It's the MTV Video Music Awards and the sounds of "Billie Jean" fill the air. Almost as if the beat commands it, those familiar pelvic thrusts puncture the spotlight as a fedora-topped figure dances… on the floor… in the round.
The year is 2007. And the artist is 18-year-old Chris Brown - it's a star-making turn for the R&B upstart, born five years after the release of "Thriller": Nine songs, 42 minutes and 19 seconds worth of music that would immeasurably eclipse every recording that came before it, and all that have come since.
MTV: Michael Jackson Remembered
From the windows of passing cars, to the iPods of fellow passengers on the elevator, Michael Jackson's music has been ubiquitous in recent days.
But even before the shocking news, that music - and just about everything else Michael Jackson did - was influencing a new generation of artists, many of whom, like Brown, grew up long after the gloved one first glided into the stratosphere in a pair of patent leather shoes.
Just last fall, the airwaves and the clubs were dancing again to a lyrical refrain first heard on the opening track to the album, "Thriller," in the song, "Wanna be Startin' Something." This time, interpreted by Rihanna.
At Sunday's BET Awards, Beyonce cited Michael Jackson as a major influence… a sentiment echoed in the words of soul-fueled singer-songwriter, Ne-Yo.
2009 BET Awards
"'Off the Wall' is the album that I learned how to sing on," he says. "So sure enough, Michael Jackson is half the reason that I even sing."
Two of the biggest stars of the past decade seem to have used Michael Jackson's career as a blueprint for their own.
As an African-American teen emerging in the late '90s on the strength of radio-friendly dance-driven R&B, Usher drew quick comparisons to the "King of Pop."
Usher on Jackson's Influence
"Michael Jackson influenced me in so many ways, more than just music - as an individual who transcended culture," he says. "I did study his moves… studied down to a 'T.'"
And so, too, did JT, Justin Timberlake, who - like Mike - outgrew the boy band he fronted, only to embark on a wildly successful solo career, which he kick-started with a music video undeniably indebted to some of Jackson's 80's-era classics… from the costuming to the choreography.
"No one presented a song on stage like Michael. To create the things that he created with his music, it's really untouchable," Timberlake says.
Michael Jackson released the biggest-selling album of all time in 1982, just a year-and-a-half after the launch of MTV - and he took full advantage of the new medium, elevating music videos from promotional tool to art form.
The outfits, the moves, the spectacle - the images were instantly iconic and indelible, as JabbaWockeeZ, the Season One winners of the MTV hit "America's Best Dance Crew" can attest. "Michael Jackson had a pretty incredible impact on the world of dance. He set a lot of trends, you know mannerisms, he was very charismatic in the way that he moved and how he entertained."
Michael's own sister, Janet, Madonna, Britney, Christina - over the years, they've all strutted their stuff flanked by a posse of synchronized dancers… but Michael did it first.
There was "Smooth Criminal," "Bad," and "Remember the Time," but the ultimate Michael Jackson video remains "Thriller."
For the song, Michael enlisted Hollywood director John Landis to helm not a video, but a short film. Clocking in at 14 minutes - and thanks to those special effects - dangling an unprecedented $500,000 price tag, its premiere was as anticipated as any blockbuster movie opening.
"One of the biggest things we learned from Michael is not to be afraid of the scope. Really, he thought larger than anyone else, I think, before him," says J.C. Chasez.
"That's the crazy thing, like, you know, artists drop videos all the time, but when Michael Jackson dropped a video, it was an event," says Ne-Yo.
Events that seemingly everyone tuned into, including kids who would eventually grow up to form their own rock bands, Fall Out Boy, who covered "Beat It" just last year.
David Cook would ultimately go on to win "American Idol" after wowing viewers with a rock rendition of "Billie Jean."
"I think the impact that Michael Jackson has on me as an artists is the same impact he's really had on everyone as an artist," says Cook. "He blew pop music wide open, you know, and made it bigger than just music."
It's no surprise that Michael's reach extends to hip hop as well. The day after his death, hardcore hip-hopper The Game released a tribute track featuring P. Diddy and Chris Brown expressing through music their profound grief over the loss of an icon.
"He touched so many lives, but I would really like to speak for myself and say he touched mine," says The Game. "As long as I'm breathing, his legacy is going to live on through me. Michael Jackson just means that much to me."
Michael Jackson: Picking Up the Pieces:
A Spectacle In Life & Death
The Delicate Question Of Identity
Jackson Expert On His Illnesses
Jackson's Financial Empire
Jackson's Legacy: Passing the Torch
Spike Lee's Memories
Sharpton Salutes Michael Jackson
A Ginuwine Fan
Tribute At the Apollo
On Stage With Michael Jackson
MTV: Michael Jackson Remembered