Billie Jean” is a dance-pop R&B song by American recording artist Michael Jackson. It was written by Jackson and produced by Quincy Jones for the singer’s sixth solo album, Thriller (1982). Originally disliked by Jones, the track was almost removed from the album after he and Jackson had a disagreement. The song’s lyrics refer to a real-life experience, in which a mentally insane female fan claimed that Jackson fathered one of her twins. The song is well known for its distinctive bass line and Jackson’s vocal hiccups. The song was mixed 91 times by Bruce Swedien before it was finalized. Honoured numerous times—including two Grammy Awards, one American Music Award and an induction into the Music Video Producers Hall of Fame—the song and corresponding music video propelled Thriller into the best-selling album of all time. The song was promoted with a short film that broke down MTV’s racial barrier as the first video by a black artist to be aired by the channel, and an Emmy-nominated performance on Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever, in which Jackson premiered “the moonwalk.” The song was also promoted through Jackson’s Pepsi commercials; during the filming of one commercial, Jackson’s scalp was severely burned. Covered and sampled by modern artists, including Chris Cornell, “Billie Jean” sealed Jackson’s status as an international pop icon. On March 25, 1983, Jackson performed “Billie Jean” to critical and popular acclaim. Staged at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever was a celebration of Motown Records’ twenty-fifth anniversary. Organised by Suzanne De Passe, the event was to feature all the previous Motown acts. The Motown stars were to reunite for one evening, paying tribute to Berry Gordy and acknowledging his effect on their lives. Jackson initially refused the invitation, stating that he did not want to perform live, or perform with his brothers again. Jackson reconsidered after a personal visit from Gordy, whom the singer had a great respect for. Jackson would perform on the condition that he have a solo spot. Gordy agreed and it was decided that the singer would perform “Billie Jean”.
Jackson executing the moonwalk during his performance on Motown 25.
Following performances by Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and Mary Wells, the Jacksons took to the stage for the first Jackson brothers performance in eight years. The Jacksons sang a medley of their old hits, finishing with “I’ll Be There” and left Michael alone on stage. After addressing the audience, Jackson went into his routine. Wearing black pants, leather penny loafers and a single white rhinestone glove, Jackson snapped a fedora to his head and struck a pose—his right hand on his hat and his left leg bent. Throwing the hat aside, Jackson lip synced to “Billie Jean”. Then, during a musical interlude, the singer executed a move which many claim to have sealed his status as a pop icon. Gliding backwards, Jackson performed the moonwalk, before spinning on his heels and landing en pointe. It was the first time Jackson had performed the moonwalk in public, having practiced it in his kitchen prior to the show.
The program was watched by 50 million people and earned Jackson an Emmy nomination. With the performance Jackson reached a new audience and increased the sales of Thriller, which eventually became the biggest selling album in the world. The day after the show aired, Jackson was called by his childhood idol Fred Astaire who commended the singer. Another childhood idol, Sammy Davis Jr., later received Jackson’s black sequined jacket, having admired it during the performance.
Jackson stated that he was disappointed in his performance; he’d wanted to remain on his toes longer than he had. Jackson has subsequently said that “Billie Jean” is one of his favourite songs to perform live, but only when he doesn’t have to do it that way. “The audience wants a certain thing – I have to do the moonwalk in that spot”, he later said. “I’d like to do a different version.”
In a Top 100 list, compiled by VH1 and Entertainment Weekly in 2000, Jackson’s performance was ranked as the sixth greatest rock ‘n’ roll TV moment. Five years later, Entertainment Weekly named Jackson’s Motown 25 performance as one the most important pop culture moments in history. “It was a moment that crossed over in a way that no live musical performance ever had. There was a messianic quality to it”, Entertainment Weekly editor Steve Daly commented.
Released – January 2, 1983.
Single by Michael Jackson from the album Thriller.
Link for the mp3 of this song:
Vodpod videos no longer available.
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