Michael Jackson – Billie Jean
People always told me, be careful of what you do
And don't go around breaking young girls' hearts
And mother always told me, be careful of who you love
And be careful of what you do
'Cause the lie becomes the truth
People say that good times are clear from the beginning, so it must have been evident that 1983 would really be an exceptional year from a musical point of view. On January 2, 1983, “Billie Jean” was released, a truly immortal song that would change the history of music, and also the career of Michael Jackson, who from here began the path that would lead him to be forever the king of pop and the king of the 80s.
The song is born from a true story, although its real boundaries were never completely clear. Michael Jackson certainly had problems because of the harassment of a woman who claimed to have had a child with him. Jackson was always able to defend himself against the accusations, and after years the woman was declared unstable, but at that moment the story caused a sensation.
In various interviews, Jackson talked about the phenomenon of groupies, girls willing to do anything to live a story with someone in the musical environment, who had been following the Jackson 5 concerts for years. In fact for some time the real protagonist of this story seemed to be not Michael, but his brother Randy Jackson. Michael’s feeling in the interviews explained that this situation was quite common among singers, even though this time it had taken the form of harassment.
The woman had stated that her name was Billie Jean Jackson and that she even was Michael’s wife. The producer of the song, legendary Quincy Jones, wanted to title the song “Not my lover”, because the girl’s name recalled the famous tennis player Billie Jean King, who of course had nothing to do with this story, but Jackson was determined to keep the girl’s name in the title.
“Bille Jean” is a really important song for Michael Jackson’s path. Until a few months earlier his success was still mainly related to the career with his brothers in the Jackson Five, later simply called “The Jacksons”, where Michael stood out for his voice but also for his young age. The album “Thriller” had been released a few weeks before, but it had not yet found the worldwide success that we still celebrate today, because the videos of the songs had not yet been broadcasted on tv. And so Michael Jackson’s solo career was driven by the first single, “The girl is mine”, thanks to Paul McCartney’s appearance that would certainly give visibility to the song. Jackson would return the favor in October of the same year by featuring in “Say, say, say” for McCartney’s album “Pipes of peace”.
In essence, “Billie Jean” was the first song where we saw an adult Michael Jackson as a modern solo artist, ready to become the king of pop. Michael Jackson was undoubtedly a perfectionist, and had worked very meticulously on this song. Although he composed it in a relatively short time, it is said two or three months, he had maniacally taken care of every single aspect of the instrumental part, and was sure that it would be a great success. Comments in interviews at the time said that splitting the song into tracks of the various instruments, each individual instrument was an incredible dance hit by itself.
In an autobiography, Jackson stated that while driving his car, he was so caught up in the song that he was composing that he did not notice that the car was on fire. A boy caught his eye and Jackson managed to get off and ask for help to put out the fire, but he also added that without that boy he would probably run the risk of blowing up with the car.
This song also accompanied Michael Jackson at other key moments in his career: in May 1983 Jackson participated in the evening celebrating the twenty-five years of Motown, and on the notes of this song he performed for the first time in the famous “Moonwalk” (which in fact is not yet seen in this video) making the audience crazy and immediately after them, all the teenagers in the world. He had studied every detail, starting with his outfit, his trousers that show the white sock, his hat and the glitter covered glove on his left hand. With this look he would perform the song at concerts in the following years.
Evidently “Billie Jean” really had a sort of… incendiary power, because after the burning car episode there was another moment when Jackson took risks while singing this song. In 1984, Jackson recorded a commercial for Pepsi, to be broadcast during Grammy Awards night, on the notes of “Billie Jean”. During the recording of the commercial, a firework effect blew at the wrong time and Jackson’s hair caught fire. The situation was handled very quickly and fortunately after a few seconds the situation went back to normal, but the episode had great resonance.
“Bille Jean” is also a very important song for the whole history of music. Its huge success is certainly related to the popularity that the video had through MTV, but this success was not at all granted. In fact, in 1983 MTV did not broadcast many videos of afro american artists, and had been accused of racism, for example by Rick James, whose video “Superfreak” had been rejected. MTV defended itself by saying that they had videos mainly of caucasian artists, which was partly true, because the great season of videos had not yet begun in the United States, and MTV was largely broadcasting videos of English artists, almost all of them caucasians.
It is, however, a fact that even in front of “Billie Jean” MTV did not show enthusiasm, and initially put the video in a rather marginal rotation. The intervention of the top management of Jackson’s record label was decisive: if MTV did not agree to give more visibility to “Billie Jean”, the label would withdraw the videos of all their artists, including Cyndi Lauper, Wham!, Culture Club, and others. MTV had to accept, and this was a lucky move for the company. The success of “Billie Jean” grew day by day, and as a result they broadcast it more and more often.
The music video is directed by Steve Barron. Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones chose him after watching the video Barron had shot for Human League’s “Don’t you want me“, but Barron had also directed Toto’s “Rosanna” and “Africa“, and many other videos, and in 1985 he would shoot the most iconic video of all 80s, “Take on me” by a-ha. Barron didn’t want any dance scene, but Jackson was very clear, I will dance in the video. And so they agreed about of avoiding great choreographies, but giving great visibility to Jackson’s perfect moves with absolute precision.
In the video the topic of stalking is symbolized by a journalist, who follows Jackson’s moves until he can almost capture him sleeping with a girl; at the topic moment Jackson becomes literally invisible, and the journalist is then arrested. Jackson, however, did not escape: in fact, he is following the scene from a short distance away, as evidenced by another great trick of the video, the sidewalk that lights up under the king’s footsteps. Jackson really becomes a kind of King Midas: even the coin he leaves at the beginning of the video is able to transform the existence of the man who receives it.
By the way, a billboard appears in the video with a photo of two girls and the name “Louisa”. According to Michael Jackson, one of the two girls is the stalker who accused him.
All in all, this was a rather low budget video. We see it in the scenes taken from the street corner, where the skyline is clearly drawn on the scenery, because the video was shot inside a rather narrow set. In any case, for the first time in this video we see the real, great Michael Jackson, with those movements and that precision that will become his trademark forever.
With “Billie Jean” the 1983 of music really started in the best way.
Michael Jackson on Wikipedia