"And don't go around breaking young girls' hearts"
And mother always told me "be careful of who you love
And be careful of what you do, 'cause the lie becomes the truth"
Continuing his collaboration with Quincy Jones, it went on to become the best-selling music album in history, selling over 33 million copies domestically and over 65 million copies worldwide; there's probably a copy of it nearby your house. Seven of the nine tracks on the album were released as singles, with each one reaching the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. Three of the singles—"Billie Jean", "Beat It" and "Thriller"—were accompanied by music videos that elevated the record to its iconic status—and, by extension, defined the art of the music video medium itself.
Officially, this album is the only original album certified by the RIAA as triple-Diamond (more exactly, 33-times Platinum), with four singles listed as multi-Platinum. The album also went 13-times Platinum in the United Kingdom, earning Michael more worldwide certifications from one album and its singles than almost any other musician gets in their entire careers.
Although Jackson was already world-famous since the 1970s, and music videos already existed as a promotional tool, both he and the medium became a dominating force in the music industry. He broke down racial barriers via his MTV appearances, won eight Grammys including the 1984 Album of the Year and even met then-US President Ronald Reagan at the White House.
Time Magazine included the album in their 2006 list of 100 timeless and essential albums and Rolling Stone placed it at #20 in their 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time list in 2003 and 2012; it was lifted to #12 in the 2020 list. Since 2007 "Thriller" has been included in the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry of "historically, culturally and aesthetically significant recordings". In 2009, the iconic music video in which Jackson dances with zombies was included in the National Film Preservation Board's National Film Registry for the same reasons.
- "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" (6:02)
- "Baby Be Mine" (4:20)
- "The Girl Is Mine" (3:42)
- "Thriller" (5:57)
- "Beat It" (4:17)
- "Billie Jean" (4:57)
- "Human Nature" (4:05)
- "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)" (3:58)
- "The Lady In My Life" (4:57)
I said, "you just wanna be tropin' somethin':"
- Album Filler: Michael set out to avoid this, wanting to make an album where every song could potentially be a single. It paid off.
- Album Single: In an era when albums usually had three or four singles taken from them, Jackson managed the astonishing feat of releasing seven of the album's nine songs as singles—"The Girl is Mine", "Billie Jean", "Beat It", "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin", "Human Nature", "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)" and "Thriller"—and all of them were Top 10 hits in America, with "Billie Jean" and "Beat It" hitting #1.
- All Just a Dream: The music video of "Thriller", where Michael's girlfriend imagines being chased by zombies. Then it turns out it was just a nightmare. Or was it?
- And Starring: Horror movie icon Vincent Price during "Thriller" and Paul McCartney duets with Michael in "The Girl Is Mine".
- Artistic License History: "The funk of forty-thousand years" is a wonderful lyric, but has a lot of fridge logic in that it pretty much exceeds human civilization longer than any surviving tomb could stand.
- The Baby Trap: The title character of "Billie Jean" is pulling one of these, according to the narrator, but the lyrics leave it ambiguous.
- Badass Pacifist: Michael in "Beat It" who breaks up two fighting rival gangs and has them all join together in a dance.
- Changed for the Video: The music video of "Thriller" has all the choruses moved to the end of the song instead of between verses, with Vincent Price's rap coming before the choruses. The bridge is also omitted.
- Continuity Nod:
- The line "Billie Jean is always talking" in "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'".
- Jackson and Paul McCartney share a duet during "The Girl Is Mine". Both singers sang earlier together on the single "Say Say Say" on Macca's album Tug Of War (1982).
- Creepy Cemetery: In the music video of "Thriller" zombies apparently dig themselves up from their graves for no reason at all.
- Crossover: Paul McCartney duets with Michael during "The Girl Is Mine". Both singers had belonged to groups that had their own animated series.
- Cute Kitten: As the gatefold cover◊ and the 2001 slipcase◊ show, Jackson was with a tiger cub while shooting the cover (it even matches the leopard handkerchief).
- Darker and Edgier: Compared to Jackson's previous joyful dance output the three Top 10 hit singles of the album were all paranoid songs about escaping from stuff in the dark ("Thriller"), street gangs ("Beat It!") and a woman claiming that he fathered her child ("Billie Jean").
- The Dead Can Dance: There are slow zombies, fast zombies, and then there are funk zombies.
