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The King is Bad

Michael Jackson – Bad

Well they say the sky's the limit
And to me that's really true
But my friend you have seen nothin'
Just wait 'til I get through
#MichaelJackson #Bad

What was Michael Jackson thinking in those nights between August and September 1987? Did he act like some commanders who manage to sleep soundly before a great battle, or was he consumed by anxiety like all mere mortals?

Think about it: you are the king of world pop, you are Michael Jackson, and five years earlier you launched the best-selling album in history, driven by immortal hits like Thriller, Beat It, Billie Jean, you revolutionized the way to dance by perfecting a movement, the Moonwalking, which has not only become your symbol, but has actually been the driving force behind the development and success of street dance and break dance all over the world.

Now, after five years of fabulous concerts around the world, after a series of albums which however were only collections, or anthologies with secondary unreleased songs, after having spent the last two years in the recording studio with Quincy Jones and a few dozen of musicians, it’s the moment of truth: your new album, awaited by the whole world, is about to be released, preceded in July by a single, I Just Can’t Stop Lovin’ You, which somehow lived on its own.

Now approaching the age of thirty, the King had made a courageous choice: to completely change the look of his character and appear more aggressive, starting from the title of the album. He had to maintain the fan base built over the years, but also capture a new generation of teenagers, in a world that was already more interconnected than five years earlier. And let’s not forget that, with the advent of CDs, the new album also had to fill about 70 minutes of music, almost doubling Thriller’s vinyl.

And so, if the entire album was released on August 31st, September 7th was the fateful day of the release of the single Bad and its video, and Michael Jackson’s new look. The title was aggressive, but let’s not forget that in those times in the youth slang of the low-income neighborhoods of New York, “bad” also meant, more or less, ultra-cool, stronger than “cool”.

In fact, the king’s look had changed a lot, not only for his leather clothes and chains, but also for his hairstyle, and for the first time also for the color of his skin, lighter due to an illness, which sparked gossip and controversy about Michael’s alleged treatments to “whiten”, probably inside the hyperbaric chamber where he was said to sleep.

The song Bad, originally, was supposed to be a duet with an equally important character, Prince. But there is a difference between wish and reality, and when the genius from Minneapolis was informed of the proposal and heard the song, he replied that it would certainly have been a success even without him, and sent the proposal back to the sender.

Beyond diplomacy, we know Prince’s character and his need to have total control of everything he does. Perhaps a duet with Michael Jackson could have been acceptable before 1984, but in this historical moment it was really difficult to think that someone like Prince would have accepted, especially if the proposal did not come from him.

The song, with more modern sounds, is certainly a sequel to the trend started with Billie Jean and Beat It, lively and irresistible pop of great quality. And in fact the video also takes up a video trend that Michael Jackson loved, the clashes between metropolitan gangs in the style of Broadway musicals, where the blows are dance moves and not attempts to cause harm.

Michael Jackson was certainly inspired by a show like West Side Story, and with Beat It he had already made a video in that style. Now, with Bad, he updates everything in an increasingly underground key, with the video set in a subway station rather than in a bar or a courtyard, like for example was done by Toto for the video of Rosanna.

Let’s be clear: this video is a masterpiece shot by the great director Martin Scorsese, who with a budget of two million dollars had the subway station reserved for two weeks. Bad became the most expensive video in history, and obviously took the lead from Thriller, because Michael always cared about videos, which he used to call “mini-films”: the video for Bad in the full version is eighteen minutes long!

Furthermore, Martin Scorsese was directing the film The Color of Money, and interrupted filming for four days to be able to shoot Michael Jackson’s video, in this famous subway station but also in some streets in Harlem.

Incidentally, the scruffy Hoyt – Schermerhorn Streets station (we read “Streets” outside the station, and “Street” inside, actually), which is located in Brooklyn not far from the bridge, on the A, C and G lines, has over time become the symbol of all New York subways. In fact, some scenes from The Warriors, Mr. Crocodile Dundee and its sequel, Coming to America, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and various other films were filmed in the same station. Scorsese’s video was then naturally parodied by bizarre Weird Al Yankovic when he made Fat, his comic version of Bad, obviously in the same station.

Bad was obviously a resounding success; the album failed to match Thriller‘s sales, but the first five singles all went to number one. In fact, in addition to I Just Can’t Stop Loving You and Bad, also The Way You Make Me Feel, Man In The Mirror and Dirty Diana will reach to first place.

In short, the king had perhaps become bad, but he certainly had not lost his magical touch, his incredible voice, and above all his divine way of dancing.

Michael Jackson on Wikipedia

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