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Music / Thriller

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The best-selling album in the world. There's probably a copy of it nearby your house!

"No mere mortal can resist... the e-vil of the Thrillerrrr!"

Thriller is the sixth studio album by Michael Jackson and his second to be produced by Quincy Jones, released in 1982. It went on to become the best-selling music album in history, selling over 65 million copies domestically and over 110 million copies world wide. 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. Although Jackson was already world famous since the 1970's and music videos already existed as a promotional tool, both he and the medium became a dominating force in the music industry. "The King Of Pop" 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. 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.

Not long after Jackson's death was announced in that same year, many fans around the world honoured him by performing the dance number.

Trope Namer for Michael Jackson's "Thriller" Parody.



Side One

  1. "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" (6:02)
  2. "Baby Be Mine" (4:20)
  3. "The Girl Is Mine" (3:42)
  4. "Thriller" (5:57)

Side Two

  1. "Beat It" (4:17)
  2. "Billie Jean" (4:57)
  3. "Human Nature" (4:05)
  4. "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)" (3:58)
  5. "The Lady In My Life" (4:57)

Wanna Be Tropin' Something

  • 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: The Girl is Mine, Billie Jean, Beat It, Wanna Be Startin' Somethin", "Human Nature","P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)" and "Thriller"
  • 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.
  • 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: The 6:02 "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'"
  • Everything's Deader with Zombies: The music video of "Thriller" starts off with a werewolf, but in the middle zombies turn up.
  • Evil Laugh: Vincent Price does a great one at the end.
  • 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 grey
    You'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:
  • 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...
  • Shout-Out:
  • 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".
    • Michael Jacksons Ghosts feels like an effort to surpass "Thriller".
  • Spoken Word in Music: Vincent Price's lines in "Thriller" are spoken.
  • 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 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, 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.
  • 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.


Video Example(s):



In Thriller, the dead rise from the grave just as Michael and his date have gotten out of seeing a scary movie.

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Example of:

Main / OurZombiesAreDifferent

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Main / OurZombiesAreDifferent