- Duels Decide Everything and Educational Song: "Beat It!" informs street gangs that fighting is not the answer.You wanna stay alive, better do what you can
So beat it, just beat it
You have to show them that you're really not scared
You're playin' with your life, this ain't no truth or dare
They'll kick you, then they beat you
Then they'll tell you it's fair
So beat it, but you wanna be bad
Just beat it, beat it, beat it, beat it
No one wants to be defeated
Showin' how funky strong is your fight
It doesn't matter who's wrong or right
- Electronic Speech Impediment: Squeaky voices near the end of "P.Y.T (Pretty Young Thing)".
- Epic Instrumental Opener: "Billie Jean." At least by pop music standards, 27-seconds before the vocals come in is a bit long. Quincy Jones wanted to trim it, but backed off when Jackson told him that the intro was what made him want to dance.
- Epic Rocking: "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" is just over 6 minutes.
- Everything's Deader with Zombies: The music video of "Thriller" starts off with a werewolf, but in the middle zombies turn up.
- Evil Laugh: The title track ends with Vincent Price doing one of the most iconic ones in modern music history.
- Face on the Cover: Michael, in close-up, sitting up on the floor.
- Face-Revealing Turn: One of the most famous instances of this trope.
- Faking Engine Trouble: Played With in the Show Within a Show. Michael's character says he's out of gas, while in the woods with his girlfriend.Michael: Honestly, we're out of gas.
Girl: So what are we gonna do now?
[cut to the two of them walking down the road]
Girl: I'm sorry I didn't believe you.
- Genre Roulette: Pop, soul, funk, and R&B. "Beat It" has an electric guitar solo by Eddie Van Halen, which brought in countless rock fans. In retrospect, the album also has shades of EDM and Hip-Hop (see Unbuilt Trope).
- Girls Are Really Scared of Horror Movies: In the music video of "Thriller" Michael's girlfriend is so frightened that she leaves the movie theatre.
- Glowing Eyes of Doom: Near the end of the music video of "Thriller", when Michael's girlfriend thinks she's safe again Michael turns to the camera with glowing eyes and an evil stare.
- Grow Old with Me: "The Lady In My Life".And even when we're old and greyYou'll always be the lady in my life
- Hair-Trigger Temper: "Beat It".The fire's in their eyes and their words are really clear
- In-Joke: When Michael leaves the film theater in the music video of "Thriller" someone on screen says: "See you next Wednesday." That's the title of a fictional film that crops up in several movies by the video's director, John Landis.
- Let's Duet: "The Girl Is Mine", between Michael and Paul McCartney.
- Lyrical Dissonance: "Billie Jean", a super catchy dance number about a girl claiming that Jackson is the father of her child.
- Lyrical Tic:A-hi-hi-hiiii
- Michael Jackson's "Thriller" Parody: Trope Namer.
- MST3K Mantra: Invoked when Michael and the girl walk out of the movie theatre:MICHAEL: "It's only a movie!"
- Momma's Boy: "Billie Jean":And mother always told me
be careful who you love
and be careful what you do
'cause the lie becomes the truth.
- Nested Story Reveal: The music video of "Thriller" is comprised of several stories within a story Or is it?
- Nightmare Fetishist: Implied to be the case with Michael in the "Thriller" music video. While the rest of the audience is reeling in horror over the scary movie they're watching, he's munching on popcorn with a big grin on his face, looking like he's having the time of his life.
- No Name Given: Ola Ray's character in the music video of "Thriller" is credited only as "Michael's girl."
- Obsession Song: "Billie Jean", where Jackson freaks out about a girl claiming to have been knocked up by him.
- One-Word Title: "Thriller".
- Our Werewolves Are Different: In the music video of "Thriller" Michael looks more like a werecat than a werewolf.
- Pep-Talk Song: "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'":So keep your head up high and scream out to the world
I know I am someone
And let the truth unfurl
No-one can hurt me now
Because you know what's true
Yes, I believe in me
So you believe in you
- Pop-Cultural Osmosis: The music video of "Thriller" is so iconic that probably more people across the world are familiar with that than the rest of the album, despite it being the best-selling record of all time.
