Michael Jackson recorded 13 number one hits, sold more than four hundred million records, and was one of the most popular pop stars of his time. In addition to ruling the radio airwaves, Jackson redefined the music video genre with his iconic creations.
“Man in the Mirror”
Released in 1987, the music video for the hit song “Man in the Mirror” featured heart-wrenching imagery of hunger, war, and homelessness. Director Donald Wilson viewed hundreds of hours of archival news footage to find the devastating imagery used in the video. Wilson said his goal was to make people pay attention to news footage they may have turned away from because it was too painful to watch.
“Black or White”
The 1991 release of “Black or White” was something of a comeback for Jackson after a few years of declining record sales. The video was a huge production that featured cutting-edge special effects, some scandalous dance moves, and a climatic morphing sequence that took a month to shoot and cost $100,000 to create.
1983’s “Beat It” video featured Jackson at the height of his popularity. The cinematic choreography, iconic red leather jacket, and hybrid of sensitive and macho themes gave Jackon a harder edge than some of his earlier work. Director Bob Giraldi gave the climatic knife-fight scene a bit of extra punch by swapping out the dancer’s rubber knife with a real switchblade.
The full 42-minute version of “Smooth Criminal,” released in 1988, was the foundation of Jackon’s movie “Moonwalker.” Inspired by classic film noir, Jackson played a gangster with Fred Astaire moves and an iconic suit. The video featured a piano wire assisted lean that became one of Jackon’s signature dance moves.
In 1983, “Billie Jean” was the video that broke the MTV color barrier and made Jackson a bonafide music video star. Jackson shows off some fancy footwork while stepping on a hand-operated light-up sidewalk.
The 1995 release of the “Scream” video paired Michael up with his sister Janet for a $7 million production that became the most expensive music video ever made. The video featured massive space-themed sets that had to be custom-built on site.
“Bad,” released in 1987, ramped up the macho persona from the “Beat It” video and featured Martin Scorsese directing Jackson and Wesley Snipes in an 18-minute, “West Side Story” inspired dance combat epic. The black and white video was shot in Harlem.
No other video even came close to the popularity and sheer epic scale of Michael Jackson’s 1983 rendition of “Thriller.” The video features a horror movie theme that sees Jackson and a whole troop of dancers transformed into zombies. In addition to slick special effects and a cinematic storyline, the video featured one of the most iconic dance sequences in music video history. In 2017, John Branca announced a 3D version of the video to be shown at movie theaters around the country.
Michael Jackson was both a pioneer in the world of pop music and music videos. His iconic creations transformed music videos from just another marketing tool into event television.