Michael Jackson history. Magazine covers timeline

By |Published On: April 26th, 2019|Last Updated: December 19th, 2023|Categories: Marketing|

If you look back on any normal person’s life, you’ll probably be greeted with homemade videos and photo albums. But notice we said normal. Michael Jackson’s history is anything but normal.

Instead of homemade videos, you can watch Michael Jackson slide his way across a stage while being viewed by millions. Instead of pictures in a photo album, you can witness his life, from childhood to his death, on the front cover of major magazines.

In fact, that’s what we did through this project. Every major step in Michael Jackson’s history is documented on the front cover of magazines. For much of his life, and even 10 years after his death, the media left no stone unturned. Our goal is not to take a stance, but to simply state unbiased and neutral facts. So our mission begins.

It was not an easy task to document the King of Pop’s life but it was a task worth doing. Like any good story, there has to be a beginning, so that’s where we will start.

Jackson 5: The start of something great

As young as Michael was when he became a star, his life wasn’t always in the spotlight. Like most of the kids growing up in the 1960s, Michael spent most of his time with his brothers and sisters in their hometown of Gary, Indiana.

Michael Jackson through magazine covers The Jackson 5

As the story goes, the Jackson family’s TV broke one afternoon, and they found themselves looking for activities to occupy their time. As they sat and wondered what on Earth they could do with their young lives, their mom suggested that they start singing together, like her and her siblings used to do.

From then on, they spent most of their time touring and singing. It started on a very small scale, only going to local venues and bars, then expanded to all over the country, and eventually the world knew them as The Jackson 5.

With most stars, fame comes slowly, but not the Jackson 5.

Michael Jackson through magazine covers The Jackson 5 cartoon characters

J-5s early success

The King of Pop had 8 siblings. Growing up in Indiana in the 60s wasn’t an easy thing to do for a black kid, but that never stopped them from chasing their dreams and working hard for the lives they so desperately wanted.

As kids, their father heavily influenced their decisions as musical artists, and greatly impacted Michael Jackson’s history. Although they admit being afraid of their father, Joe Jackson stood by them through their time as the Jackson 5. In their early years, Joe was the one driving them from state to state to perform at shows. In a way, you can say that Joe is the main reason for the group’s early success. Joe was so dedicated to seeing his sons perform on stage, that he even booked gigs in strip clubs.

Michael Jackson through magazine covers The Jackson 5 Right on magazine

From the beginning, the group was destined for stardom. Their passion combined with their pure talent led them to break a few records at the start of their career.

If you take a look at the magazine cover above, you’ll see one of the very first magazines The Jackson 5 were featured on. If you take an even closer look, you’ll notice that practically the entire thing is dedicated to talking about them.

Diana Ross Presents The Jackson 5

In 1969, their fame was given a massive boost when Diana Ross presented The Jackson 5. At the time, their debut album had sold over 600,000 copies worldwide.

Remember the hit song I want you back? This is the song that set them apart from the crowd, and a shinning point in Michael Jackson’s history. It reached #1 on the charts in no time. Even to this day, I Want You Back is played across radio stations all around the world and is used in major movies like ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’.

Their follow up album featured their next #1 song, ABC which knocked Let it Be by The Beatles off the top. This album also included The Love You Save which also reached the #1 rank for a short time.

A young bachelor married to music

Because of Michael’s unique voice and his young star power, he was able to secure not just a single solo song, but an entire solo album by the age of 14.

The album featured his hit single Ben, which previously reached the top of the charts and secured the #1 rank for a full week.

Michael Jackson through magazine covers The Jackson 5 Jet Magazine

As Michael’s siblings began to get older, the now super famous Jackson 5 began to expand. Michael himself began to dabble more and more in solo work as his success in the Jackson 5 grew.

Michael Jackson through magazine covers Jet Magazine

A young bachelor married to music. Little did the press know what was going to happen next. In 1979, Michael put himself on the map as a solo performer with his 5th solo album Off the Wall.

It was at this time, with the aid of his choreographed moves in The Jackson 5, that Michael began to explode on the scene with his dancing and singing.

“Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” – what a perfect way to describe Michael’s ambition to become a superstar.

Michael Jackson through magazine covers Thriller

Why he’s a Thriller

Thriller was his 6th solo album and is still the highest selling album of all time worldwide. Although the song itself is iconic, it would be impossible to talk about Michael Jackson’s history without mentioning the music video. The best way to describe the music video is a short movie. This “movie” is what defines the standards for music videos even to this day.

Although Thriller was not the first music video ever produced for MTV, it’s what gave MTV the juice it needed to become what it is today.

Michael Jackson MTV

America’s video revolution. There’s no better way to describe it.

But don’t let Thriller’s music video blind you from all the other songs on the album. Yes, Thriller is one of a kind but so are Beat it and Billie Jean. In fact, it was during the performance of Billie Jean at the Motown 25 concert that the moonwalk was first introduced to the world.

The music video for Billie Jean was the first time an African American artist was featured on an MTV music video. Michael was a man for breaking boundaries.

