Michael Jackson’s iconic ‘Billie Jean’ glove is on display in the Dutch city of Eindhoven. That is, the new version that Jackson was going to wear during his final concert series at the O2 Arena in London. The LED illuminated glove was developed by Philips Lumalive and would light up during Jackson’s iconic performance of ‘Billie Jean’. But when Jackson suddenly died – nearly six years ago – his new LED glove became instantly obsolete. Now the glove can be seen at the Philips Museum in Eindhoven, the Netherlands.
Wearing his mother’s throw
This Is It – the concert series that Jackson had planned in London – was meant to put Jackson back on the map as a music legend and to re-establish him as the creator of visual spectacles. For this reason, Jackson’s legendary costumes were critically re-evaluated.
One of these costumes was his ‘Billie Jean’ ensemble, consisting of a black sequin jacket over a white T-shirt, black tuxedo trousers with a single white stripe, white sequin socks, a black fedora, and of course his iconic single white glove.
Jackson first wears the outfit in 1983 during the American television special Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever. When he glides across the stage with his first ever Moonwalk, he not only immortalizes his music and dance, but also his clothes.
The black sequin jacket turns out to be a last-minute item from his mother’s closet. “He didn’t know what he was gonna wear so he went to my mother’s closet. And she had this shiny thing that she wore, this black sequin thing and he said, ‘I like that. Can I wear it on the show?’ That’s what he did the moonwalk in… that was my mother’s throw”, brother Jermaine Jackson tells American talk show host Jimmy Fallon in 2012.
A million different colours
Even though the outfit proves to be iconic, Jackson is interested in a 2009 upgrade for his London concerts. As a fashion icon, his fans expect him to keep innovating his wardrobe and to show that he not only the King of Pop, but also the King of Fashion.
For this reason, concert promotor AEG asks designer Zaldy Goco to create a number of new stage costumes. Zaldy sets out to do just that, except for ‘Billie Jean’ which is too iconic to change. Instead, Zaldy decides to give it a twist by adding a touch of the ‘Billie Jean’ video clip in which Jackson’s dance steps light up the pavement.
Translating the idea of light into a new costume for Jackson, Zaldy contacts Philips Lumalive, a division that makes LED applications for pliable materials including textiles. “What’s so amazing about what Philips can do, is that they can do any RTV-colour that’s on the computer. So a million different colours, in any colour combination, any pattern, any pulse, any kind of rhythm that you wanted to have”, Zaldy explains in additional footage of the This Is It documentary.
Lighting up Jackson’s socks, tuxedo and glove
With the help of Philips technology, he applies LED lights to Jackson’s new socks, tuxedo trousers, jacket and glove. First the socks light up. Then the light comes up through the tuxedo stripe on his trousers. Next, it goes further up through a stripe on the side seam of his jacket and sleeves, in order to end in Jackson’s glove. Or the other way around, whateverJackson prefers. Colours, rhythm and pulse are operated via remote control, which can be fully preset or coordinated on the spot.
When Jackson tries on his new LED trousers, he is amazed. In fact, his mouth drops a little, according to Zaldy. Jackson particularly loves the sequence of rainbow colours that is followed by a bright pulse of all LED lights in his costume. “It’s everything I’ve always wanted” he says, while about to become the first artist to use Lumalive technology in his concert attire.
Reappearing LED lights
But it wasn’t meant to be. Jackson dies on June 25, 2009, only two weeks before the start of his shows. His new ‘Billie Jean’ outfit, as well as the other This Is It costumes are briefly displayed at a special exhibition and then stored for eternity.
Philips Lumalive technology, however, does not just disappear. The ‘Billie Jean’ LED lights reappear a few years later in Zaldy’s costume designs for the two Cirque du Soleil shows that carry Jackson’s name: Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour, a show that toured every continent, and Michael Jackson: ONE, a production that still runs in Las Vegas.
Those who have seen the Cirque du Soleil shows, have caught a glimpse of the LED technology that Jackson wanted to use in London. Those who did not have this opportunity may want to take a look at Jackson’s 2.0 glove that is on display in a small corner of the Philips Museum in Eindhoven. There it pulsates in every colour of the rainbow. Just the way Jackson would have liked it.
© Annemarie Latour