To celebrate Michael Jackson's birthday, we take a look at his most definitive and revolutionary videos.
23 June 2017

If you’re a ’90s kid, you probably still remember watching Michael Jackson’s Black Or White on TV. Given the technological limitations at the time, the video for the song when it released was nothing short of revolutionary. We’re sure your eyes widened when you saw those faces changing (“How’d they do that?!”), because everyone’s did. But that’s just one of the examples of the pieces of art Jackson used to release all the time. Jackson often treated his super-ambitious videos as “short films” rather than just music videos. So instead of diving straight into the music, you’d be treated to an opening, a backstory, and an over-the-top dance routine that would ALWAYS leave you dumbfounded.


The popstar never shied away from reaching deep into his pockets to make his visual dreams come true. Over the span of his illustrious career, Jackson’s videos have always found a spot on the most expensive and revolutionary videos ever made lists. Here’s a look at his avant-garde ideas and visuals, all of which still stand the test of time!


9. Leave Me Alone 


Leave Me Alone was a clapback from Jackson to the media in general. He was hellbent on telling them off for their tendencies to over-sensationalise matters of his personal life. The trippy video explored all the baseless rumours the media had been spreading about him over the past few years. It showed that Jackson was not one to take any of this seriously, but that he also knew how to stay relevant at all times. The man always made sure to keep up with the current trends in the music industry and that reflected directly in his videos. Also, look out for the Bubbles cameo.



8. Billie Jean 


The video for Billie Jean is known for many reasons. It’s the first video to break the long-standing colour barrier MTV strictly followed. Jackson’s video was the first to be aired, and then more black faces started to slowly appear on the music channel. The video also sees Jackson smoothly glide across a floor which lights up, while supposedly dodging the media. No matter how old you are, seeing the floor light up rhythmically to MJ’s moves is ALWAYS amazeballs. Add to that his signature moves, which cemented his stature of an icon in the making. Soon enough, on the 1983 TV special, Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever, Jackson did the famous moonwalk for the first time ever. The rest is history.



7. Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough


Just reading out that name in your head gets you started up, right? Videos weren’t a common thing in the ’70s. Very few people were doing it, and it mostly was just a half-assed attempt to get with the times. But what Jackson did was go ahead and find a way to juxtapose moving images in the background, while he busted out some slick AF moves in the foreground. We know the footage in the background looks kinda cheesy, but that’s the simplicity of it. We still love it, after all these years. The video was a perfect way to establish that he was a force to be reckoned with as a solo artist as well as with his brothers in Jackson 5. Right when you think the video couldn’t get any better, out comes another Jackson and the both of them have a sick dance-off. Those were the good times.



6. Beat It


Michael Jackson was a staunch supporter of putting an end to gang violence. What did he do to achieve those goals? He made THE most BADASS video. Billie Jean made people sit up and take notice, but it was Beat It that proved that Jackson really wanted to change the game and be the best. Tons of backup dancers adept enough to match up to the legend, crisp choreography, iconic outfits, and a BRILLIANT guitar solo by none other than Eddie Van Halen. That’s probably the best cheat code to get your name up among the greats. The video went on to become so successful, many artists tried to implement the style and influences in their music videos, but no one could match up.



5. Black Or White


When Michael Jackson wants to go all out, you’d best get out of the way, because that’s exactly what he did with his video forBlack Or White. Jackson got together Home Alone’s Macaulay Culkin, Slash from Guns n Roses to play the main riffs, Tyra Banks, and Bart Simpson to close it all out. How’s that for a premiere? He didn’t stop there. He simultaneously broadcast the video on MTV, Vh1, BET, and Fox. The video aired in 27 countries at once, and over 500 million watched it. Just another day in the life of Michael Jackson. The debut single from his album Dangerous saw him visiting places all over the world and dancing with people of all races. But none of this is what impressed people. It was the morphing in the end that blew everything apart. Watching people morph seamlessly into one another, people knew they were witnessing a legend at work. An artist spreading smiles across the globe, isn’t that what music is all about?



4. Bad 


In Bad, Jackson proved that he was probably going to be the only person to do a jazz routine in a subway station, while trying to act street, and look tough while doing it. Gone was the bling, and entered a fierce persona, covered in black leather and straps. The full video, which isn’t available on YouTube, has Jackson face-off against rival baddie Wesley Snipes, in what might be him showcasing his acting chops. We literally can’t get over the energy this video has stuffed inside of it. Oh, also, the video was directed by Martin Scorsese. Nuff’ said.



3. Scream


When news dropped that Michael and Janet Jackson were collaborating, the world stopped for a second. Expectations were high. Steering away from the traditional format he usually followed, by the time they were done with the five-minute video, the duo managed to rake up a bill for US$ 8 million. Yes, that happened. Jackson was being endlessly hounded over accusations of sexual assault at the time. So you can only imagine the anger building up inside him, which resulted in his most angriest song ever. Set in a space-setup, everything right from the zero-gravity chambers, the paintings, the snazzy headphones, to the sleek guitars, the white walls, the large screens, and the anime clips, every cent seems justified. Once again, Jackson managed to break records, and ended up with the costliest video till date. Every frame filled with exquisite detail and subtlety, Scream is still the perfect example of talent and creativity.



2. Smooth Criminal


Smooth Criminal is undoubtedly a neo-noir work of art. Jackson said that the video was a tribute to his all-time favourite dance idol, Fred Astaire. As usual, Jackson is a fedora-wearing gangster who gets into the wrong club and messes with the wrong people. What ensues is a tear-jerkingly beautiful piece of 10-minute choreographed gorgeousness. The twangy guitar licks, the drum beats, Jackson’s ooh’s and aah’s, the setup, the costumes, everything is perfection. When he begins to dance, there’s confidence in his moves, he knows he’s here to stay, and he exuberates a sense of commandment on everyone watching. While you’re completely engrossed in his moves, Jackson pulls a move towards the end of the video, which to date is still one of the biggest gimmicks of the game. The 45-degree lean. The genius unnaturally leans in, along with the backup dancers, and we’re 100% sure that’s the coolest thing we’ll ever see. We said it. The secret behind it? He patented a type of shoe which would lock into the floor allowing him to pull that slick stunt of. He even did it at his live shows. Even if you’re not a fan of Michael Jackson, you’re bound to be mighty impressed with this one.



1. Thriller


You knew this was going to be at the no.1 spot even before you started reading this list. No prizes for getting that right. Some videos are good, some are great, some you remember, but Thriller is a phenomenon for centuries to come. Jackson clearly saved the best for last. By now, he had shown us he was a moonwalker, a fashion icon, the master of the video format… but now he decided to go ALL OUT on the short movie format. The result included Hitchcockian-pull shots, immaculate makeup, the iconic red jacket, the insanely meta werewolf movie, pop-locking zombies, and a bassline to kill for. While the video has about 417 million views on YouTube; compared to the recent videos which rake up billions in mere months, it eclipses every video you can think of, in terms of style, story and content. The video didn’t just make Jackson famous, it completely changed the music industry for years to come. It was so successful for MTV, that they ended up naming the Video Vanguard award in his namesake. It’s also the only video to be selected for the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress, and also holds the Guinness World Record for being the most successful video of all time. No amount of words and praise will ever be enough for this masterpiece. Go ahead, hit play, and relive your childhood all over again.