So why is the Spike Lee-directed video for Michael Jackson’s “This Is It” arriving now, in the holiday media doldrums, instead of October, when the song was first released, or a few weeks after that, when the movie named after the track finally came out? Perhaps because of the controversy that the song first engendered! This is recent history: The single, an “unreleased” song from the Michael Jackson vaults, was initially deemed exciting enough to provide the title for both the posthumous concert documentary and the big-money greatest hits soundtrack that accompanied it.
That was before, however, half the Internet noticed that “This Is It” sounded an awful lot like a 16 year old song Jackson had written with Paul Anka by the name of “I Never Heard,” which Jackson later ran off with and then sold to the freestyle starlet Sa-fire, who had a hit with it in ’91. Anka complained, the Jackson estate paid him, and a publicity campaign once pegged to a “new” song switched tactics entirely. With the ragged, hastily engineered seams of producer John McClain and the Jackson estate’s rush to get anything saleable out into the world showing a little too clearly, Jackson’s people started talking about the movie instead and let the single play on in the background. Where Spike Lee eventually made a video for it, and eventually released it in the quiet media reflecting pond that is the end of December. See how that works?