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Sony Music denies conceding that fake vocals appeared on posthumous Michael Jackson album

By | Published on Tuesday 28 August 2018

Michael Jackson

There was a flurry of excitement online last week amid claims that Sony Music had admitted that the vocals that appear on three posthumous Michael Jackson tracks were not, in fact, those of Michael Jackson. But before you join in with that flurry, please note that’s not what happened. It seems that a speculative “what if” remark in court from a lawyer working for the Michael Jackson estate was misinterpreted by onlookers.

Now, I am sure you all remember vividly that glorious day in 2010 when the first of ten planned posthumous album releases from the late king of pop was unleashed. It was called ‘Michael’. A second, ‘Xscape’, followed in 2014. We still await – with bated breath I’m sure – the other eight.

Even before ‘Michael’ was released, there were allegations – including from members of the extended Jackson family – that three songs on it included fake vocals. The record featured posthumously finished versions of tracks Jackson had been working on in the years before his death. The source material came from various different recording sessions which were then prepared for release by various different producers.

The tracks that caused controversy were ‘Breaking News’, ‘Monster’ and ‘Keep Your Head Up’. These all came from one recording session with producer Eddie Cascio, and – various people argued – the vocals on the final versions of these tracks were not Jackson’s.

The estate, which worked with Sony Music’s Epic label on the releases, took the allegations seriously at the time. It had its lawyer, Howard Weitzman, put out a letter to fans outlining the process it had been through when stitching together the various recording sessions that made up ‘Michael’, and the efforts it had gone to in order to ensure the authenticity of vocals.

Weitzman said that various long-time collaborators of Jackson had confirmed said authenticity. The estate, he added, had also asked six producers who had previously worked with Jackson – Bruce Swedien, Matt Forger, Stewart Brawley, Michael Prince, Dr Freeze and Teddy Riley – to listen to a cappella versions of the tracks from the Cascio-led sessions.

All of them, Weitzman said, had confirmed it was Jacko’s voice they were listening to. On top of all that, some of those forensic musicologists were also hired to confirm that it was Jackson singing.

The attorney’s open letter to Jackson’s fans concluded: “Although there still seem to be concerns being expressed in some quarters about the authenticity of the lead vocals, notwithstanding the opinion of those who worked with Michael, and two independent forensic analysts, ultimately, Michael’s fans will be the judges of these songs, as they always are”.

Well, one fan in particular did judge the three disputed songs on ‘Michael’ and she decided that they definitely did contain fake vocals. With that in mind, Vera Serova went legal in 2014, suing Sony Music, the estate and others linked to the release. Which is why we are still discussing all this eight years after the record was put out.

Serova’s lawsuit continues to go through the motions. In the most recent phase, lawyers for Sony and the estate have been trying to get the case dismissed under California’s free speech protecting anti-SLAPP laws. So far without success. Last week they had another go, presenting their arguments before three appeal judges.

It was there that a lawyer working for the estate seemingly made some kind of “assuming that” statement in order to present the argument for dismissal, which was then reported as the Jackson side conceding that the vocals on ‘Breaking News’, ‘Monster’ and ‘Keep Your Head Up’ were definitely super faked.

Last week’s hearing wasn’t actually discussing the core allegation of the case, more the status of the album’s liner notes and to what extent they enjoy protection under free speech laws. Therefore any suggestion that the vocals might have been fake from the Sony/Jackson side was simply conjecture to illustrate a point regarding anti-SLAPP laws, and not a statement of fact.

Confirming this to Variety, lawyer Zia Modabber, who is repping both Sony Music and the estate, said on Friday: “No one has conceded that Michael Jackson did not sing on the songs. The hearing Tuesday was about whether the First Amendment protects Sony Music and the estate and there has been no ruling on the issue of whose voice is on the recordings”.

Lawyers for Serova also subsequently confirmed this was what had happened. So stop that flurry of excitement immediately. Nothing exciting has happened here. At all. Still, it reminds us that this whole hoo haa is still ongoing.