As we continue to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Thriller, it’s only right that we revisit the most iconic live performance of that era of Michael Jackson’s career. The day was March 25, 1983, and some of the greatest artists ever were gathered to celebrate the beginning of Motown Records’ 25th year. The celebration was being filmed for a TV special called Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever that would air on May 16.
All of the legends signed to Motown over the years where there to perform live, including Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Lionel Richie and Diana Ross. And of course, the man who would become King of Pop, Michael Jackson.
While every other performer was still a Motown artist, MJ no longer was. However, he had the benefit of being the hottest artist in the industry. Thriller had been released just four months prior and “Billie Jean” was in the middle of a seven-week reign atop the Billboard Hot 100.
MJ delivered a performance of “Billie Jean” that basically let people know he’s really not one of them. It was the debut of his signature move, the moonwalk, as well as a lot of what would become his signature look.
The Motown 25 performance of “Billie Jean” is quite possibly the most important performance of Michael Jackson’s career. Check it out below.
This week in 1982, Michael Jackson released his sixth album and what would become his magnus opus, Thriller. At this point, the then-24-year-old had been in the industry for 13 years and had already achieved superstar status.
As a member of The Jackson 5 (later known as The Jacksons), MJ became the youngest person to reach No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 at just 11 years old. The group would place their first four singles at No. 1 on the chart, which was a record at the time.
As a solo artist, MJ would continue to achieve major success, earning his first No. 1 hit at just 14 years old and becoming the third-youngest solo act to achieve this feat. Just weeks shy of his 21st birthday, he would release Thriller‘s predecessor, Off the Wall (1979), which added two more No. 1 hits to his resume and would go on to sell over 20 million copies worldwide. It was by far his biggest album yet, but believe it or not, the King of Pop was disappointed in its performance and thought it should’ve been even bigger. He was particularly upset that the album won only one Grammy — for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance, which was awarded to “Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough.” He was also upset that trash-ass Rolling Stone declined to do a cover story on him. He is quoted as saying, “I’ve been told over and over that Black people on the cover of magazines doesn’t sell copies. Just wait. Some day, those magazines are going to be begging me for an interview. Maybe I’ll give them one, and maybe I won’t.”
This is the origin story of Thriller. A very popular artist knew he could’ve been even bigger and set out to prove it. And boy, did he.
The King of Pop got into the studio determined to make an album full of hits. Of course, this doesn’t sound unusual, right? Isn’t that what most (if not all) artists at least attempt to do? Probably. However, Michael Jackson is not everybody and the world was about to find out.
With Quincy Jones by his side, MJ got to work, recording a total of 30 songs for the project. Only nine of those songs would make the cut, including four written by the singer: “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” “The Girl Is Mine” (with Paul McCartney), “Beat It” and “Billie Jean.” James Ingram and Quincy Jones co-wrote “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” while Steve Porcaro and John Bettis co-wrote “Human Nature.” The three remaining songs — “Baby Me Mine,” “The Lady in My Life” and the title track — were written by Rod Temperton. The entire album was produced by Jones, with MJ co-producing all the songs he wrote.
Thriller offers so many different moods and sounds while maintaining cohesiveness. In fact, so many of the songs do that on their own. What genres do “Thriller” and “Billie Jean” belong to? And despite the uniqueness of these songs, they maintain a simplicity that draws the listener in immediately. The only sonic overlap between Thriller and its predecessor can be found on “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” which has very strong disco leanings. Beyond that, the albums are decidedly different.
The contrast between Off the Wall and Thriller is at its starkest on “Beat It.” We take it for granted now, but the idea of an R&B artist deciding to put a hard rock song on his album is about as left-field as it gets.
While the songs were amazing, we cannot discuss the legend of Thriller without discussing its music videos. Recording artists had been making music videos for years at that point, but it wasn’t quite standard practice — in fact, only three of Thriller‘s seven singles have videos. However, those three videos would end up revolutionizing the art of using visuals to support a story told via music. They would also demonstrate just how effective a music video can be as a marketing vehicle.