- Properly Paranoid: "Thriller", "Billie Jean" and "Beat It" marked a change in Jackson's lyrics. While his earlier albums where all cheery dance songs or sad break-up songs he started to move into more paranoid songs.
- Proscenium Reveal: Turns out the opening sequence of "Thriller" is a movie, and Michael Jackson is enjoying some while watching.
- Quarreling Song: "The Girl Is Mine", where Michael and Paul quarrel over the same girl.
- Sanity Slippage Song: "Billie Jean", where the protagonist goes insane over the fact that a stalker follows him.
- Self-Backing Vocalist: On most of the songs Michael is backed by his own vocals.
- Shapeshifting Lover: Michael turns out to be a werecat in the prologue of the music video of "Thriller". You'd think a guy suffering from chronic lycanthropy would cancel any dates that coincide with a full moon...
- Sharp-Dressed Man: Michael's white suit in the cover. Which amusingly, was the photographer's own!
- Show Within a Show: In the music video of "Thriller" Michael and his girl watch a horror movie.
- Silly Love Songs: "Baby Me Mine", "The Girl Is Mine", "Human Nature", "P.Y.T.", and "The Lady In My Life".
- Singer Name Drop: "The Girl is Mine".Paul: "Michael, we're not going to fight about this"
Michael: "Paul, I think I told you. I'm a lover not a fighter."
- Special Guest: Paul McCartney in "The Girl Is Mine" and Eddie Van Halen during "Beat It". Arguably Vincent Price in "Thriller" counts as well.
- Spiritual Successor: "Thriller" would receive one in "Threatened" from Invincible, this time with clips of Rod Serling instead of Vincent Price.
- Bad seems to be almost the opposite message of "Beat It".
- Subverted if you consider the full expanded version of the video where Michael plays a college kid who came home to "The Hood" and calls out his old friends when they suggest committing crimes and bad mouth his getting an education "from that little sissy school of [his]". If anything; He's telling them that being intelligent, well-educated, law abiding and not some gangsta punk is true "badness".
- Jackson's subsequent short film for Ghosts feels like an effort to surpass the one for Thriller.
- Bad seems to be almost the opposite message of "Beat It".
- Spoken Word in Music: Vincent Price's lines in "Thriller" are spoken.
- Struggling Single Mother: Alluded to in "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'":If you can't feed your baby
Then don't have a baby
And don't think maybe
If you can't feed your baby
You'll be always tryin'
To stop that child from cryin'
Hustlin', stealin', lyin'
Now baby's slowly dyin'
- Talky Bookends: "Thriller" popularized the concept in music videos.
- Twist Ending: The music video of "Thriller" has three of them. The werewolf transformation in the beginning is actually a movie, Ola Ray being attacked by zombies was All Just a Dream, but in the end Michael is still revealed to have demonic eyes.
- Updated Re-release: As it happened to several of his other records, this album got several re-releases during Jackson's lifetime and after his passing:
- In 2001, to promote what would be Jackson's last studio album Invincible. This "Special Edition" contained several audio interviews with Quincy Jones and Rod Temperton, the 1981 home demo of "Billie Jean", "Someone in the Dark" (taken from the E.T. soundtrack) and an unreleased demo recorded during the album's sessions, "Carousel".
- In 2008 for its 25th anniversary. This version titled "Thriller 25" contained the original tracks plus an excerpt from the voice-over by Vincent Price from "Thriller", remixes with guest appearances by will.i.am, Fergie, Akon and Kanye West and an outtake from the album's sessions, "For All Time". (The Japanese edition also contained yet another outtake titled "Got the Hots").
- In 2009, for the box set titled "The Collection".
- In 2013, in the iTunes-exclusive collection "The Indispensable Collection".
- Unbuilt Trope: To several flavors of Electronic Music and Hip-Hop, especially Synth-Pop. While not a pure example of the genres itself, Thriller's pioneering use of synthetic audio, vocal manipulation, and sampling heavily influenced their evolution.
- A Wild Rapper Appears!: Vincent Price technically counts showing up for the "Thriller Rap" that appears at the end of the song. It officially becomes this in the music video, where the rap is relocated to the middle of the song to even better effect.
- Zombie Apocalypse: In the music video of "Thriller" zombies rise and leave their graves.
- Zombie Puke Attack: One of the zombies in the music video of "Thriller" has gross stuff coming out of his mouth.