than any of MJ’s disciples could have–clunky Frenchmen Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay, dba Justice, specialized in a baroque dance music that’s custom-made for homage purposes. On “D.A.N.C.E.,” the assembled bits — disco string blats, squelchy super-low-end bass plinkety keyboards — don’t accumulate into a single thrilling sound, but rather stand in isolation to remind us how sounds have thrilled us before.

“D.A.N.C.E.” acknowledges that Michael existed foremost as an image from our collective childhood by 2007.  The squelchy radio dialing at the start (lifted from Skee-Lo’s “I Wish”) sets a nostalgic tone, and the childish voices sound as though they learned (are learning?) English from the M.J. lyrics they quote. Just as the song’s gracelessness is its charm, its foreignness is a reminder to Americans of how his popularity overseas continued to grow as he was reduced to a parody here at home. And though Michael didn’t die till 2009, “D.A.N.C.E.” hardly feels like a premature eulogy. For most of us, Michael Jackson is no more dead now than he was in 2007–or do I mean, he was no less dead in 2007 than he is today.

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