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Music / Billie Jean

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"Billie Jean" single cover.

"Billie Jean" is the second single from Michael Jackson's sixth studio-album, Thriller. Produced by Jackson and frequent colloborator, Quincy Jones, the song is a mixture of R&B, Funk, and dance-pop that details the story of a woman named Billie Jean who claims Jackson is the father of her child. In the song, Jackson continuously denies ever being involved with Billie Jean, while outlining the ways in which Billie Jean's claims impact his life, warning against getting involved with women like Billie Jean.

In the video, a magic exhibiting Jackson walks the streets of a desolate urban landscape being stalked by a sole paparazzo trying to get a picture of him with the eponymous Billie Jean. Jackson ends up at the supposed apartment of Billie Jean and climbs into bed with her before disappearing. The paparazzo who managed to follow Jackson is quickly arrested by the police and carried away.

Released on January 2, 1983, the song received critical acclaim that only increased when Jackson later debuted its music video on MTV on March 10th of the same year, after initial pushback from the network which felt that "black music" (both music created by black artists and music primarily popular with black listeners) clashed with the network's rock aesthetic. The video boosted the song's popularity even further because of its cinematic quality like the video for the previous single, Michael Jackson's Thriller, and became one of the first videos by a black artist to regularly air on MTV.

The song gained further immortality that same year by being the track Jackson debuted the Moonwalk Dance to at the Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever special. Jackson's performance of "Billie Jean" at the event is widely cited as his breakthrough performance as a solo artist, and firmly cemented him as an international superstar from that point forward. Since then, every one of Jackson's live performances of "Bille Jean" used the Motown 25 routine as a basis, and was the one of the few songs he would always bust out a moonwalk for.

The song is lauded as one of the best songs of the '80s and currently sits at number 44 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. The video was eventually inducted into the Music Video Producers Hall of Fame in 1992.

"Billie Jean" contains examples of:

