Officially announced on November 12, 2010, the album features 10 tracks. "Breaking News" was the first song from the album to be released to the public and was available for radio airplay. According to Sony, the song, along with two other tracks from the album, "Monster" and "Keep Your Head Up," was recorded in the home studio of Jackson' family friend Eddie Cascio in New Jersey in 2007 and was "recently brought to completion." The release of the song was met with massive controversy in the media and among listeners, with numerous members of the Jackson family and thousands of Jackson fans insisting that it's performed not by Jackson. Other songs of unquestionable authenticity were recorded at studios in Las Vegas and Los Angeles with various unidentified collaborators. In the years prior to his death, Jackson was reported to be working with contemporary hitmakers such as singer-songwriter Akon and producer RedOne. The first official single, "Hold My Hand", is a duet with Akon recorded in Las Vegas in 2008. Co-writer Claude Kelly told HitQuarters that it was the song's theme of friendship and togetherness that had struck a chord with Jackson. A handwritten note from Michael belonging to his Estate indicated his desire that "Hold My Hand" be the first single on his next project. However, in its unfinished state, the song leaked out in July 2008. Before the release, Akon stated that the final version would have more of Jackson's vocals. The song was released globally on Monday, November 15 at 12:01am EST.
Michael is composed of R&B, pop, soul and rock songs. Eight out of the album's ten tracks are credited to Michael Jackson in the album liner notes. The album's full length is 42 minutes 13 seconds and it contains 10 songs. Michael opens with "Hold My Hand", the first line in the first verse recites the lyrics "This life don't last forever", and ends with "Much Too Soon", the last line in the last verse recites the lyrics "I guess I learned my lesson much too soon". The majority of the songs on the album are songs that were written and recorded during the Invincible era and onwards. The album contains two songs that were written during the Thriller era, "Behind the Mask" and "Much Too Soon". The song "(I Like) The Way You Love Me" previously appeared on The Ultimate Collection (2004) with the title "The Way You Love Me" as an unreleased track. For Michael, the song has been re-arranged and more vocals have been added. The song "Best of Joy" is one of the last that Michael recorded during his lifetime, having laid the vocals for it in October 2008, less than a year before his death.
The album cover artwork, a 2009 commissioned oil painting by African American artist Kadir Nelson, features two cherubs placing a crown on Jackson's head against a mural depicting the images of the singer at different stages in his career. Nelson said that Jackson approached him several years ago to create a project detailing his life and career. The project stalled, but was revived in 2009 by one of the estate's executors, John McClain, who has worked with Michael's sister Janet during her time at A&M. "Michael wears a golden suit of armor and stares at the viewer as he is crowned by cupids," Nelson said. "He places his hand over his heart and looks directly at the viewer, a symbol of Jackson's big heart and strong connection to his fans and music. A monarch butterfly sits on his shoulder, another symbol of Jackson's metamorphosis as a singer and entertainer, as well as a symbol of royalty. His musical history unfolds behind him." The original Sony publicity release of the album cover featured the Prince symbol in a bubble next to the tiger's head. This sparked discussion on the internet as to whether Prince was involved on any of the new songs. The official response from Prince's camp was "No permission was granted" and the symbol has since been removed from the cover on all official Sony websites.
"Breaking News" was the first song from the album to be unveiled. On November 5, a video teaser for the song was released on Jackson's official website. It opens with a montage of various television journalists reporting breaking news about Jackson, followed by the musical introduction of a song. The montage refers to the tabloid stories and legal troubles that plagued Jackson in the years leading up to his death. On November 8, 2010, the full length version of the song was released, and made available on MichaelJackson.com for one week. The premiere of the song launched the public controversy about the authenticity of the vocals that plagued the album all the way through its promo campaign and ultimately resulted in lower than projected sales. The rumored single of another controversial Cascio song, "Monster," was subsequently canceled.
The album's first single, "Hold My Hand", was released on November 15, 2010. The filming for the official video of "Hold My Hand" began on Saturday, November 20 in Tustin, California. There was a casting call posted up on Jackson's official website, saying that they were "looking for his fans of all ages who want to be a part of this iconic event." On November 30, 2010, the final version of "Much Too Soon" was unveiled and announced that it would play on iTunes Ping for one week. On December 3, 2010, talk show host and comedian Ellen DeGeneres premiered the song "Hollywood Tonight" on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. On December 6, 2010, talk show host Oprah Winfrey premiered controversial songs "Keep Your Head Up", and "Monster" during her talk show. On December 7, 2010, the final version of "(I Can't Make It) Another Day" was unveiled on iTunes Ping for one week.
