One of the odder things to come out of the news about the Michael Jackson film is his apparent anxiety about Prince. It’s a rivalry I was unaware of, but a couple of prominent statements by executives of AEG Live recently suggest that Michael had Prince very much in his mind when planning the show.
I believe this first came up in comments by Randy Phillips, CEO of AEG Live, who’s been the loudest inside voice about all things Michael. Here’s what he told Josh Rottenberg for Entertainment Weekly’s recent cover story:
With the budget already past $24 million, Jackson told his team he wanted to re-create one of the world’s largest waterfalls — Victoria Falls in southern Africa — on the stage. “I was ready to jump off the balcony of my office,” Phillips says. “We went and met with Michael, and Kenny said, ‘Michael, you’ve got to stop. We’ve got an incredible show; we don’t need any more vignettes.’ Michael said, ‘But Kenny, God channels this through me at night. I can’t sleep because I’m so supercharged.’ Kenny said, ‘But Michael, we have to finish. Can’t God take a vacation?’ Without missing a beat, Michael said, ‘You don’t understand — if I’m not there to receive these ideas, God might give them to Prince.’ ”
A great, if secondhand, anecdote, the kind that makes other reporters jealous. Seemed pretty random, though, until I read this report about a “This Is It” roundtable at Billboard’s touring conference this week. Again, this is sourced directly to Phillips and other top AEG execs:
The Jackson/AEG partnership resulted in a contract that initially included 31 dates, a number chosen by Jackson because it would be 10 more concerts than Prince performed. The number planned shows at the 02 Arena in London later grew to 50.
That’s the first time I’ve seen the number 31; the initial on-sale was for 10 shows, and I believe the run was extended straight to 50.
Another parallel: For Prince’s 21 shows at the O2 in 2007, he had a company called Kraken Opus — which designs “the world’s most expensive sports, arts and fashion books” — to put together a lavish, $2,100 commemorative book. Guess who MJ got to do his book?
And what does Prince think? There was chatter after MJ's death about how Prince had not made any comment. When he eventually did, in a French newspaper only a few weeks ago, it was with apparent reluctance and clear diplomacy:
Qu'avez-vous ressenti à la mort de Michael Jackson ?
(Prince, visiblement, ne veut pas s'étendre sur le sujet.) On est toujours triste de perdre quelqu'un qu'on a aimé.
[As translated by Michael Jackson fans:
How did you feel at the death of Michael Jackson?
(Prince, obviously reluctant, does not want to dwell on the subject.) It is always sad to lose someone you loved.]