For a very brief time in the fall of 2001, it seemed like Michael Jackson was on the verge of a comeback. Invincible, his first new album in seven years, was due in stores on October 30th, and to build anticipation he booked a two-night tribute concert at Madison Square Garden. Many of the biggest stars of the day agreed to perform MJ’s hits, including Britney Spears, Whitney Houston, Destiny’s Child, ‘NSync, Usher, Shaggy, Aaron Carter, 98 Degrees and Mya. Liza Minnelli, Ray Charles, Elizabeth Taylor and even Marlon Brando joined in on the festivities.
The highlight of the show was a reunion of the Jackson 5, though technically this was “The Jacksons” since all six brothers participated. They hadn’t performed in public since the Victory tour ended in 1984, though they did record together on the ill-fated 1989 LP 2300 Jackson Street. Despite the long break, the performance was surprisingly smooth. They did a medley of their hits, including “I Want You Back,” “ABC, ” “Shake Your Body” and “I’ll Be There.”
The second show was held on September 10th, wrapping up just hours before the first plane struck the World Trade Center. Needless to say, a Michael Jackson tribute concert seemed like just about the least important thing in the world over the new few months. The show did air on CBS in late November to huge ratings, but by that point Invincible was already a clear commercial disappointment – especially by Michael Jackson standards.
A tour would have been a huge help to the album, but Jackson refused. Instead, he blamed the failure on his record label, calling Sony Music chairman Tommy Mottola “very, very devilish” and “racist” in a bizarre public protest. “The recording companies really, really do conspire against the artists,” he said. “They steal, they cheat, they do everything they can, especially [against] the black artists . . . People from James Brown to Sammy Davis Jr., some of the real pioneers that inspired me to be an entertainer, these artists are always on tour, because if they stop touring, they would go hungry. If you fight for me, you’re fighting for all black people, dead and alive.”
The wild accusations did little to endear him to Sony, and things grew worse the next year when Martin Bashir’s Living With Michael Jackson documentary aired. It presented him as highly unstable, and just a few months later he was arrested and charged with child molestation. Though ultimately cleared in a jury trial, it was the start of the sad, final chapter of Jackson’s life.