Michael Jackson's music was little more than a child-catching bauble – enjoy it at your peril

This video content is no longer available
To watch The Telegraph's latest video content please visit youtube.com/telegraph

I never got Michael Jackson; considering him a prime pop example of The Emperor’s New Clothes syndrome, I just couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. Lucky for me, as I don’t have to join the hordes of fans and ex-fans (even Oprah, his one-time greatest cheerleader, has bailed) agonising over whether Radio 2 should or should not have banned his records following the repulsive revelations in the forthcoming Channel 4 documentary Leaving Neverland.

It’s worth mentioning that Radio 2 themselves don’t seem sure whether they have or not; they haven’t played any of his records since February 23 but a spokesman for the BBC said: "It is not true that Michael Jackson has been dropped off the Radio 2 playlist…we don’t ban songs or artists…we consider each piece of music on its merits and decisions on what we play on different networks are always made with relevant audiences and context in mind." 

But bear in mind that this is the BBC, bemusedly and ceaselessly in search of its moral compass especially when it comes to issues of child abuse; facilitating that of Jimmy Savile and fabricating that of Cliff Richard, banning the Lostprophets after their singer Ian Watkins was jailed for sex offences against children and paying royalties to Gary Glitter

I’m not a bit confused: I believe he was 100% guilty and I don’t believe he should be banned, as that removes the responsibility of each of us as adults to react as we see fit. I adored the Jackson 5 when I was a little girl - that was, of course, when Jackson himself was a child and, to put it crudely, too young to do any damage.

But long before the fact that he was a child abuser (as anyone but the most tunnel-visioned disciples must have acknowledged by now) emerged, the fact that he was an abused child had already taken the joy out of even those performances for me.

When we see him whooping and prancing in those early clips, he’s not expressing the exuberance of a 12-year-old doing something he loves, but the fearful desire to avoid the heavy hand of the father who stands backstage, watching his colour-coordinated cash-cows bring home the bacon. It’s striking how, in interviews, all five brothers - even the bigger ones - look terrified.

As an adult, I never understood the grandiose claims made on Jackson’s behalf - at his best (Off The Wall) he could serve up good pop-soul but that was because he had replaced a cruel and parasitical puppet-master with a benevolent and generous one, the producer Quincy Jones. On a visual level I could never suspend my sense of humour long enough not to find him ridiculous - his clothes, that voice, that dumb dance.

Done up like Liberace auditioning for the Black And White Minstrels, yelping and jerking and clutching at his genitalia in a way that seemed to signify alarm rather than arousal, it all looked weirdly like the male equivalent of a little girl in her mother’s high heels. With hindsight, it’s horribly easy to believe that music was actually aimed at children from Thriller onwards, and what gullible music critics lauded as ground-breaking art was little more than a child-catching bauble. 

The more famous Jackson became, the less he appeared to have had no instinct for or interest in what was good or bad, musically; as a lifelong devotee of black music, particularly Motown, what strikes me is how much his music took on the worst aspects of white rock (self-indulgence, tunelessness, angst) and lost the best elements of soul (tightness, melody, joyfulness) as his skin increasingly lightened.

Some might say that this drop in quality-control is a common side effect of super-fame, but pop stars bigger than him have avoided it; even Elvis, doped to the eyeballs and surrounded by yes-men, could produce an astounding record like In The Ghetto.

If the claims of his music being great were puzzling, the insistence on his merit as a human being was downright perplexing. He seemed variously silly and sinister. His joyless round of cosmetic surgery and shopping sprees were classic signs of mania. Tellingly, his only political interests were children and the environment  - identifying as a Good Guy, he could then act as badly as he pleased, mirroring the recent revelations of the international "care" agencies and the abusive men who infest them.

When Jarvis Cocker mooned him during Earth Song, I felt that that bum was shown in a blend of high ideals and low humour which spoke volumes of surreal common sense.

Michael Jackson in 1988 Credit:  Time & Life Pictures

"Can we separate the art from the artist?" is a question we have asked ourselves a good deal over the past decade, especially with the emergence of the MeToo movement. Lots of great art is produced by rotten men; should we ban it all? It depends on how much premium we put on our own fun over other’s suffering; as with the trail of human misery left by, say, drugs and pornography, only the individual can decide if their momentary pleasure matters more than a stranger’s prolonged sorrow.

We can ban Jackson’s voice from the airwaves - but can we ever ban it from our heads, when it was young and full of sunshine and ignorance was bliss because his childhood was already over, unbeknownst to us? The bigger decision is one which comfy old Radio 2 cannot solve for us, which each of us must make individually. No one ever said being a grown-up was easy, but we must all leave Neverland one day.