With the “Billie Jean” video, MJ depicted a story based on real-life paternity allegations he and his brothers had faced over the years. MTV initially refused to play the now-iconic video, telling Walter Yetnikoff — head of MJ’s label at the time, CBS Records — that Black music didn’t fit in on the network. In response to this, Yetnikoff threatened to pull all of his artists’ videos and go public with their reason for refusing to play the video. This one move would prove crucial to the success of Thriller, and by extension, the success of every Black artist thereafter.
MTV folded and began playing “Billie Jean” regularly. This exposure is said to have helped boost album sales by about 10 million.
The following single, “Beat It,” would also get the video treatment. The video, which featured real gang members, is credited with pioneering the pinball dance formation. Crazy, right? So many of the standard practices of popular music can be traced back to Michael Jackson, and in particular, the Thriller era.
“Billie Jean” and “Beat It” would both top the Billboard Hot 100 and become two of the best-selling singles of all time, selling 14 and 11 million copies worldwide, respectively.
By the end of 1983, Thriller sales were tapering out, which is completely normal for a year-old album. However, Michael Jackson is said to have been fixated on sales — which should come as no surprise if we think back to the album’s origin story — and wanted to revive the album. Mind you, by the end of that year, the album was already the best-selling album of all time.
To boost album sales, MJ’s manager at the time, Frank DiLeo, suggested releasing the album’s title track as a single and making a video for it. The label is said to have dismissed the song and initially refused to fund the filming of a video, but eventually contributed $100,000 to the production. To cover the bulk of the production costs, MJ made an agreement with MTV and Showtime that would have them funding the production in exchange for a behind-the-scenes documentary — the now-iconic Making Michael Jackson’s Thriller. MTV and Showtime bought exclusive rights to the documentary for $250,000 and $300,000, respectively. Home video company Vestron Video paid another $500,000 for VHS and Betamax marketing rights, while the rest of the cost was covered by MJ himself. Making Michael Jackson’s Thriller is credited with pioneering the making-of documentary format.
When “Thriller” finally premiered, it was a huge hit, as was the accompanying documentary, which would become the best-selling VHS of all time. The video, which was a 13-minute short film directed by John Landis (best known for directing An American Werewolf in London), was so popular that MTV’s viewership would increase tenfold every time it aired. The video also achieved what it was meant to: Thriller sold a million copies a week in the month after its release, and eventually doubled the album’s already historic sales.
Thriller holds the distinction of being the first album to log at least seven singles in the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100. In addition to its commercial and chart success, the album is possibly the most decorated of all time, winning countless awards, including eight Grammy Awards in 1984. Seven of those went to MJ, while the eighth went to Bruce Swedien for his engineering work. Michael did win an eighth Grammy that night, but it was for his narration on the E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial audiobook. Eight wins in one night remains a record.
With over 70 million copies sold, Thriller is most certainly a commercial juggernaut unlike anything we have ever seen. However, its legacy is about way more than that. It’s about innovation, fearlessness, ambition, and all the great things that can be achieved when those three things come together in a very intentional way. With Thriller, Michael Jackson embarked on a journey to rule the world, and he did just that.
Amy is married to actor Andrew Shue (best known for his role on Melrose Place) and TJ is married to attorney Marilee Fiebig. Both marriages began in 2010.
Since the story broke, new details have emerged. According to Page Six, the co-anchors started dating in the spring when they were training for a marathon together, and both have separated from their respective spouses in recent months — because of the affair.
The Daily Mail report came with hella receipts — including pictures of the co-anchors in the woods upstate New York! Both of them have since deleted their Instagram pages.
The investigation into the Chesapeake shooting has revealed that the shooter, 31-year-old Andre Bing, left a “death note” where he describes feeling harassed by his coworkers. The six people he killed — before killings himself — have been identified as 38-year-old Brian Pendleton; 52-year-old Kellie Pyle; 43-year-old Lorenzo Gamble; 70-year-old Randy Blevins; 22-year-old Tyneka Johnson; and 16-year-old Fernando Chavez-Barron. He reportedly bought the 9mm handgun used in the shooting earlier that day.