Michael Jackson Moonwalk

Arguably, Michael Jackson is just as famous for his dance moves as he is for his music. During his renowned interview with Oprah Winfrey in 1993, he described his dance moves as uncontrollable. It was over the course of many years that he adapted his famous moves from watching kids dance on the street.

Shortly after Thriller was released, Michael Jackson came together with Lionel Richie and wrote We are the World, an anthem created with the help of the world’s most influential artists of the time to provide famine relief in Africa.

At this point in Michael Jackson’s history, he had the eyes of the word following him. He had such power in the music industry, that famed artist Andy Warhol was commissioned to create this magazine cover for Time Magazine, featuring Michael front and center.

Michael Jackson Andy Warhol time magazine cover

Big and Bad

Along with the Bad album release, companies started to market themselves using Michael’s fame. One of the most notable brands being Pepsi. It was during a Pepsi commercial that Michael’s hair caught fire, resulting in severe burns across his head. Michael sued Pepsi for a staggering amount of money, but immediately turned around and invested all of it into the treatment of burn victims, and the Michael Jackson Burn Victim foundation began.

It was also during this time in Michael Jackson’s history that his appearance began to change drastically. Michael suffered from a very rare disease called vitiligo. This disease is the sole contributor to his skin color change. At the time, it wasn’t public information that this disease had taken hold of Michael, so the media began to draw conclusions, and wild rumors were spread.

It was also around this time that most major publications featured controversial stories about Michael Jackson. It was such a drastic change from the normal Michael Jackson persona. Headlines went from “Why He’s a Thriller” to calling him “weird and odd. “

Michael Jackson through magazine covers People magazine

Michael didn’t let these rumors and attacks stop him. He was just as successful as he’d ever been. He even spent a cool $19.5 million on the famed Neverland Ranch in 1988 to celebrate his success.

Off to Neverland

Whether you view Neverland as a good or a bad place, it definitely made an impact on Michael Jackson’s history. He purchased this playground to pose as a place to escape. Somewhere that he could be a kid, and use all of his earnings up until that point to recreate the childhood he never had. Michael often invited sick children to enjoy the luxuries of Neverland Ranch and was often seen having fun, just like one of the kids.

Michael took all of his inspiration for Neverland right out of the storybooks. His wish, just like Peter Pan, was to never grow up, and he never did. He was always a kid at heart.

Michael fights back

Using his next album, Bad, he began to battle the media with his weapon of choice: his music. Songs like Leave me alone, featured on the Bad album indicate how Michael was feeling about the rumors. From this point on you can feel a new emotion emerge in his music.

Although Michael was under attack by media at this point, it didn’t stop him from releasing hit after hit. One of those hits, and definitely one of the most popular songs of all time Being Smooth Criminal.

Michael Jackson - Being Smooth Criminal

Like anything else Michael did, this music video was loaded with rhythm and seemingly impossible dance moves. One of the most notable is the 45 degree lean, that wouldn’t have been possible without the help of some cables, hooks, and special shoes.

Crowned King

Even though media outlets portrayed him as “weird” he still had millions of fans around the world that still called him “The King of Pop”.

Michael Jackson the king of pop

As famous as he was, The King of Pop wasn’t always about himself. Throughout Michael Jackson’s history, he used his voice on many occasions to talk about delicate issues in the world.

Daring and Dangerous

During the music video for In the Closet Michael featured supermodel Naomi Campbell. The music video focused on Naomi’s moves and highlighted her Jamaican roots. So much so, that the music video was considered the most sexually provocative at the time. Because of Michael and Naomi’s moves together, many television stations banned the video altogether.

In the Closet was only one of the many songs on the Dangerous album that addressed sensitive topics.

Michael Jackson Naomi Campbell dangerous

Black or White is also on the album, and talks about pressing racial issues. It gives it away right in the title. From start to finish, the song talks about the importance of racial harmony with lyrics like, “If you’re thinking of being my brother, it don’t matter if you’re black or white.

Heal the world is not just another song on the Dangerous album, it’s also a foundation. Like We are the World, this song is dedicated to helping bring relief to kids suffering from disease and starvation worldwide. Once again, he used his star power and musical influence to help make the world a better place. Michael has been quoted as saying that this is the song he’s most proud of.

Despite his best efforts, Michael couldn’t make a simple move without the media following right behind. During this era, we got a much closer look into his private life, and the media didn’t cut him any slack.

The dawn of a new era. HIStory

Over the next few years, Michael Jackson’s life changed drastically, but that didn’t stop him from making HIStory. Literally.

Michael Jackson through magazine covers Vibe magazine

By the time Michael Jackson’s HIStory had released, his entire life had already changed. It was around this time that Michael meets Lisa Marie Presley. They would go on to marry in 1994.

With HIStory, Michael again takes up arms to address the way he’s feeling. Using songs like Childhood, Scream or The Earth Song, Michael talks about his missed childhood, the stresses of his life, and the devastation to the planet.

Did you know that SCREAM is still to this date the most expensive music video ever made? It was released in May 1995 and it’s a direct response to the tabloid media and their coverage of the child sexual abuse in 1993.

Michael Jackson through magazine covers People and GQ magazine

In 1996 he officially divorced Lisa Marie Presley and soon re-married to Debbie Rowe, who was the mother of his first two children.

