The year I discovered Michael Jackson was, sadly, the year he passed away. Yes, I had heard of “Billie Jean” and “Thriller” long before that, but I never really paid attention. My falling in love with MJ came the same year I was transitioning into a high schooler, so it’s safe to say I hid in my bedroom and listened to my cds to try and forget the torments of high school. Though I may not listen to him as often now (which is still pretty often), I do watch his music videos from time to time. My recent excursions into the videos inspired this list. You don’t know how hard it was for me to narrow it down. Remember, my basis for this is mostly sentimentality and awesome-ness. Enjoy!
12. Earth Song (1995)
Director: Nick Brandt
Okay, this video is pretty sad I’ll admit. But it also serves as a reminder that we really should start taking care of our environment. You see Michael surrounded by burnt tree stumps and people around the world suffering due to the harm we’ve caused Mother Nature. And the video is devoid of his usual dance sequences. It also serves as a hope that we really are capable of turning back the clock and restoring Earth.
11. Liberian Girl (1987)
Director: Jim Yukich
The video features three dozen celebrities including John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, Whoopi Goldberg, and even Bubbles. It’s a pretty simple video, it just has all these famous people doing random stuff, waiting for Michael to appear and tell them what to do. But the twist is he’s already filming them! Shocker! I love this song, it’s my favorite on the album, and I don’t know why but the video goes really well with it.
10. The Way You Make Me Feel (1987)
Director: Joe Pytka
This is a really groovy song and Michael doing his trademark dance moves throughout made for a really cool video. He’s just chasing/dancing after the model Tatiana Thumbtzen after being encouraged by an old guy. And it ends with him dancing in a group which somehow convinces the girl to hug him. Seems legit.
9. Rock With You (1979)
Director: Bruce Gowers
It was either this or “Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough” and MJ’s sparkly outfit won over the three Michaels. The video is so simple and charming. His smile throughout makes me all tingly and blush-y! This was the first video of his that I watched over and over again and made my crush on him develop even more. He’s just so sparkly, smiley, and dance-y!
8. Black Or White (1991)
Director: John Landis
The video stars a young and cute Macaulay Culkin as well as a panther if you watch the extended version. The song is pretty much about equality and the video sort of reflects this. You see MJ dancing with all kinds of races and their signature dance moves. And at the end you see people of all kinds morphing into another person, one of which is Tyra Banks.
7. Scream (1995)
Director: Mark Romanek
Honestly, when I was re-watching the music videos for this list I realized that I don’t watch this one often enough. Both Michael and Janet Jackson sing the song and it’s a great collaboration. The video is set on a spaceship (Star Trek style), features some Japanese Animation, and is in black and white which, surprisingly, complements everything very well.
The song can be the anthem for anyone who is stressed or pressured in life. It, plus the video, just kind of makes you want to grab the nearest object and throw it across the room to relieve some tension. But it also makes me want to join in on their dancing during their synchronized portion. Those are hella cool dance moves!
6. Billie Jean (1982)
Director: Steve Barron
There was no doubt that this would show up on the list. I mean it’s the first ever video by a black man shown on MTV. AND! This was the song where he debuted his moonwalk on Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever. Although the video seems pretty simple now, at the time it broke barriers and proved that all you really need to make a good music video is Michael Jackson and his dancing.
5. Remember The Time (1991)
Director: John Singleton
This one has my favorite group dance performances of all the videos and Michael’s golden Egyptian inspired outfit helped him stand out from the back up dancers. But another reason the video is so awesome is that it also stars Eddie Murphy as the Pharaoh, Magic Johnson as some kind of announcer, and the beautiful Iman as the queen who is secretly in love with MJ. Although they do share a very awkward kiss, it doesn’t derail the music video at all.
4. Bad (1987)
Director: Martin Scorsese
Did you know this video was directed by Martin Scorsese? (Sandy: NO I DID NOT!) Well, now you do. The video drew inspiration from West Side Story and featured more of MJ’s awesome dance steps and a buckle-filled outfit. It also has us seeing more of his angsty angry face and a lot of yelling. The choreography is again on point which wasn’t a surprise. This has got to be the best video of the 80’s, right? It’s definitely not bad. (I made myself chuckle.) (Sandy: At least someone did.)
3. Beat It (1982)
Director: Bob Giraldi
This video cemented Jackson as a pop icon and proved that actual rival gangs can team up to groove together! Michael looking cool in his red leather jacket and dancing with a bunch of gang members helped to make it even more iconic. The knife fight that breaks out during Eddie Van Halen’s epic guitar solo is especially memorable.
2. Smooth Criminal (1987)
Director: Colin Chilvers
I’ll admit, I’ve been debating with myself whether or not I would make this number one because of the amazing artistry that went into the video. Inspired by old Hollywood dance legends like Fred Astaire, you really see it in the choreography and costumes. Michael definitely looked like a smooth criminal in his crisp white suit and hat. But one thing that really stays with you after watching the video is the epic gravity-defying lean! I remember feeling my jaw hit the ground when I first saw it and I still am awed by it up to now. After watching, you really do feel like you’ve been hit by a smooth criminal.
1. Thriller (1982)
Director: John Landis
This thrilling (had to do it) video that cost half a million dollars is, no surprise, number one! I know it seems pretty obvious but come on! IT’S AMAZING! I remember pressing my face onto the TV screen and trying to memorize (and failing) the choreography. Whether you watch the short version or the long one and everything from the dancing zombies and his red jacket makes it no doubt THE most iconic video of all time! Millions of people around the world have danced to it and it was even copied in the movie 13 Going on 30. MJ somehow made dancing zombies not look ridiculous. And even the parts before that where he was just walking/dancing with Ola Ray, he somehow made look all cool and smooth. The video is both simple and complex, exciting and surprising, and above all epic and awe-inspiring.
Michael Jackon’s songs and music videos will always be a happy place for me, which I’m sure is the case for countless others as well, and also will be for future generations. Dancing and singing along with him will always make me happy and get me through the tough times. Michael was misunderstood, beautifully weird, talented and just an all around wonderful human being, something we all aspire to be and I’m sure some of us already are. I hope everyone joins me in enjoying the music by a man who was surely gone too soon.