On December 8, 2010, the entire Michael album was released on Jackson's official website for preview. Sony Music had a listening party for the album at Roseland Ballroom on December 13. On Friday, December 10, 2010, a 29,070-square-foot (2,701 m2) poster depicting the Michael album artwork was erected at the Rectory Farm in Middlesex, which broke a Guinness world record for the largest poster in the world, making it the 4th record Michael Jackson made in the Guinness Book of World Records, and the first record he broke posthumously. The poster, made of PVC and weighing one ton, took engineers three hours to install and was located less than 3,000 meters from one of Heathrow airport's main runways, literally viewable by all planes arriving and departing. The poster stayed at that location until 23 December 2010, after which, it traveled via sea-container into continental Europe where it was toured and displayed.
"Hollywood Tonight" was the second official single, which was released in Italy on February 11, 2011, and in Poland on February 14, 2011. "Behind the Mask", the third single in this album, was released in France on February 21, 2011. "(I Like) The Way You Love Me", the fourth and final single released in South Korea as a digital single on January 18, 2011, and formally released in Italian and Chinese radio stations in July 2011.
The authenticity of "Breaking News", "Keep Your Head Up", and "Monster" has been an ongoing controversy among fans of Jackson. The three tracks, along with nine other unreleased songs (entitled "All I Need", "All Right", "Black Widow", "Burn Tonight", "Fall In Love", "Soldier Boy", "Ready 2 Win", "Stay" and "Water"), colloquially known as the Cascio tracks, are attributed to Jackson, Eddie Cascio and James Porte and were allegedly recorded in the Cascios' basement in 2007. Doubts over whether the vocals were actually by Jackson have been raised, reportedly by Katherine Jackson and Jackson's two children Prince and Paris, as well as Jackson's sister La Toya, his nephews T.J., Taj, and Taryll, will.i.am, and many of his fans. His brother Randy Jackson posted a series of messages about the album on his Twitter account stating that family members were not allowed at his studio where the album was being completed. According to Randy, when procuder Teddy Riley played him some of the tracks, "I immediately said it wasn't his voice".
In a statement before the premiere of "Breaking News", Sony Music Group countered that it had "complete confidence in the results of our extensive research, as well as the accounts of those who were in the studio with Michael, that the vocals on the new album are his own". Producer Riley, Frank DiLeo and Jackson's estate defended Sony's claims that the song is authentic. On December 6, 2010, the Cascio family appeared on Oprah, where Eddie Cascio insisted the songs were sung by Jackson, and showed the studio where he had allegedly recorded the songs. Riley, who had worked on two of the Cascio tracks, "Monster" and "Breaking News", said that he had to do "more processing to the voice, which is why people were asking about the authenticity of his voice". Riley also said that "With the Melodyne we actually move the stuff up which is the reason why some of the vibrato sounds a little off or processed, over-processed. We truly apologize for that happening, but you are still hearing the true Michael Jackson". Almost three years after the album release, in September 2013, Riley apologized on Twitter for his work on the Cascio tracks and claimed that his participation in the project had been "set up".
Many of the fans who have questioned the authenticity of the Cascio tracks have suggested that Jason Malachi, an Italian-American R&B singer based in Maryland, is the possible vocalist on the Cascio tracks. However, the Jackson Estate's lawyer has said that, according to his knowledge, Malachi was not involved in the recording of the Cascio tracks. On January 16, 2011 a statement appeared on Malachi's Facebook page noting he was the vocalist of the songs in question, calling it his "confession". He later said on MySpace that his Facebook and official website were hacked. Malachi's manager Thad Nauden later that day told TMZ saying that "someone created a phony Facebook page in Jason's name. Jason wants everyone to know beyond a shadow of a doubt, he did not sing a single note on the album".
On June 12, 2014, a consumer who had purchased the album filed a class action lawsuit against Sony Music, the Jackson Estate, MJJ Productions, Eddie Cascio and James Porte for violation of consumer laws, unfair competition and fraud. The complaint was based on an expert report prepared by forensic phonetician Dr. George Papcun that contested authenticity of the vocals. According to the lawsuit, the report had been peer reviewed and supported by a second well-credentialed independent audio expert. Sony, the Estate, Cascio and Porte raised First Amendment defense, claiming that regardless of the songs' authenticity, they had a constitutional right to attribute them to Jackson. On June 30, 2016, the judge refused to grant defendants' motion and ordered that the case proceeds to class certification.
