After "Leaving Neverland," Canadian Fans, Industry, Struggle With Michael Jackson's Music

The debate rages on.

Michael Jackson is indisputably one of the greatest musicians of all time. He's also been accused, many times over and often in devastating detail, of sexually abusing young boys.

Since the debut of the searing documentary, "Leaving Neverland," at the Sundance Film Festival in January and on HBO last weekend, public and private conversations have been happening ad nauseam. People are trying to figure out how to reconcile these two contradictory ideas of Jackson. What do we do with his music now?

His 2003 compilation, "Number Ones" sits at the no. 47 spot on Canada's iTunes top albums chart this week (at time of publish). "Number Ones" has also reentered Billboard's top albums this week at no. 92, having not been in the top 100 the week prior. However, Billboard says the real indication will come with the March 16 charts, which reflect album sales from the week ending March 7.

U.S. streams for Jackson's music went up in the days following the HBO airing of "Leaving Neverland," and Jackson's work continues to be featured on streaming music sites Spotify and Google Play Music.

Pop star Michael Jackson leaves the Santa Barbara County Courthouse after his child molestation trial in Santa Maria, Calif. on March 29, 2005.
Pop star Michael Jackson leaves the Santa Barbara County Courthouse after his child molestation trial in Santa Maria, Calif. on March 29, 2005.

But not everyone is maintaining the status quo. On Friday, James L. Brooks, the executive producer of the long-running animated show, "The Simpsons," announced that a 1991 episode featuring Jackson would be pulled from circulation. "I'm against book burning of any kind," Brooke explained. "But this is our book, and we're allowed to take out a chapter."

Actor Corey Feldman, who was friends with Jackson for years and maintains he was never sexually abused by the singer, has walked back his defence of Jackson in light of the detailed accounts from "Leaving Neverland's" subjects, Wade Robson and James Safechuck.

Earlier this week, Montreal-based company, Cogeco, said it would stop playing Jackson songs on its 23 radio stations in Quebec and Ontario, at least temporarily.

"We are attentive to the comments of our listeners, and the documentary released on Sunday evening created reactions," the company's marketing director Christine Dicaire said in a e-mailed statement. "We prefer to observe the situation by removing the songs from our stations, for the time being."

The company declined to comment further, and said they were not granting any interviews.

Three of Cogeco's radio stations are major players in Montreal: The Beat has a massive audience, as do French-language channels CKOI and Rythme. Overall, the company's stations reach over 5 million listeners a week.

But Cogeco is the only major Canadian radio network to have made that decision so far. Bell Media, the country's largest radio broadcaster with over 100 stations across Canada, told HuffPost Canada that they aren't planning to stop running Jackson's music. Neither is Rogers, which operates 52 stations in Ontario, B.C., Alberta, Manitoba and Nova Scotia. Corus will also keep Jackson's hits on its 39 radio stations, most of which are in Ontario. All three companies all told HuffPost Canada they would continue to assess the situation.

Watch: Michael Jackson is being muted worldwide. Story continues below.

A similar backlash to Jackson's music occurred in New Zealand following the documentary's premiere, The New York Times reported Wednesday. The country's two biggest radio networks, which own the majority of the country's stations, said they would stop playing his songs.

Figuring out what it is people want to hear isn't an easy calculation. Last May, Spotify announced its playlists and algorithms would stop including music by R. Kelly, who has been accused of possession of child pornography and "cult-like" abuse of young women and girls going back decades, and rapper XXXTentacion, whose girlfriend started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for the orbital surgery she needed after he beat her so viciously while she was pregnant that she was left with two fractures in her left eye socket. Those artists violated the company's policy on hateful conduct, Spotify said.

But three weeks later, Spotify reversed the decision after backlash from both users and musicians over whether it made sense for a corporation to act as moral arbiter. "We don't aim to play judge and jury," the company explained in a statement.

Following "Surviving R. Kelly," the Showtime documentary that detailed allegations of the singer's frightening control and damaging abuse, The Blast reported that R. Kelly's streaming numbers increased 16 per cent. He currently has just over five million monthly listeners on Spotify, a slight decrease from the 5.5 million he had in early January.

As of last month, Spotify offers an option to mute specific artists, which users can do either because an artist committed a violent crime, or simply because they don't like their music.

Brenda Jenkyns, who drove from Calgary, stands with a sign outside of the premiere of the "Leaving Neverland," during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, Friday, Jan. 25, 2019, in Park City, Utah.
Brenda Jenkyns, who drove from Calgary, stands with a sign outside of the premiere of the "Leaving Neverland," during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, Friday, Jan. 25, 2019, in Park City, Utah.

The fact that Michael Jackson is dead complicates his legacy to a certain extent. He was never convicted of a crime — he settled out of court with the family of his 1993 accuser, and was acquitted at the end of his 2004-05 criminal trial.

He has his share of fierce defenders. His estate is suing HBO for over $130 million over the documentary, which the lawsuit calls "a one-sided marathon of unvetted propaganda to shamelessly exploit an innocent man no longer here to defend himself." His family claims his accusers are after his money. And his most die-hard fans have launched a campaign of hate mail and harassment against accusers, journalists, doubters; several travelled to Sundance to protest outside the theatre where the movie was showing.

But there are other, well-established facts: that Jackson never denied sharing his bed with young boys, including five of the accusers. That one of them, 13 at the time, could accurately draw the vitiligo markings on the underside of Jackson's penis. That Jackson's former housekeeper says she saw Vaseline and boys' underwear around his house.

Another of Jackson's accusers, Wade Robson, has said he himself has trouble reconciling the god-like superstar, the friendly and helpful mentor, and the predator whom he says hurt and molested and terrorized him.

"Michael Jackson was one of the kindest, most loving people I knew. He helped me tremendously with my career and my creativity," Robson told The Guardian. "He also sexually abused me for seven years."

With files from Lisa Yeung and The Canadian Press.

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