Michael Jackson would have been 55 years old today. Despite his death four years ago, his legacy is still felt within the music industry and his music videos are still heralded as some of the most innovative of their time. Though some of his videos met with controversy, he always stood by their message. Throughout his life, and even in death, the “King of Pop” was surrounded by rumors, innuendo and scandal, but his diehard fans never waned in their love for him, his music and his talent. Even following his death, MJ’s videos are viewed daily on YouTube and his album sales increased overall. All of his videos feature MJ’s signature style and gift in addition to telling a story. Some videos had a specific message while others were just fun to watch as MJ displayed why he was the “King of Pop” with his signature move, the Moonwalk. It is through these videos that future music fans can get a glimpse of Jackson’s genius and keep his legacy alive. In honor of his 55th birthday today, here are the Top 10 Michael Jackson music videos. R.I.P. MJ!
10. ‘Jam’: Off of Jackson’s 1991 Dangerous album, the video for this great dance song had Jackson in an abandoned indoor basketball court trying to teach renowned basketball star Michael Jordan how to dance and he, in turn, tried to teach Jackson how to play basketball. Rap duo Kris Kross and Heavy D also made cameo appearances as Heavy D rapped during the song’s bridge. Jackson infused the video with many of his signature moves and in an extended version, even tried to teach Jordan his legendary move, the Moonwalk. The video’s relaxed setting seemed to complement the song’s message about going with the flow in life. It’s just a fun video to watch!
9. ‘Scream’ (duet with Janet Jackson): The lead single from Jackson’s ninth studio album, HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I, this video had Jackson and his sister, Janet seemingly in the future on a spaceship. The song’s lyrics speak of how Jackson had been aggressively targeted by the tabloid media due to child molestation charges against him at the time. Though the lyrics talk about frustration, there are times in the video where Michael and Janet seem to be having fun just acting like brother and sister. Filmed in black and white, it was praised for its artsy and futuristic look. The siblings danced together in perfect unison and showed fans how Jackson’s sister supported him and the extent of their musical and dance talents.
8. ‘Leave Me Alone’: A song featured on Jackson’s 1987 album, Bad, the video had Jackson going through an amusement park looking at all of the rumors circling the tabloids about him such as his purchasing the Elephant Man’s bones and that he slept in a hyperbaric chamber. The song’s lyrics satirized all of the outrageous reports about “Wacko Jacko,” a nickname devised for Jackson by the media, which he despised. The video won the Grammy Award in 1990 for Best Short Form Music Video at the 32nd Grammy Awards and received multiple nominations at the 1989 MTV Video Music Awards. In the end, it showed how Jackson hated being hounded by the media with false claims and that he dealt with it by poking fun at.
7. ‘Black or White’: Another song off of Jackson’s 1991 album Dangerous, the video for this song was both innovative and controversial. Featuring Jackson’s friend Home Alone star Macaulay Culkin and Cheers’ George Wendt, the video showed various cultures such as African hunters, Thai dancers, Native Americans and a group of Russians, all of whom Jackson danced with in the video. The lyrics have Jackson singing about how he isn’t afraid of the Ku Klux Klan and then a group of kids, including Culkin, rapped that “I’m not going to spend my life being a color.” The climax of the video had different people, including model Tyra Banks, dance as they morphed into one another, a technique fresh and original for the time. Yet, the last four minutes of the video brought controversy as Jackson morphed into a black panther then back to his regular form and preceded to vandalize a city block and make sexual gestures such as repeatedly grabbing his crotch. Jackson later apologized for the segment and it was removed by MTV and other music networks in subsequent broadcasts. Despite the controversy, it’s a visually spectacular video! Below is the full video with the deleted four minutes.
6. ‘Bad’: The video for this single off the 1987 album of the same name had Jackson in a macho persona decked out in black leather and chains. The full 18-minute music video was directed by Martin Scorsese and also starred a young Wesley Snipes. The concept for the video had Jackson playing a reformed thug, now fighting back against his ex-partners in petty crime. The dance moves by Jackson and his fellow dancers had an urban vibe and Jackson performed many of his signature moves along with grabbing his crotch several times. It portrayed Jackson in a more manly light than he’d previously been shown and presented fans with a more masculine side to the “King of Pop.”
5. ‘Remember the Time’: Yet another single off of Jackson’s 1991 Dangerous album, the video for this song had some big name cameos such as actor Eddie Murphy, model Iman, Tom “Tiny” Lister, Jr. and basketball legend Magic Johnson. The video was set in Pharaoh’s Egypt with Murphy as the Pharaoh and Iman as his queen. Jackson appeared as a hooded entertainer and proceeded to sing to the queen asking her if she remembered their time together. The dance moves were intricate and physically demanding on both Jackson and the group dancers. The special effects of Jackson appearing and disappearing in a cloud of gold dust also made this a visually captivating video.
4. ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’: Off of Jackson’s 1987 Bad, the video for this song had Jackson chasing the object of his desire, model/dancer Tatiana Thumbtzen. Jackson is with his male group of friends, who are hitting on Thumbtzen’s female group of friends, one of which is Jackson’s sister LaToya, but strike out. That’s when Jackson tries to get Thumbtzen’s attention by singing and dancing around her as she tries to avoid him. Of course, in the end, Thumbtzen and Jackson embrace, but not before Jackson uses his adept dance moves in an attempt to win her heart. It was another video that showed Jackson’s more virile side and it worked.
3. ‘Beat It’: Off of Jackson’s 1982 album Thriller, the video for this song had Jackson singing about the pitfalls of gang life. Eddie Van Halen played the song’s distinctive guitar solo, but was prevented from appearing in the video by his record label. Filmed on Los Angeles’ notorious ‘Skid Row,’ Jackson portrayed the issues of minority youth at the time. Jackson comes upon a gang fight between two rival gangs, but then bursts into dance, presumably as a metaphor that violence isn’t the answer. Jackson’s moves were spot on along with the video featuring 18 professional dancers and four breakdancers. The video had mass appeal and displayed Jackson’s awareness of the gang problem in this country.
2. ‘Thriller’: It was MTV’s first world premiere video, co-starring former Playboy playmate Ola Ray and is known as one of the most influential videos of all time. The video was directed by John Landis and featured Jackson as a zombie performing with other dancers dressed as zombies while they chased Ray. The elaborate dance moves and intricate makeup made this video ahead of its time. Factor in horror film veteran Vincent Price’s cameo and rap during the song and what you have is a video that even now stands the test of time!
1. ‘Smooth Criminal’: Off of Jackson’s 1987 album, Bad, it was also adapted into Jackson’s 1988 short film, Moonwalker. In the video, Jackson is decked out in a white zoot suit as he enters a 1930s-esque nightclub. He then proceeds to dance with its patrons. Jackson’s smooth (please excuse the pun) moves and classy wardrobe gave the video an elegant vibe as the lyrics talk about a woman named Annie being gunned down by a “smooth criminal.” Jackson also unveiled his anti-gravity lean dance move for the first time in the video, which many performers have attempted to duplicate since. In my opinion, Jackson never looked more stylish than in his white suit and hat in true 1930s flair and the video epitomized Jackson at the height of his career and genius!