"The Way You Make Me Feel"
It would be a profound understatement to say that Michael Jackson had a very strange life. In fact, the man led perhaps the single most unlikely and bizarre life of all time, every step of the way entirely removed from what anyone could consider anything like a normal existence. This is a large part of his tragedy, but it is also something that highlights his uncanny gifts as a musician and entertainer: Somehow, despite being so totally estranged from the ordinary, he was capable of evoking and articulating the essence universal emotions, and not just in broad strokes. I am certainly not an expert on Jackson’s love life and would not ever want to be one, but I think it’s fair to assume that the scenario in “The Way You Make Me Feel” probably doesn’t match up with his own experience — the line “I’ll be workin’ from 9 to 5″ is a give away — but the man could sell the sentiment of the tune without flaw, nailing the nuances of his character’s infatuation, excitement, and confidence. His musical skill was clearly innate and miraculous, but it would not have meant that much without this incredible gift for interpreting, simplifying, and at times totally abstracting emotional experience into something so potent and primal that it could be instinctively understood across nearly all cultural boundaries. The man probably never felt normal a moment in his life, but it really seems like he understood humanity, or at least enough to synthesize his observations into these brilliant, intuitive performances. (Originally posted 6/29/2009)