Remembering the King of Pop: 11 Latino Tributes to Michael Jackson

Read more

We all remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when the news of Michael Jackson‘s death reached us over six years ago. It was one of those things that shocked music fans all over the world. Back then, it was the most-tweeted event of all time. Nobody was expecting it; we even doubted if he was mortal at all. We had taken him for granted, because, well, he was a huge music icon since forever – since way before most of us were even born.

I personally remember when Thriller came out (yes, that’s how old I am). Kids at school traded Michael Jackson collectible cards. I remember a couple years later, around the time when Bad came out, I attended my first school dance and shocked my classmates when I won an impromptu MJ impersonation contest on the dancefloor. I was lucky to see him live once, during the Dangerous tour that brought him to South America for the first and only time in 1993. I was so absorbed by Michaelmania that I was one of the kids hanging out outside his hotel in Buenos Aires hoping to meet him in person. My first nightclub gig wasn’t as a DJ; almost a decade before I even touched a turntable, I went on stage at a club doing my lame imitation of moonwalking and all his other dance moves to the song “Jam,” which was huge at the time.

Then, of course, the whole child molestation scandal broke out and he kinda faded out of the mainstream. I partially lost interest in his music; I even almost forgot about him until the afternoon that I walked into a store in San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury and overheard the clerk telling another customer about the big news. Suddenly everybody was talking, tweeting, and blogging about it. That night I DJed a special Michael Jackson tribute set; the following night I attended a Michael Jackson tribute party and I busted out my old, rusty moves in public again. It was then that I met the woman who would eventually become my wife.

So, as you can see, Michael Jackson’s music has been – one way or an other – always intertwined with my own biography, and I’m not the only one. He has influenced many others all over the world and particularly in Latin America. To prove that, we put together this list of eleven songs that pay homage to the King of Pop, all performed by Latin artists. – Juan Data


Seu Jorge & Almaz's "Rock with You" - Brazil

Everybody loved Seu Jorge’s Portuguese covers of David Bowie’s classics in The Life Aquatic. This stoner cover of Michael Jackson’s pre-Thriller hit, however, didn’t get that much praise. Not only did he remove all the funkiness and disco glamour from it, he sung it in English. I really don’t know what he was trying to achieve with this, but oh well, the rest of that album with Almaz wasn’t too bad. – Juan Data


Bruno Mars' "Billie Jean" and "Dirty Diana" - USA

You don’t need to be a certified music critic to know that Bruno Mars takes more than a few hints from MJ for his own music. The Puerto Rican-Filipino singer isn’t trying to fool anyone, and he certainly isn’t ripping off the legend completely, which is why he mashes up “Billie Jean” with Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Questionable? Definitely. Bold? Quite so. – Marcos Hassan


Omega's "Remember the Time (feat. Michael Jackson)" - Dominican Republic

For his mambo tribute to the King of Pop, Dominican singer Omega imagined a collaboration – or more accurately – a featured appearance on one of Michael songs. “Remember the Time” was originally about reminiscing over a love story with a woman (an Egyptian pharaoh, if we are to follow the video’s storyline), but in Omega’s tribute, it’s about remembering Michael and his legacy. Still, it’s just a half-assed cover with some really horrible vocals. It’s practically an insult that he listed Michael Jackson as his guest, when in reality all he did was overdub his own vocals over Michael’s original track. – Juan Data


Edit 001's "Thank You Michael" - Germany/Mexico

Kompakt is one of the most respected and popular electronic labels in the world. With this 2010 edit, they reminded us that dance music of all strains owes a lot to MJ. The track loops the opening bars from “Billie Jean” while sampling speeches about the greatness of Jacko on top of it. Pachanga Boys are prone to play this in their sets. – Marcos Hassan


Caetano Veloso's "Billie Jean" - Brazil

Mr. Veloso has one of the most beautiful male voices of all time. Whatever he sings will inevitably sound gorgeous, even when he’s improvising a live bossa nova cover of Michael Jackson’s biggest hit in an intimate, unplugged fashion. Veloso completely changed the melody of the original, but only he can get away with stuff like that. – Juan Data


Juan Luis Guerra y 440's "Dame" - Dominican Republic

The man is a living legend, one of the best musicians of all time, internationally recognized, and celebrated by millions. So it’s fitting that Juan Luis tipped his hat to Michael Jackson, recognizing his talent by doing his own version of “Don’t Stop ‘Till You Get Enough” and giving it a drastic change in song title length in the process. This song is surprisingly faithful to the original, even though it replaces the disco rhythms with merengue. It’s simply amazing. – Marcos Hassan


Los Míticos del Ritmo's "No Pares Hasta Tener Lo Suficiente" - Colombia

After the successful reception of his classic hip-hop tunes in instrumental cumbia versions, British producer Quantic and his Colombian band Los Míticos del Ritmo included two Anglo-pop covers on their self-titled album, released earlier this year. One of them is Queen’s “Otro Muerde El Polvo.” The other one is this track by the King of Pop. I love the literal translations of the song titles; that’s how the record industry in Latin America used to roll back then. – Juan Data


Capri's "Michael Forever" - Argentina

By just listening to it, we really wouldn’t know why Capri titled his song “Michael Forever.” The song doesn’t explicitly mention him, and honestly, he has some other songs (on his previous album, 2004’s genius Mamma Killer Night) that sounded way more influenced by Michael’s style. Then you watch the video and it’s even more confusing. Michael is there, watching him perform, as if Capri was auditioning to be in Michael’s band or something. One thing is for sure – Capri loves Michael Jackson and he wanted to somehow pay homage to his idol after his death, so he did just that with an awesome video. – Juan Data


Los Terapeutas del Ritmo ft. La Tigresa del Oriente's "Billie Jean" - Peru

Yet another cover of “Billie Jean.” You already know the hard rock version and the bossa nova take. What’s next? Of course, a cumbia version! Peruvian cover band Los Terapeutas del Ritmo crafted an amazing video with a cameo appearance by the South American YouTube queen of bizarreness hereself: La Tigresa Del Oriente! Of course, a Michael impersonator is also there, mixed in with this contrived storyline (is he the same one from Capri‘s video?) And we get to see the king and queen together, dance battling while her majesty calls him “papucho.” Epic. – Juan Data


Luis Miguel's "Será Que No Me Amas" - Mexico

Few people realize that this song, one of LuisMi’s best known tracks, is actually an original by The Jacksons (no longer The Jackson 5 by the time they recorded it). This isn’t really a tribute to Michael, but it’s worth noting that the influence of his music went beyond his status as an icon. The 80s were crazy times, so why didn’t we get a true crossover with both the biggest pop icon of Latin America and his internationally-renowned counterpart? Seems like a missed opportunity. – Marcos Hassan


Bonus: This Taxi Driver's Cover of "Billie Jean" - Brazil

This guy became a viral celebrity overnight in Brazil and all over the interwebs thank to this short video and his incomparable skills. In a perfect Michael Jackson imitation, he sings while he plays the drum and basslines of the track with his mouth. And he does this all while driving! The fact that his English isn’t perfect and he sometimes has to make up words that match the phonetics of the original doesn’t even matter; in fact, it makes this cover even better. – Juan Data