"It was a perfect moment of rock’n’roll bedlam”: the inside story of the night Jarvis Cocker wiggled his bum at Michael Jackson at the Brits, by the man who took him

Michael Jackson and Jarvis Cocker in 1996
(Image credit: Kieran Doherty/Redferns/Avalon/Getty Images)

1996 was a big year for Jarvis Cocker but, more than that, it was a big year for Jarvis Cocker’s arse. His band Pulp were riding high after 1995’s Different Class had turned them from cult indie concern into one of the country’s biggest bands but Cocker was about to become very well-known for entirely different reasons, for this was the year that he took umbrage with Michael Jackson doing his second coming act at the Brits and decided to go and stand on the stage and wiggle his bum for a bit. It was a bum wiggle that shocked the nation (well, it mainly cheered the nation up a bit but for the benefit of the tabloids, it shocked them, OK?).

Now you can get the full deep dive on this earth-shaking arse-shimmy. A few years ago, this writer spoke to Marc Marot and got the skinny on what happened. Former music exec Marot was managing director of Island Records at the time. Let him set the scene for you: “Island had had a particularly good year and I had two, maybe three, tables at the Brits,” Marot recalled. “Jarvis and all of Pulp were on my table, along with my head of talent, Nick Angel and also Roger Ames, who was the chairman of Polygram.”

Marot said that everyone was a little irritated at the way the Brits were being organised that year. 

“At the time, each year, the Brits organisation was handed over from one major organisation to another, so one year it would be Warner Brothers, the next year it would be EMI, then it’d be Sony, then it’d be Universal, or Polygram at the time. That particular year it was Sony and they had hijacked it. They had the HiStory album out by Michael Jackson and in effect, everybody in the room, including my chairman, felt that it had been hijacked completely by Sony as a promotional vehicle for Michael Jackson, including creating the fake award that was being given to him, the Artist Of A Generation Award. That day they had floated a sixty foot effigy of Michael Jackson down the Thames, it just felt like they had taken it over. There was a palpable sense in the room that this was not the Brit Awards, it was the Michael Jackson awards.”

That irritation spilled over the edge when Jackson took to the stage to perform Earth Song surrounded by children with the Thriller man portraying a messiah-like figure to these poor young souls in rags. 

“I could see that Jarvis was getting really worked up and it was Candida, the keyboard player, who goaded him on and said, “look, if you’re that pissed off about it, do something about it,” and before I knew it, Jarvis was up and he was gone, on his way,” Marot recounts. “Because I had more than one table, Tricky was another of my artists on the second table and Tricky got up and followed him and he was followed by Mushroom from Massive Attack, so those were the other artists that tried to get onstage but got stopped by the bouncers. Can you imagine if three different artists, unrelated to each other, had got up there? It was a perfect moment of rock’n’roll bedlam, followed by shouting and noticing that my chairman, who was the very respected head of Polygram UK, was standing on his chair shouting him on whilst this thing erupted in front of us.”

Watch the stage invasion below - Jarvis appears on the scene at the 4'57 mark:

What happened next was that Cocker was accused by Jackson’s team of injuring one of the child dancers during his little stage invasion. When Marot got backstage, he saw Jarvis being carted off to the police station. 

“I realised it was my duty to make sure he was alright and his situation was alright, so Nick and I went back into the auditorium to try and find a sober lawyer, which was really difficult by that point in the proceedings,” he said. “I found a lawyer called John Statham, a very seasoned and experienced lawyer who was sober enough and volunteered to help. Nick had signed Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer and we’d had that number one single, Dizzy, and Bob and Vic were at one of our tables as well – we had a pretty good set of tables – and Bob Mortimer, with the caveat that he was a conveyancing lawyer – said he’d come along and try to help. So the four of us got in a taxi, John Statham, Nick Angel, me and Bob Mortimer, got in a taxi and went to the police station. Nick was a bit pissed. He’s a very bullish, strong character, and Bob Mortimer was a bit pissed too and they were remonstrating with the duty officer and at one point the duty officer said to John Statham and I, ‘If your friends don’t back off, I’m gonna put them in the fucking cell too!”. Outside the police station, Vic Reeves was there with a sign saying “Free the Jarvis One”, a reference to “free the Birmingham six”. We didn’t succeed in getting Jarvis out.” 

Cocker, of course, was cleared when a video emerged showing that it was one of Jackson’s security guards who’d pushed into the child rather than the Pulp man, a startled Cocker looking back over the incident at a press conference that made the evening news. Pulp’s legacy is built on their kitchen-sink anthems and Britpop singalongs, no doubt about that, but this tale is definitely one of their more entertaining sidenotes…

Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor whose work can be found in Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Week, FourFourTwo, on Apple Music and more. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Q magazine, he co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former Q colleagues Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. He is also Reviews Editor at Record Collector. Over the years, he's interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, including Elton John, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Robert Plant and more. Radiohead was only for eight minutes but he still counts it.