In the wake of the Leaving Neverland documentary, did sales and streams of Michael Jackson songs go up or down?

There’s been much angst over what to do about Michael Jackson in the wake of HBO’s broadcast of the Michael-was-a-serial-pedo documentary, Leaving Neverland. What should become of his music now that these new allegations are out there?

Radio stations from Quebec to Norway to Australia and New Zealand have stopped playing his songs while other outlets are watching the situation very closely. Some record stores have taken a stance and are now refusing to sell his stuff. The Simpsons pulled “Stark Raving Dad,” the 1991 episode featuring Jackson, from their syndication list.

Meanwhile, the Jackson estate is suing HBO for $100 million while fans around the world continue to protest Jackson’s innocence.

What’s been the effect of all this on the sale of Jackson streams and record sales? Data from Nielsen Canada and SoundScan offers the following for the week ending March 7, which covers the two days of the Leaving Neverland broadcast plus three more. (Via FYIMusicNews)

  • Sales of physical albums: Up 48%
  • Sales of digital albums: Up 27%
  • Sales of digital tracks: Up 8%
  • On-demand streams: Up 7%.

The one area with a decline was radio airplay of Jackson’s songs, which saw a 27% decline in the above period. However, there was still plenty of his music on North American radio over the last week.

  • “Billie Jean” was spun 1,423 times last week. That’s down from 1,830 the week before.
  • Michael Jackson was heard on the radio 11,947 times, down from 15,744 from a week prior.

Is this the start of a trend or just a momentary blip? We won’t know for a couple more weeks.

Meanwhile, debate rages on over whether Jackson should be canceled out of contemporary culture for his (still-alleged) crimes. Do we separate the man from the music? Or do we throw all of it out?

I’ve been giving this a lot of thought and here’s are my (still-evolving) conclusions:

  1. Jackson has been dead for almost ten years. The man behind the music cannot be enriched by or benefit from his music. Erasing him will serve no punishment upon him and therefore be moot. That will, however, impact people associated with the music but not his deeds. Think of all the producers, musicians, engineers, employees Sony Records and others who worked on that music. They’re still alive and totally blameless for anything Jackson did. Should they be punished, too?
  2. The music itself is undeniably brilliant. People are going to keep enjoying it, dancing to it, singing along to it. However, knowing what we know now, songs like “Man in the Mirror” or “PYT” or any song talking about children have been rendered unlistenable to many–me, included.
  3. The more we learn about Jackson’s hideous proclivities, the bigger the asterisk next to all his songs becomes. The pedo stigma attached to Jackson is there forever and will never go away. It’s possible that society will slowly weed him out as his image continues to take hit after hit.
  4. Then again, a surprising number of people aren’t even paying attention to what’s going on. A co-worker was in a Starbucks recently and heard the barista singing along to a Jackson song that was playing in the store. “You know he’s a pedophile, right?” the co-worker said. The woman replied with shock “Really? Michael Jackson? NO! I’d never heard that!” Amazing.

We’ll see what happens, right?

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

5 thoughts on “In the wake of the Leaving Neverland documentary, did sales and streams of Michael Jackson songs go up or down?

  • March 11, 2019 at 1:27 pm

    Good points all, Alan but didn’t most people with a brain already know Jackson was a perv without needing a voyeuristic movie to hammer that home? You are right the music will stand the test. Now when will the dissection of other musicians/ artists began by the history fixers?

  • March 11, 2019 at 2:44 pm

    You should know Alan that Man In The Mirror and PYT weren’t even written by Michael Jackson. So why would they weird you out? They are someone else’s words. Man In The Mirror is about trying to become a better person, how that weirds you out is beyond me. Lets not be so dramatic now!

  • March 12, 2019 at 5:09 pm

    Well another group of Brain Dead idiots. It pains me Alan Cross I used to be a fan. WHAT IS THE EVIDENCE MICHAEL JACKSON COMMITTED THESE CRIMES? Also are you telling me the FBI, LA Sheriffs office, numerous private investigators and multiple surprise raids which found no evidence. However two proven liars are telling the truth. This Film is a sad commentary on today’s “information now facts later culture.”
    Everyone believe this movie cause two liars provide graphic details. SO IT MUST BE TRUE. No bothers to research or question the alleged facts presented with a skeptical eye.
    It is the exact same as when a story with an interesting title pops up in a facebook feed and shared. Without anyone reading it or questioning its contents or looking for the otherside of the story.

    Society is doomed. People don’t even care about facts anymore. They just want information in an easily digestible way where they don’t have to work too hard to look like they are in the know

    • March 12, 2019 at 8:06 pm

      But if you add in all the other (albeit often circumstantial) evidence, SOMETHING weird was going on with Jackson. After following this story for 25 years, I just can’t shake the sense that Jackson took advantage of children (and their parents) regardless of the outcome of that big court case. (If you watched Leaving Neverland, you’ll know why the two guys in the doc testified on the side of Jackson.)

      We’ll see if this doc encourages anyone else to come forward. Maybe, maybe not.


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