Michael Jackson’s Music Video for ‘Billie Jean’ Debuted 40 Years Ago

michael jackson billie jean music video

“Billie Jean is not my lover…” Don’t tell me you haven’t belted out these lyrics at least once in your life. “Billie Jean” is one of the late Michael Jackson’s most popular songs, which came on his sixth studio album Thriller (1982). It reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and became his fastest-rising single since the ’70s. The catchy tune eventually became his best-selling solo single, and the music video was no different.

Releasing on March 10, 1983, the music video for “Billie Jean” centered around a photographer who tries to get a photograph of Jackson. As Jackson walks through the city, everything he touches seemingly lights up and becomes better. Even when the photographer sneakily takes a photo, Jackson can’t be seen in the images. He goes to Billie Jean’s hotel room, vanishing under the covers, while the photographer gets arrested for spying on Billie Jean.

The music video for Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” was released on March 10, 1983

MOTOWN 25: YESTERDAY, TODAY, FOREVER, Michael Jackson, performing 'Billie Jean'

NBC/Everett Collection

The video has long been praised for its choreography, with some of Jackson’s best moves being featured during the short film. “Billie Jean” won two Grammy Awards and an American Music Award and has been featured on top pop songs of all-time lists. Although the music video remains important in pop culture history, it isn’t without controversy. MTV initially refused to air the music video on its network because the executives thought it was not “rock” enough when MTV was mainly sharing rock music videos.

MOONWALKER, Michael Jackson, 1988

Dream Quest Images/Everett Collection

The president of CBS Records, Walter Yetnikoff, was agitated and threatened MTV that he would tell the world that the network was racist. Yetnikoff told MTV that he would tell the public that they wouldn’t play music by a black guy and threatened to pull all of CBS Records’ products off the air. Of course, MTV agreed to let the music video run on its network and the publicity helped Thriller sell an additional 10 million copies.

It wasn’t just the song and dance moves that became integrated into our culture. Children around the world began to copy Jackson’s look from the video including a black leather suit, pink shirt, and red bow tie. During his performance of “Billie Jean” at Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever, he wore his memorable single white glove that would spawn imitation for decades. The music video for “Billie Jean” has long reigned as one of the best of the ’80s and became the first 1980s clip by a solo artist to reach 1 billion views on YouTube! Wowza! In case you need a pep in your step today, watch the music video below and get ready to belt “BILLIE JEAN…”

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Pop Music Legends

August 2017

Dedicated to the sights, sounds and stories of the golden age of pop.

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