Michael Jackson: the family man

michael jackson through magazine covers Ok magazine

After the birth of his son in 1997 and his daughter in 1998, Michael spent most of his time on his new album Invincible and doing charity work. In fact, Guinness World Records acknowledged him for supporting 39 charities, which is more than any other artist.

Invincible, which was released in October of 2001 was his first album in 6 years and his last as a living artist.

In the music video for You Rock My World, Michael paid tribute to his unique style by sporting a classic fedora and suit, much like the ones we see in Smooth Criminal and Billie Jean.

Michael Jackson you rock my world

Michael didn’t stop with his messages, either. In the music video for Cry, you see long chains of people holding hands across bridges and important landmarks. Michael used this opportunity to promote unity and humanity, something the world needed after 9/11.

It was shortly after the success of Invincible that Michael had his third and final child, Prince Michael Jackson II, who is nicknamed Blanket.

Normally, we would insert a magazine cover or two, but Michael made it his mission to keep his kids out of the spotlight. Which is why it’s really strange that he pulled that stunt with his youngest son, Blanket while visiting Berlin, Germany.

The allegations

It was shortly after Michael had finally gotten the family he so badly desired that the sexual abuse accusations started to resurface.

Michael Jackson through magazine covers tabloids

In the end, Michael was acquitted of all charges. It was a really tough time for him because the media again cut him no slack. The eyes of the world were again on Michael, but for a completely different reason.

Rather than his music, the world was now seeing Michael in a different light. All those close to him mention the toll it took both mentally and physically on Michael.

In light of this, they closed down his beloved playground, Neverland right after the trials in 2006. Never again would anyone, man, woman, or child step foot into Michael’s magical world. Neverland would only be open for Michael and his family from then on.

This is it.

For the last few years of his life, Michael Jackson focused most of his time of his family. It wasn’t until early 2009 that we got mention of his final project, This is it, which will be our final stop in Michael Jackson’s history. With this show, he had planned to host a number of concerts in London. He spent his final days practicing his heart out. Unfortunately, this eventually took a toll on Michael, one that he would never recover from.

Michael never planned on leaving this world soon, this was simply his final bow to the music world which he cared so much for.

Despite what his family, the media, and even his crazed fans put him through, during his final message to the world in his press conference in London, he smiled from ear to ear and said, “I love you. I really do. You have to know that. I love you so much.” Little did the crowd and Michael know that the “Final curtain call” he was referring to would be so devastating.

Michael Jackson through magazine covers death

Despite the sensitivity of the situation, the media stuck to their old routines of not cutting Michael Jackson any slack. Some even took it so far as to use pictures of him clinging to life, or already dead.

The memorial service was held just a few days after the world was shocked by the news of his death. Despite everything the world had accused him of, despite all the hardships, and despite all the scandals he was involved in, over 1 billion people around the world tuned in to say their final goodbyes. This alone shows the impact that Michael Jackson’s history had on the world.

Michael Jackson tribute magazine covers

Life after death

10 years after his death, is the world a better place? It was worth looking back on his life and recognizing him for the person that he was. Magazine covers helped us greatly in our mission to better understand his impact on the world, and how he as a father, brother, son, artist, and inspiration evolved through the years. It’s clear that the media influenced the way the world viewed Michael Jackson. Even though much of Michael Jackson’s life is portrayed on the front of thousands of magazine covers, there’s still so much of his life that we never see. That being said, in light of all his allegations, we tried to remain as neutral as possible.

Michael Jackson history through magazine covers

Whether you’re a fan of Michael Jackson’s history or not, it’s interesting to see how he influenced the world, and how he was influenced by it. It’s not very often that you have someone as famous as he, documented from a very young age til death on not just magazine covers, but every major media outlet available. Every move Michael made, whether it’s metaphorical or an iconic dance move has lead the world of music to be what it is today.

From a young age, Michael had a heart for giving and a raw talent that will never be matched. Between his many humanitarian projects, his generous donations, and his powerful music, Michael Jackson’s legacy still lives on, and he will always be remembered as the kid who never grew up.

Michael Jackson through magazine covers People magazine

During our deep dive into Michael Jackson’s history, we came across quite a few interesting facts that we think the world should know more about. Whether you already know these facts or not, you have to admit that they’re interesting:

interesting facts about Michael Jackson


All magazine covers are copyright by their respective publications.
We don’t own, sell or distribute any of them.
The images used are for educational purposes only.


  1. Phepheshane May 29, 2019 at 9:00 pm - Reply

    Cool! I’m a lifelong MJ fan, thank you for this.

  2. Owen Roubeni June 23, 2019 at 6:06 pm - Reply

    This was an amazing read and video that you guys put together! I’ve loved MJ my whole life, but I started becoming a hard core fan in 2016. This is a very interesting and well written article. Thank you for this! RIP THE KING OF POP #mjinnocent

  3. Alan Edgard Dias April 11, 2021 at 6:37 pm - Reply

    Gratidão por essa matéria … Sou fâ de Michael desde que eu entendo por gente love … love MJJ FOREVER!!!!

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