TV’s Most Surreal Musical Performances: Jarvis Cocker Bum-Rushes Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson never needed any help putting on some of the most supremely bizarre spectacles in pop-music history, but at the 1996 Brit Awards he got some help anyway when Pulp singer Jarvis Cocker briefly sabotaged MJ’s performance — and quickly turned what was already an overwrought extravaganza into one of the most surreal five minutes on TV.
In 1996, the King of Pop was out in support of his two-disc ‘HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I’ collection when he turned up at the annual Brit Awards (England’s version of the Grammys) to collect a “special” Artist of a Generation award and turn in a “very special” rendition of his ‘Earth Song,’ a sappy and pompous but none-the-less epic ballad with an environmentally conscious heart and a blues-meets-gospel soul.
Not surprisingly, the performance was equally over-the-top, with a messianic-like Jackson dressed up in his best Christ-like whites, surrounded by hordes of beautiful children looking emaciated and sad. The whole thing came across more like a pretentious Broadway musical sponsored by Save the Children than any sort of pop concert.
At one point, the music quieted down and Jackson began spouting off little factoids about the humanitarian crises then threatening the globe: “Did you know that an area of tropical rain forest the size of six football fields is burned every minute,” he asked. No, but that’s terrible. “Did you know that every hour 300 hundred children die from hunger?” Very, very sad. “Did you know that three million children die every minute?” That’s aw … wait, what? Three million kids a minute?! Isn’t that something like four billion children a day? May want to check your facts there, MJ.
In the middle of all this pomp and circumstance, Cocker — on hand that night with Pulp to perform their ‘Different Class’ classic ‘Sorted for E’s & Wizz’ and watch as his band lost all four awards they were nominated for — was waiting in the wings, admittedly a little too drunk to hold back.
Seeing an opening, he sauntered onstage unimpeded (you can see him first appear far stage right at the five-minute mark in the video above) and proceeded to wiggle his (fully clothed) bum at the crowd, flash his belly button and generally act like a fool before being yanked offstage by one of MJ’s backing dancers and/or bodyguards (Did MJ have a bodyguard working under cover as a dancer? We wouldn’t doubt it for a second).
Justice for Cocker was swift. The Pulp singer was detained by police for several hours on suspicion of assault (it was claimed he had shoved some of the children aside during his shenanigans), but ultimately he was let go without any charges being filed.
The British press had a field day, turning against the feeble Brit-pop star with headlines like “Off His Cocker” (The Sun) and “Jacko’s Pulp Friction” (The Daily Express). Jackson, for his part, released a statement saying that he was “sickened, saddened, shocked, upset, cheated and angry” by Cocker’s actions.
So why did he do it? Cocker quickly admitted that the excessive consumption of alcohol probably played a large role, but he also claimed there was a message behind the madness: It was a protest of some sort … apparently. “He was pretending to be Jesus,” Cocker later told the BBC. “I’m not religious but I think, as a performer myself, the idea of someone pretending to have the power of healing is just not right. Rock stars have big enough egos without pretending to be Jesus – that was what got my goat, that one particular thing.”