Jacko's fans are not so thrilled, now they've seen how bad he can be

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The Independent Online
It happened to the England football team in its darker days. But it has never happened to rock superstar Michael Jackson until last weekend.

Newspaper adverts advised fans that they could buy tickets on the days, no need to book in advance, just turn up (fittingly enough) at turnstile J.

In the event, 60,000 fans came to his first show for five years, almost 20,000 short of capacity. In the music industry there's long been a saying: "There's music, there's rock'n'roll and there's Michael Jackson."

But the man who famously scaled new heights in choreographed stadium rock shows appears to be on the wane - and industry observers are asking whether the last five years of child abuse allegations, a public relations disaster marriage to Lisa Marie Presley and rumours of artificial insemination to give him a son, have damaged his fan base. In France his shows have been moved to smaller venues following diminishing interest. And Jackson has studiously avoided touring America since the child abuse allegations, which seemed to cause greater damage to his popularity there than here.

Mat Snow, editor of the rock magazine Mojo said yesterday: "The fall in his record sales in America has been catastrophic. There have been fears that his latest album, Blood On The Dance Floor, may not even sell one million copies there. In Britain there has been more cynicism about the allegations. And it is significant that Jackson is touring here but hasn't played in his home country yet."

The album is selling better here but will not begin to dent the sales of his Eighties albums Thriller, Bad, and Dangerous. Thriller sold 45 million worldwide.

Jackson's latest pounds 16m show is the usual mixture of extravaganza and wackiness. He appears inside a rocket dressed as an android in a gold space suit and stared at the audience for a full five minutes. Over the next two hours of hits, Jackson boards a crane that lifts him over the audience's heads and returns him to the stage as flames shoot up in front of the crowd. A full-sized tank also makes an entrance at one point, before Jackson is eventually helicoptered away to Paris to see his son, Prince.

Mat Snow, who was at Saturday's show, said: "Among the audience there was a certain kind of camp revelling in the whole pop Babylonness of it all. You got a thrill from the over-weening vulgarity. He is a great dancer though he paces himself more now as he approaches his 39th birthday.

"But there was a large number of kids at the concert, family groups with seven- and eight-year-olds. Either those people have not been reading the papers, or they have set aside their scruples or they simply don't believe the stories they have read.

"If his audiences are down it's partly because he hasn't had an album of wholly original music since 1990 and partly because people feel that they know his show.

"But it's also because some people too feel a little bit queasy about the allegations and don't want to go to great expense to see him."

Of the expense there is no doubt. Pop fans are seldom well treated in the amounts of money they have to pay. For Jackson, Wembley tickets are pounds 26.75, with a pounds 3.25 booking fee - well over 10 per cent.