Was Michael Jackson the World’s Biggest Environmentalist?
Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song” in 3D Tribute on Grammy Awards
A mega-hit across Europe in 1995, reaching No. 1 in the UK, selling a record-breaking million copies – Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song”Jackson’s stand on the planet. So what was wrong with using the original powerful “Earth Song” music video?
“Earth Song” was never released in the US. It will finally get its chance to be
heard here when featured as part of a tribute to the late entertainer
on the Grammy Awards this Sunday, January 31. A star-filled lineup will
sing along to the haunting environmental song with a special 3D
mini-film to accompany the performance. Created specifically for the
sold-out “This Is It” show scheduled last year in London before his
death, the above 30-second excerpt doesn’t quite show.
Was Michael Jackson the World’s Biggest Environmentalist?”
Treehugger asked last June on his passing. It’s great that the Grammy’s
will feature this song when posthumously presenting his “Lifetime
Achievement Award.” The segment will feature a curious assortment of
singers: Jennifer Hudson, Smokey Robinson, Carrie Underwood, Celine
Dion, and Usher with the film projected on a giant LED screen, also
showing photos of Jackson during the homage.
Pretty glitzy presentation with lots of over-the-top voices and not
as effective as his music video, shot in four locations – the Amazonian
Rainforest, Croatia, Tanzania, and the US, released off his HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I
album. Though seven minutes long, parts could have been converted to
3D. Take a look for yourself, watch through the end credits, and
compare to Sunday’s salute. Jackson and the concert producers, no
doubt, wanted to give British audiences something they hadn’t seen
already, since it was his biggest hit there. You can get a pair of
Grammy 3D glasses this weekend at Target free-of-charge.
Musicians continue to take a crack at an effective environmental anthem,
but Jackson did it. So now it’s time for Epic/Sony Records to release
“Earth Song” in the US with proceeds going to an environmental
foundation in Jackson’s name? That’s a fitting, timely and meaningful
tribute to his legacy.
by Alex Pasternack, New York, NY
Jackson’s “Earth Song,” His Biggest UK Chart-Topper, Wasn’t Released As a Single in America
Michael Jackson was famous for his socially-conscious music,
but “Earth Song,” his big, bold environmental call-to-arms, is often
overlooked. Still, by sheer dint of his reach, the song might have made
Jackson (who bears no relation to U.S. EPA chief Lisa Jackson) a kind of super-sized Al Gore, a decade before An Inconvenient Truth.
“Earth Song” is indisputably the most popular green-themed tune
ever. It remains Jackson’s best-selling song in the U.K. (yes, bigger
than “Thriller” or “Billie Jean”), and beat out the Beatles’ first
single in 25 years for the top spot on the British charts. But the
song, and its lavish globe-trotting video, barely registered in the U.S.
Record executives at Epic apparently didn’t think it had much life
stateside. Perhaps the themes of ecological destruction weren’t suited
to pop radio in the U.S. market, or the song’s musical approach —
gospel, blues and opera — was considered too offbeat for American
Whatever the reason, the song was never released as a single in
Jackson’s home country. And the dramatic music video — shot in four
different places and depicting man-made ecological devastation and
renewal — was only rarely played on American MTV.
Jackson performed “Earth Song” at the 1996
World Music Awards in France, backed up by a choir of young children
and cheered on by a crowd of crying fans.
The Whole Earth Catalog — Except Global Warming
With its themes of drought, over-fishing, deforestation, pollution and war,
the song and video speaks as loudly today as it did in 1996. And its
image of smog being sucked back into a smokestack foreshadows the
ambitious hopes of clean coal proponents.
Notably absent however was what has become the most talked-about environmental issue: climate change.
At the time, climate change was still a relative seedling of an
ecological crisis to many (and the science of greenhouse gases doesn’t
lend itself easily to the pop form). Still, heard by millions, “Earth
Song” was pop music’s biggest environmental song, and probably the
first ecological eye-opener for millions of young fans. The message was
clear: we are the world indeed, and we need to take care of it
In the epic music video,
scenes of environmental destruction and war are cut with Jackson
wandering across a landscape of drought and fire, before he does his
yell-through-the-wind thing, undoing all of our ecological damage like
It was named by MTV one of the top 40 most expensive music videos,
and was also likely one of the most carbon-heavy, too: locations
included the Amazon rainforest, Croatia, Tanzania, and Warwick, New
York, where a safe forest fire was simulated in a corn field.
Since it was filmed, more than 38,600 square miles have been cleared for pasture in the Amazon, where deforested land now equals the size of Iceland.
Here’s what Jackson said of the song:
I remember writing Earth Song when I was in Austria, in a hotel. And I
was feeling so much pain and so much suffering of the plight of the
Planet Earth. And for me, this is Earth’s Song, because I think nature
is trying so hard to compensate for man’s mismanagement of the Earth.
And with the ecological unbalance going on, and a lot of the problems
in the environment, I think earth feels the pain, and she has wounds,
and it’s about some of the joys of the planet as well. But this is my
chance to pretty much let people hear the voice of the planet.
I respect the sequence of magic of nature. That’s why it makes me so
angry when I see these things happening here on earth. That every
second I hear the size of a football field is torn down in the Amazon.
These things really bother me. That’s why I wrote these kind of songs,
to give a sense of awareness and awakening and hope to people.
I love the Planet, I love the trees. I have this thing for trees – the
colors and changing of leaves. I love it. I respect these kind of
things. I really think that nature is trying so hard to compensate for
man’s mismanagement of the planet. Because the planet is sick, like a
It’s like a runway train. When the times comes, then
This Is It. If we don’t fix it now, it would be a point of no return.
This is our last chance to fix the problem that we have. If we don’t
take care of it, then who? It starts with us. With us. Or else it
would never be done. We have four years to get it right. After that
it would be irreversible. Let’s take care of the planet.
Ebony: So, you play on a world stage. How do you see the shape of the world today?
Michael: I’m very concerned about the plight
of the international global warming phenomenon. I knew it was coming,
but I wish they would have gotten people’s interest sooner. But it’s
never too late. It’s been described as a runaway train; if we don’t
stop it, we’ll never get it back. So we have to fix it, now. That’s
what I was trying to do with “Earth Song,” “Heal the World,” “We Are
the World,” writing those songs to open up people’s consciousness. I
wish people would listen to every word.
Ebony Magazine December 2007