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Appearances count: A 'weirdo' is once more the mere wonder


Do you think you've seen enough of Michael Jackson lately?

First, there was the inauguration, at which he sang "We Are the World" one night and "Heal the World" the next. Then there were the awards shows -- the NAACP Image Awards, the American Music Awards, the Grammys. There was his Super Bowl blow-out, which found him putting more people on the field for one song than the NFL did all season. And don't forget the Oprah Winfrey interview, a 90-minute show-and-tell watched by some 90 million people.

It's getting to the point that even Jackson is joking about it. As he put it during the Grammys, "In the past month, I've gone from 'Where is he?' to 'Here he is again.' "

Overkill? Don't count on it. If nothing else, the recent spate of Michael sightings has paid off big at the record store.

Just look at how sales of his "Dangerous" album have accelerated over the past two months. Although "Dangerous" had been certified quadruple platinum (more than 4 million copies sold in the United States) late last year, the album entered 1993 at No. 113 on the Billboard charts and was sliding fast. Not even his serenade to the Clintons could stop its drop, and by late January it sat below the soundtrack to "Last of the Mohicans" at an ignominious No. 131.

But then things turned around. Buoyed by Jackson's triumphant performance on the American Music Awards broadcast Jan. 25, "Dangerous" bounded up 43 places; a week later, after the Super Bowl, it climbed still higher. By the time he opened his soul to Oprah on Feb. 10 and collected his Legend Award at the Grammys on Feb. 24, the album had soared all the way into the Top 10, breaking the 5 million mark in sales.

Jackson's current single, "Heal the World," hasn't made quite such dramatic strides, but it, too, has been charging up the charts. While once it seemed in danger of slipping off the Billboard Hot 100, it's now solidly in the Top 40.

Interestingly, Jackson's label, Epic Records, sees this sales boom not as a sudden surge but a shift in focus. After all, Jackson spent most of last summer touring in Europe, and the worldwide sales figures for "Dangerous" (more than 15 million copies so far) reflect the singer's emphasis on foreign markets.

"Globally, we have the biggest-selling album of the '90s," Dan Beck, Epic vice president for product development, told Billboard magazine recently. "Now it's just coming home to the U.S. in a bigger way."

Is that all there is to it? Mark Rowland, an editor at Musician magazine and author of "The Michael Jackson Trivia Book," feels the real secret to Jackson's success is that he has finally shaken off the "weirdo" image that has trailed him since the late '80s.

"I think that there was a genuine concern on his part that he had come to be regarded as a freak," says Rowland. "And I don't think that he sees himself that way."

Jackson said at the Grammys was that he felt "good to be thought of as a person, rather than a personality. . . . I wasn't aware that the world thought I was so weird and bizarre. But when you grow up as I did, in front of 100 million people since the age of 5, you're automatically different. Over the last few weeks, I have been cleansing myself, and it's been a rebirth."

And that, says Rowland, is precisely what his fans have secretly been hoping for. "There has always been a wellspring of sympathy for him, but it was starting to border on pathos," he says. "Now he's been able to turn that around. A lot of people can breathe a sigh of relief, almost as if it was OK to be a Michael Jackson fan again."

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