  • Appeal to Familial Wisdom: The narrator of the song mentions the advice from his mother, that he seemingly did not heed.
    And mother always told me
    "be careful who you love
    and be careful what you do
    'cause the lie becomes the truth".
  • The Baby Trap: Billie Jean claims that Jackson is the father of her child, but according to the narrator this isn't true. What's true or not is up to interpretation.
  • The Casanova: Jackson sings that he has been told by those around him to avoid "going around and breaking young girls' hearts" as The Casanova does.
  • Celebrity Is Overrated: The major theme of the song as Jackson wrote the song to describe the perils of groupies, who would often flock to his brothers while they were The Jackson 5. It is heavily implied that Billie Jean only approached the singer and lied about having his children because of Jackson's fame.
  • City Noir: The shops on the street are closed, trash piles on the corners and billows in the wind like tumbleweeds. The only life outside of Jackson and the paparazzo following him is a homeless man sleeping in an alley. This is doubly so in the opening of the video which is Deliberately Monochrome.
  • Concept Video: A mysteriously powered Michael is being stalked by a paparazzo around a barren city.
  • Conspicuous Trenchcoat: The paparazzo following Jackson is wearing a calf length trenchcoat paired with a fedora and black sunglasses, despite there being not a single ray of sun out.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: The first 20 seconds of the video are in black and white, which serves to play up the Film Noir aesthetic of the song.
  • Femme Fatale: Billie Jean, as described in the song, is beautiful like "a beauty queen from a movie scene", who approaches Jackson and tells him he's the one for her before dancing with him all night. She's also a woman of schemes and plans; given her later accusation that Jackson is her lover and the father of her kid, these schemes are seemingly for the nefarious goal of baby trapping Jackson.
  • Film Noir: The song thematically and the video stylistically fit right in. The song is about a man being wrongfully accused (according to him at least) of sleeping with a woman and getting her pregnant, a woman who he implies schemed this whole thing up to trap him. The video features a City Noir, a Deliberately Monochrome section, and a paparazzo who is dressed like a Private Detective from 1950s movies in the genre.
  • Ghost City: The city corner Jackson walks and the street he later dances on are completely abandoned save for him, a homeless man sleeping, and the paparazzo following him. The tumbling newspapers on the street and the closed down shops lining the streets further emphasize the ghost town aesthetic.
  • Hobos: Jackson flips a quarter into the waiting mug of a homeless man sleeping on the street. This causes the man to be briefly engulfed in light, after which he is shown cleaned up and wearing an all white suit.
  • Light 'em Up: Jackson has some kind of power concerning light in the video, seeing as everything he touches glows bright white, though what those powers are (or why he has them) is never explained.
  • Loony Fan: If the narrator of the song is to be believed, Billie Jean is an obsessive fan falsely claiming Jackson as the father of her child.
  • Magic Realism: It's not explained why whatever Jackson touches or walks on glows. Or why a cat that runs by him changes into a baby tiger. Or why the homeless man Jackson gives a coin to instantly becomes cleaned up and is now wearing a white suit. Or why when the paparazzi tries to grab Jackson, he disappears and is not caught on film. These things just happen. Paired with the city backdrop and the surrealism is firmly in this territory.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: Though the narrator vehemently claims he's the victim of a baby trap, it's actually far more ambiguous when looking at the lyrics and the video. While at face value, the lyrics that "they danced on the floor and around" can just mean they danced together at a nightclub, dancing is also a well known Sexual Euphemism. The fact that the narrator later says Billie Jean showed him a picture of a baby "whose eyes were like mine" followed by a remorseful "oh no" adds more weight towards the idea that the narrator really is the father of Billie Jean's child. Add on to that the video, in which Michael actually goes to Billie Jean's apartment and crawls into her bed, and the question of whether the narrator is reliable or not becomes pretty significant.
  • Missing Reflection: While Jackson being a vampire is not alluded to in the video, he's clearly supernatural to some extent given his ability to disappear and make everything he touches glow. This extends to him not appearing on film when the paparazzo tries to get a picture of him.
  • Monochrome to Color: The video is first in grayscale but becomes colored when Jackson steps into the frame. This is also a subtle example of Break the Fourth Wall as it mimics Jackson's ability in the video of making anything he touches glow, implying that Jackson also brought color to the video itself with his presence.
  • Moonwalk Dance: The song is permanently associated with the dance, thanks to Jackson busting it out during his iconic Motown 25 performance of the song. Since then, every performance of the song on Jackson's tours is always based on the Motown 25 routine, and includes the moonwalk during the bridge.
  • Paparazzi: Jackson is being followed by one for the video who is trying to get a picture of him with the mysterious Billie Jean.
  • Sanity Slippage Song: The song closes with Jackson repeating again and again and again that he was never involved with Billie Jean and that "the kid is not my son".
  • Sinister Shades: The paparazzo wears a pair of black Sunglasses at Night to conceal his face as he stalks Jackson around the city block.
  • Sexual Euphemism: Michael repeating that he and Billie Jean only "danced on the floor in the round" can be interpreted both as simple dancing or as them actually having sex, which fuels the ambiguity of the Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe situation.
  • Tabloid Melodrama: The paparazzo following Jackson is trying to continue pushing one about Jackson being involved with Billie Jean, while Jackson vehemently denies the claim. In the video, he accidentally drops a newspaper that says in big bold letters on the front page "BILLIE JEAN SCANDAL".
  • Unreliable Narrator: The video calls into question Jackson's denial of not being Billie Jean's lover, as at the end of the video he actually goes to an apartment that is implied to be Billie Jean's, watches over her sleeping form, before climbing into the bed with her. At the very least, the narrator was close enough to Billie Jean to know where she lived. Whether it went any further than that is left ambiguous.

The kid is not my son...


Video Example(s):


The Motown 25 Moonwalk

Widely cited as his breakthrough performance as a solo artist, Michael Jackson debuted the moonwalk to millions watching live around the world at Motown's 25th anniversary special; simultaneously starting a dance craze, and cementing his status as a pop superstar.

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Example of:

Main / MoonwalkDance

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