Tens of thousands of fans rocked to the hits of Michael Jackson on Saturday at a tribute concert his brothers hoped would put the spotlight back on his musical legacy after so much controversy.
The late singer’s children – Prince, 14, Paris, 13 and “Blanket”, 9 – appeared briefly on stage to address the crowd and introduce a video performance by Beyonce.
“We’re very happy to be here on this special night to honour our father,” said Paris, dressed in a red leather jacket similar to the one worn by Jackson in the groundbreaking “Thriller” music video.
The “Beat It” star, one of the most successful yet troubled artists of the pop era, died in 2009 while rehearsing for a series of comeback concerts. He was 50.
The “Michael Forever” tribute in Cardiff coincides with the involuntary manslaughter trial of the singer’s doctor in Los Angeles, drawing criticism from some fans and members of his family.
Brothers Jermaine and Randy boycotted the event because of the timing, while sister Janet said it would be too painful to perform in Cardiff during the trial.
But it has the blessing of his mother, Katherine, who was at the gig, and Michael’s older brother Marlon said it should be seen as a celebration of Jackson’s music.
“They [fans] have the right to [protest],” he said backstage. “I think they have the right to whatever they feel, but we’re celebrating the positive side of our brother’s life.
“We know our brother better than anybody else and he would love that we are doing this for him and remembering him in that way.”
U.S. musician Ne-Yo kicked off the four-hour extravaganza at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff with the tight beats of “Billie Jean” before slowing the tempo in “The Lady In My Life.”
“It’s not about the controversy, it’s not about the trial, it’s not about his death. It’s about celebrating his life, it’s about celebrating his music,” Ne-Yo said from a stage in the shape of a giant glove.
British boy band JLS sang “The Way You Make Me Feel” before being joined by three of the original Jackson 5 – Marlon, Tito and Jackie – in a rousing rendition of “Blame it on the Boogie”.
“Can you feel his spirit in the room tonight?” called out Marlon, and the mostly young crowd screamed “Yes!”
Jackson’s sister La Toya performed live in public for the first time in nearly 20 years, while three of his nephews appeared in their band 3T.
Outside the family affair, the lineup featured Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green and Jamie Foxx, and among British stars appearing were Leona Lewis and Diversity.
Black Eyed Peas, originally confirmed to attend, pulled out earlier this week without explanation.
“Empress of soul” Gladys Knight was among the highlights with her powerful rendition of “Believe in Yourself”, and she was joined in a duet of “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” by Motown great Smokey Robinson.
Robinson told Reuters: “There will be many mimics, but there will never be another Michael Jackson.
“He got to the point where he had no private life whatsoever,” he added.
“When you are in a business that you love and you are doing what you love, however you can’t go out and just get in your car or go to the store or go to the movies – that’s got to be rough. That’s what he suffered.”