Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough
Let's get this out of the way right off the hop: "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" isn't exactly the most slick or high concept clip in this rundown. Zombies, spaceships and morphing faces are nowhere to be seen in this 1979 video, but guess what this promo does have? Michael Jackson absolutely killing it in a tuxedo. GAME OVER. This incredibly straightforward video (at least by MJ standards) captures the infectious joy of this disco classic and the cheesy pre-MTV background effects somehow make the whole experience even more fun. Plus, who could possibly argue with multiple Off The Wall era Michael Jacksons? Incredible.
Can you believe MTV once tried to keep this iconic music video out of heavy rotation? It's strange but true. The cable network was reluctant to put Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" video on the air for reasons that vary depending on whom you ask. "Billie Jean" eventually arrived on the network and it proved to be an absolute gem of a video. The clip features Michael being stalked by a sinister-looking photographer that's following his every move. The highlight of the promo? The illuminated tiles and props, of course.
You could certainly do worse for a West Side Story-style video. The carefully choreographed gang warfare-themed clip for "Beat It" absolutely blew the minds of viewers when it premiered in 1983. Michael attempts to play peacemaker (through the power of dance!) in the video, tossing himself in the middle of two factions that are equipped with knives and very '80s sunglasses. MJ's label refused to pony up the dough to make this ambitious clip, so the entertainer was forced to go the self-financing route. Michael's vision for the video included making sure that actual gang members were used in the promo. Director Bob Giraldi agreed to the casting suggestion and the finished product features dozens of L.A. Crips and Bloods in the video.
Michael Jackson had a number of groundbreaking videos under his belt before the release of this mega-sized promo, but there's never been anything quite like "Thriller". Widely regarded as one of the best music videos in the history of the medium, this John Landis-directed clip was an absolute blockbuster. The budget was huge and so was the whopping (almost) 14 minute running time. The special effects are wild, the choreography is immortal and Michael's red jacket is pretty nifty, too. "Thriller" offered up horror chills galore in a video that made zombie choreography the height of pop culture chic and the video's never really fallen out of a spot of acclaim in the three decades since it first premiered. By the way, "Thriller" lost out on Video of the Year honours at the 1984 MTV Video Music Awards. The inaugural winner? The Cars for their special effects-heavy "You Might Think" promo.
So, how do you follow up such a visually expressive (and successful) album as Thriller? With a music video directed by Martin Scorsese, of course. The King of Pop returned with a new album in 1987 and he had no plans on scaling back the size of his videos, leading off the charge with the Scorsese-helmed promo for "Bad." In the video, Michael once again hangs with some tough-looking dudes and communicates his "badness" through the power of dance. The proper full-length version of the clip clocks in at a whopping sixteen-and-a-half minute runtime, although this subway-set offering has been trimmed to a number of more TV-friendly lengths. Come for the over-the-top sound effects, stay for the Wesley Snipes cameo.
There's a lot going on in the visual accompaniment for "Smooth Criminal", but really it's all about THAT LEAN. Quite possibly the most brainmelting manoeuvre ever to appear in a music video, MJ's gravity-mocking lean is still an absolutely outrageous image that's probably continuing to prompt ugly faceplants from fans hoping to mimic the move. There's also a scene where Michael nonchalantly shoots a knife-wielding dude in the chest and sends him gliding through a wall that breaks in a quasi-supernatural fashion. (It's a bit of an odd video is what we're getting at.)
Leave Me Alone
Hey, it's that video you see whenever there's a cable news story mentioning Michael Jackson's history of being at odds with the press! In 1988, MJ put out a video that directly addressed his tabloid magnet persona. The visually daring "Leave Me Alone" touched on rumours about the star's personal life (howdy Elephant Man's bones dance sequence!) while also showing the singer trying to escape the glare of the media spotlight. There's also a number of dogs wearing suits in the video because there's a lyric about being dogged and who doesn't like seeing a dog in a suit? "Leave Me Alone" would later scoop a Grammy for Best Short Form Music Video, beating out offerings from Enya and Mike + The Mechanics.
It sounds strange, but one of Michael Jackson's most interesting music videos features barely any of the music superstar at all. MJ's video for "Liberian Girl" features an avalanche of 1989-y celebrity cameos (Steven Spielberg! Jasmine Guy! Steve Guttenberg!) and the premise that everybody is waiting around for Michael to start the video. The twist? The pop star's been filming everybody in secret and the behind-the-scenes chatter was the video all along. What did Brigitte Nielsen have prepared for the imagined video? The world may never know.
Black or White
MJ reteamed with "Thriller" director John Landis for this pop culture event of a video, one that garnered Fox the highest Nielsen ratings it had ever seen up to that point. "Black or White" boasted groundbreaking special effects, celebrity cameos (cue rapping Macaulay Culkin) and even a bit of backlash. Jacko came under fire after the premiere for his liberal approach to crotch grabs in a lengthy end sequence that also included the entertainer smashing car windows. Later versions of "Black or White" have pulled that ending sequence, wrapping things up after the song's iconic morphing sequence.
Sleek, oddly visceral and incredibly engaging, Michael Jackson's "Scream" video marked ambitious new terrain for the King of Pop. Costing a rumoured $7 million, this Mark Romanek-directed promo plunked MJ into space with his sister Janet and offered up cool retrofuturistic visuals that mixed anime, Pong and intense choreography. The video would ultimately add another Grammy for Best Short Form Music Video to Michael's mantel.