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The many meanings of Michael Jackson's 'This Is It'

October 21, 2009 |  1:10 pm


Michael_this_is_it_pc_3 In March, Michael Jackson called a press conference to announce what would have been his swan song as a touring artist: the 50-date concert series at London’s O2 Arena, “This Is It.”

“These will be my final show performances …in London,” said Jackson, haltingly, before a throng of screaming fans in what would be his final public appearance. “This is it! When I say this is it, it really means this is it!” He laughed.

Over the intervening seven months, and with the singer’s untimely death in June, that title has taken on a grave alternate meaning. And now with the release of the feature documentary “Michael Jackson’s This Is It” on Oct. 28, as well as a new song titled “This Is It” that was leaked earlier this month, that terse, three-word title is more front-of-mind than ever.

But according to Jackson’s closest collaborators in the last months of his life -- Kenny Ortega, director of both the “This Is It” concerts and movie, and Travis Payne, associate director/choreographer of “This Is It” -- the moniker came to mean a number of different things throughout the development of what would have been Jackson’s return to performing after a 12-year touring absence.

Ortega recalled Jackson reaching out to him in March to enlist his directing services for the comeback concerts.

As Ortega told The Times last week, “I’ll never forget, he said, ‘This is it!’ And I said, ‘OK.’ He said, ‘This is it’ two or three times. And I said, ‘You should call the show that.’ He didn’t say, ‘Well, I will.’ But suddenly I saw it on a banner. So he did after all.”

According to Ortega, a confluence of personal reasons compelled the superstar to make such an extended return engagement to the limelight. 

“He started saying, ‘Kenny, my kids are so fascinated with what I’ve been doing my whole life, they’re like super fans. So I want to share with my children now that they’re old enough to appreciate it and I’m still young enough to do it,’” Ortega said.

He continued, recalling Jackson as saying: “‘Importantly, I want to do it for my fans, who are the greatest fans in the world. They’ve stuck by me in everything I’ve been through. Then there are the messages in my songs. Some of the ones I wrote 10 years ago are more meaningful today.’ He was really concerned about the planet, the health of the planet and the lack of love on the planet. He said, ‘This is the time now.’”

The superstar began rehearsals in Los Angeles in April and worked with Payne at several different facilities to prepare for London. First, a private sound stage at CenterStaging Musical Productions in Burbank, then to the Forum in Inglewood and finally to downtown Los Angeles’ Staples Center in the production’s final weeks.

In an interview at the Sony studio lot last week, Payne described how the title’s meaning evolved over the course of the production.

“This was to be Michael’s last full-on tour,” Payne said. “But as we went through the process, ‘This Is It’ began to take on many different meanings. 'This Is It,' a call to action for our planet. 'This Is It,' the last time you’ll see me in this scenario. 'This Is It,' the show to come see this summer. Also, 'This Is It' for all of us [dancers] was what we had worked our entire lives to get to. It was a culmination of all those things.”

Ortega insists Jackson was serious about “This Is It” as his final curtain call.

“When he said ‘final curtain call,’ he meant touring,” Ortega said. “But he was ready to become a filmmaker next. He had many things on the horizon. He had said he didn’t want to be up there as an old man doing Michael Jackson. He’d say, ‘Can you imagine?’  And he’d laugh. ‘I can’t think of anything more ugly!’”

-- Chris Lee


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Photo credits: Top, Michael Jackson press conference / Associated Press. Bottom, Michael Jackson's rehearsal at Staples Center / Associated Press