According to eyewitnesses, the shooting was very targeted and Bing hunted specific people — even shot some of them repeatedly to make sure they were dead.
At least six people were injured, two of which are still in the hospital. One of them is in critical condition.
As Thanksgiving ’22 draws to a close, I am particularly thankful for songs that put you in a good mood. Songs like “When I Think of You” by Janet Jackson.
The critic class keeps telling us that songs that are heart-wrenching or make us “think” are the most important, but around here, we believe songs that make you happy matter the most. And I will die on that hill.
Ms. Jackson’s catalog is chock full of songs that lift your spirit, but there is something about “When I Think of You.” All the individual elements of the song are simple, but they come together is such a beautifully intricate way that can only be described as a masterpiece. Written and produced by Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, the song was released as the third single from Control and would go on to become Janet’s first No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, making her and Michael the first — and to date, the only — siblings to have solo No. 1s on the chart.
Another reason to revisit this classic is that today just so happens to be Terry Lewis’ 66th birthday. He — along with Jimmy Jam — has helped craft some of the best music ever, and for that, we remain thankful.
A mugshot for Anderson Lee Aldrich, the monster who took five lives in Colorado Springs earlier this week, has been released. Before he was arrested, he was subdued by an army veteran named Richard Fierro, who tackled him and beat him with his own gun till he was unconscious. He was reportedly joined by a drag queen named Thomas James, who stomped the shooter while he was on the ground.
Fierro’s wife and daughter were among the 17 injured, and his daughter’s boyfriend, Raymond Green Vance, was one of the five killed.
The four others killed have been identified as Kelly Loving, Daniel Aston, Derrick Rump and Ashley Paugh.
Aldrich is being held without bond and has been preliminarily charged with five counts of first-degree murder and five counts of bias-motivated crimes causing bodily injury. The public defender representing him claims that he identifies as non-binary and uses they/them pronouns.
When asked about the shooting, Aldrich’s father, MMA-fighter-turned-porn-star Aaron Franklin Brink (a.k.a. Dick Delaware), said, “I’m just glad he’s not gay.”
When we use the word “timeless,” we’re talking about songs like “Poison” by Bell Biv DeVoe.
Released as the debut single of the New Edition spinoff, “Poison” is the quintessential new jack swing song and arguably the foremost club banger in the history of recorded music. This shit SLAPS and remains one of the most quotable songs ever.
Written and produced by Dr. Freeze, “Poison” is a harbinger of sorts for what popular music would sound like for years to come. We’d seen hip-hop blended into sung music before, but not at that scale. In the video, BBD describe their sound as “mentally hip-hop smoothed out on the R&B tip with a pop appeal to it,” and they truly couldn’t have said it better.
“Poison” peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and ranked at No. 4 on the 1990 year-end chart.
Twenty-five years after their infamous rematch that ended in Mike Tyson chewing off a piece of Evander Holyfield’s ear, the two former heavyweight champions are partnering on a business venture that gives a nod to that headline-making moment.
The boxing greats came together to create Mike Bites, a line of ear-shaped edibles. In an interview with HuffPost, Tyson said, “If I was on cannabis, I wouldn’t have bit [Holyfield’s] ear!”
In August of 1999, Eve released “Love Is Blind” (featuring Faith Evans) as the second single from her debut LP, Let There Be Eve…Ruff Ryders’ First Lady. The song is heart-wrenching, mostly true story about Eve’s best friend’s experience with an abusive boyfriend, who beat her even while she was pregnant with his child. The only difference between the song and the real-life events is that Eve’s friend escaped the relationship, while the character in the song is eventually killed by her abusive boyfriend, after which Eve kills him.
“Love Is Blind” wasn’t a major chart hit, but it is a standout in Eve’s catalog. Lyrically and delivery-wise, it is arguably Eve’s strongest performance and a perfect example of hip-hop as a storytelling art form.
On what is Eve’s 44th birthday, let’s revisit this classic.