Dead pop stars: They keep pretty busy. They tour as holograms, they sing duets, and, of course, they release album after album long after they’re supposed to be resting in peace.
But for years, Michael Jackson fans have been accusing his record label of lying to listeners and including three songs on a posthumous MJ album that the King of Pop didn’t actually sing. It’s stretched into a saga so long that the label and the singer’s estate have finally decided to throw in the towel and pull the disputed tracks from streaming services—even as they continue to insist that Jackson really did perform the vocals.
“The Estate of Michael Jackson and Sony Music decided to remove the tracks ‘Breaking News,’ ‘Monster’ and ‘Keep Your Head Up’ as the simplest and best way to move beyond the conversation associated with these tracks once and for all,” the record label and the estate said in a statement Tuesday, according to Entertainment Weekly. “Nothing should be read into this action concerning the authenticity of the tracks—it is just time to move beyond the distraction surrounding them.”
The tracks in question are “Breaking News,” “Keep Your Head Up,” and “Monster,” all released on 2010's Michael, the first collection of new music released following the singer’s death in 2009. But before the LP even debuted, drama started kicking up. Reports emerged that members of Jackson’s family, including his mother Katherine Jackson, children Paris and Prince, and sister La Toya, didn’t believe that the vocals were performed by Jackson himself. A post on the Facebook page of MJ impersonator Jason Malachi later claimed that Malachi recorded the songs himself as part of an “agreement with the record company.”
However, Jackson’s estate insisted that it was all just a rumor and that they interviewed the production team who worked on the songs to confirm Jackson recorded them. They went as far as to hire forensic musicologists who proved that he provided lead vocals on all the disputed tracks by deploying “objective scientific tests.” Malachi also later denied the claims and said that the social media account in question had been hacked.
Michael Jackson stans being, well, Michael Jackson stans—seriously, just try mentioning the multiple child sexual abuse allegations leveled against him on social media and see what happens—weren’t about to let the matter rest. In 2012, two men hacked Sony and stole recordings by Jackson, Beyoncé, and other artists, in a theft worth $253 million. The duo said that they orchestrated the digital break-in to prove that the songs were fakes.
And that still wasn’t the end of it: In 2014, a different Jackson fan sued Sony, a co-executor of the pop star’s estate, and a whole bunch of other people, accusing them of falsely selling the songs as Michael Jackson tracks. The whole thing became a long an exceedingly complicated legal saga, but the fan eventually lost the case. However, the court didn’t find that Jackson sang the songs—merely that Sony didn’t know for sure either way, so the company wasn’t liable. (According to TMZ, the fan is appealing, naturally.)
At this point, whether or not the songs are true MJ originals, you can kind of see why Sony and the Jackson estate would want to be done with it. Of course, the companies could just be finally abandoning ship because the songs really are fakes.
While they’re not on Spotify anymore, the tracks are alive and well on YouTube, so listeners can still make up their own minds. Maybe the conspiracists have gotten to me, but I can kind of hear where they’re coming from—Jackson’s voice on “Keep Your Head Up” at times has a kind of expansiveness that was rarely heard from the singer, especially later in life, while “Monster” reaches a lower register that I don’t normally associate with him. “Breaking News” just kind of sounds like an NSYNC song. But no matter who sang what, all three tracks—and most of the rest of Michael’s offerings—range from mediocre to actively bad. Maybe they should have just let the embattled dead guy stop releasing new music in the first place!