LONDON (Reuters) - Is it a comeback or a swansong? Will he sing or lipsynch? Has he still got the moves?
Michael Jackson’s brief appearance on Thursday at London’s O2 Arena, where he plans a series of 10 concerts starting on July 8, raised more questions than it provided answers.
The 50-year-old did at least show up, looking more robust than in recent photographs.
But his announcement was confused, and left reporters and hundreds of screaming supporters wondering whether his first series of gigs in 12 years would actually be his last.
“These will be my final shows ... performances in London,” Jackson said. “When I say this is it, I mean this is it. I’ll be performing the songs my fans want to hear. This is it, this is really it, this is the final curtain call.”
Randy Phillips, president of AEG Live which signed Jackson for the concerts, had few concrete answers.
He did not rule out more concerts in London and elsewhere in the future, and much more than just music appears to be riding on the summer shows.
“None of us are sure,” he told Reuters. “I didn’t want to get so far ahead of what he wanted to do.
“We’re holding dates,” he added, referring to the O2 Arena where Prince performed 21 nights in 2007 to critical acclaim. “We don’t know how big the demand will be.”
On Jackson’s health, Phillips was more confident, saying the performer, who has looked frail and gaunt in recent months, had passed a lengthy physical examination.
And asked if Jackson would sing or lipsynch on his eagerly awaited return, he replied: “He’s singing.”
AEG Live have a plan to work with Jackson for the next three and a half years that involves concerts, new music and movies, including a big-screen adaptation of Jackson’s seminal hit and video “Thriller.”
The agreement could earn Jackson “well over $400 million,” Phillips said, although that would depend on all of the ventures discussed being carried out.
While the man who made 1982’s “Thriller,” the biggest-selling album ever, still has what it takes to move his fans to tears, many commentators were less impressed.
Several noted that the humble surroundings of a chilly hallway and makeshift stage did not befit one of the most successful pop artists of all time.
Jackson also kept crowds waiting for nearly two hours to make his short announcement.
“After announcing that the concerts will be in July, and that he loves us all so, Jackson is gone — giving four minutes to people who have been waiting five hours, and 12 years, and a lifetime,” wrote Caitlin Moran in The Times newspaper.
Fans believe Jackson, a virtual recluse since his acquittal in 2005 of child abuse charges, is wise to choose London for his comeback rather than, say, Las Vegas.
“I think the Europeans are not as judgmental as the Americans, there is a solid fan base here and we’re into 1980s disco and soul, perhaps more than the U.S. where rap and hip-hop dominate,” said Lucy Wood, an artist in her late 30s.
Editing by Paul Casciato