Another controversy concerns the album credit of Dave Grohl, who is credited as having played drums on the track "(I Can't Make It) Another Day". Grohl himself claimed in the November 2011 issue of The Red Bulletin that he does not perform on the track. According to Grohl, Lenny Kravitz asked him to play on the song but neither Kravitz nor Jackson contacted him after he had recorded his drums and the version of the song that appears on Michael does not feature his playing. Grohl called the fact that he was credited in the album notes despite not playing on the record "not cool".
Prior to the album's release, a lawyer for Jackson's father Joe stated that Jackson was a perfectionist and "would never have wanted his unfinished material to be released." will.i.am, who collaborated with Jackson prior to his death, also criticized the release, saying it was "disrespectful" to release the unfinished material because Jackson was not able to give it his blessing.
Michael received mixed reviews from most music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 54, based on 19 reviews, which indicates "mixed or average reviews". Despite media skepticism and some dissent within Jackson family ranks, reviews largely found Michael better than expected. Joe Vogel of The Huffington Post stated that "the bottom line is this: Michael contains some very impressive new material" and "His habits, his obsessions, his versatility, and his genius are on display at every turn. Who else could move so seamlessly from social anthem to floor burner, fleet hip hop to cosmic rock, vintage funk to poignant folk ballad?"
Dan Martin of NME called the album "kind of enjoyable" but commented that "if this decent-enough album is the best of the bunch, things are going to get ugly from here on in". Neil McCormick of The Telegraph called the album "a fine album" and stated that "It is certainly a great deal better than anyone had any right to expect. Jackson is finally about to get the comeback he craved." Jody Rosen of Rolling Stone thought the album was "not a Michael Jackson album", and Jackson "would not have released anything like this compilation, a grab bag of outtakes and outlines," but "it's a testament to the man's charisma that Michael can be compelling." Leah Greenblatt of Entertainment Weekly called it "certainly no great affront to his name", while The New York Times said it was a "miscellany of familiar Jackson offerings: inspirational, loving, resentful and paranoid."
Kitty Empire in The Observer said Jackson sounded "paler, more emaciated, more effects-laden" than on his classic songs such as 'Billie Jean'. She characterized the album as a "hotchpotch of odds and sods that often make plain their co-authors" but singled out the "breezy" and "carefree" '(I Like) The Way That You Love Me' and the "pugnacious" 'Hollywood Tonight' for praise. The Reno Gazette-Journal gave the album 3 stars out of 4, while the Toronto Sun gave it 3 stars out of 5. Nima Baniamer of Contactmusic.com gave the album 4/5 and stated that Jackson still seems to hold the capability to effortlessly transgress music genres. Baniamer also commented, "It wouldn't be a decent Jackson record if it wasn't surrounded by controversy. 'Breaking News' is a great track that touches upon the media's obsession with the pop icon; ironically a track further surrounded by dispute as fans have claimed that it may not even be Jackson's own voice on the track."
The album debuted at number one in Germany, selling 85,000 copies in its first week. The album also debuted at number one in Austria, Italy, the Netherlands, and Sweden. In the US, Michael debuted at number three on the Billboard 200 with first-week sales of 228,000 copies, followed by 150,000 the next week, but in subsequent weeks, its total sales had shrunk to 27,000 units, 18,000 units and then 11,000 units for the week ending in January 16, 2011. The album debuted at number five in France, with first-week sales of 26,689 copies. In Denmark, the album debuted at number four selling 4,936 copies in its first week. On December 19, 2010, the album opened in the UK at number four with sales of 113,000, which was Michael Jackson's biggest opening sales week in the UK since the release of Dangerous nearly 20 years before. In its first five weeks the album sold over 434,000 copies in the United States, but failed to match This Is It, which sold 890,000 copies in five weeks. In the same week the album was certified platinum by the RIAA for shipping over a million copies.
Michael has attained platinum status in 19 countries including the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France (2x), Italy (2x), Spain, Denmark, Poland, Russia (2x), Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic (5x), Canada, India (2x), China, Taiwan, South Korea, the Middle East and Argentina. The album is Gold in 18 countries including Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Japan, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Portugal, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and Sweden.
Credits adapted from Michael album liner notes.