Black or White
|"Black or White"|
|Single by Michael Jackson|
|from the album Dangerous|
|Released||November 11, 1991|
|Genre||Pop rock, dance-pop, rap rock|
|Length||4:15 (album version)
3:20 (radio edit)
Rap lyrics by Bill Bottrell
|Michael Jackson singles chronology|
"Black or White" is a single by American singer-songwriter Michael Jackson. The song was released by Epic Records on November 11, 1991 as the first single from Jackson's eighth studio album, Dangerous. It was written, composed and produced by Michael Jackson and Bill Bottrell.
Background and composition
"Black or White" was written, composed and produced by Michael Jackson and Bill Bottrell, and was picked as the first single from the album Dangerous. An alternate version was first heard by Sony executives on a plane trip to Neverland, as the third track of the promotional CD acetate. It began to be promoted on radio stations the first week of November 1991 in New York and Los Angeles. "Black or White" was officially released one week later, on November 5, 1991. The song has elements of dance, rap and hard rock music such as Bill Bottrell's guitars and Jackson's vocal style. This song is played in the key of E major, with Jackson's vocal spanning from E4 to B5, and its tempo is 126 BPM.
To prepare the audience for the special occasion of the televised premiere of the "Black or White" video, Epic records released the song (without the accompanying images) to radio stations just two days in advance. In a period of twenty-four hours, "Black or White", described by the record company as "a rock 'n' roll dance song about racial harmony", had been added to the playlists of 96 percent of 237 of the United States of America's top forty radio stations the first day of release.
"Black or White" entered the Billboard Hot 100 at number 35. A week later it shot up to number three and in its third week, December 7, 1991, it ascended to number one, making it the fastest chart topper since The Beatles' "Get Back" also won the Hot 100 in just three weeks in 1969. It closed the year at number one, and remained at the top of the singles chart into 1992 for a total of seven weeks, making Michael Jackson the first artist to have number one popular hits in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. In the UK, the single became the first single by an American to go into the singles chart at number one since 1960, when "It's Now or Never" by Elvis Presley did in the same manner. Around the world, "Black or White" hit number one in 19 countries, including the US, the UK, Canada, Mexico, Cuba, Zimbabwe, Australia, New Zealand, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Israel, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the Eurochart Hot 100, number two in Germany and number three in Holland. The single was certified platinum in the US, selling over one million copies and became the second best selling single of the year.
Reviews of the song varied. Rolling Stone's Allan Light in his Dangerous review, compares the song unfavourably to "Beat It": "Neither this slow-burn solo nor the Stones-derived riff on 'Black or White' offers the catharsis of Eddie Van Halen's blazing break on 'Beat It'".
The Clivillés & Cole remixes for "Black or White", released as a promotional single in 1992, also charted on many European countries. In the UK, it reached number 14, and in Ireland, number 11. The promotional single also surprisingly peaked at number 18 in Australia. Despite the favourable European response to this remix, it was never included on a Michael Jackson album or compilation, except on the third disc of the French & UK versions of Jackson's greatest hits album King of Pop.
The music video for "Black or White" was first broadcast on MTV, BET, VH1, and Fox (giving them their highest Nielsen ratings ever) on November 14, 1991. Along with Jackson, it featured Macaulay Culkin, Tess Harper, and George Wendt. The video was directed by John Landis, who previously directed Thriller. It was choreographed by Vincent Paterson. It premiered simultaneously in 27 countries, with an audience of 500 million viewers, the most to ever watch a music video.
The first few minutes of the video featured an extended version of the song's intro, during which an 11-year old kid (Macaulay Culkin) is dancing to rock music in his bedroom at night. This attracts the attention of his father (George Wendt), who furiously orders him to stop playing the music and go to bed. After his father storms out and slams the door behind him (causing a photo on the door to fall off and its glass frame to smash), Culkin complies by setting up large speaker cabinets (with levels of "LOUD", "LOUDER", and "ARE YOU NUTS!?!", respectively; with the dial turned up all the way to "ARE YOU NUTS!?!") behind his father's reclining chair, donning leather gloves and sunglasses, strapping on a Wolfgang guitar and playing a power chord, and telling the father to "Eat this!". The sound then shatters and destroys the house windows and sends his father (seated in the chair) halfway around the world, where the actual song begins. The kid's mother (Tess Harper), comments that his father will be very upset when he gets back. The album version of the song does not feature Culkin's nor Wendt's voice; they are replaced by voice actors performing a similar intro. Wendt crashes in Africa, and Jackson sings "Black or White", surrounded by various cultures scene-by-scene.
The video shows scenes in which African hunters begin dancing by using moves from West African dance, with Jackson following their moves and them mirroring his; as do, in sequence, traditional Thai dancers, Plains Native Americans, a woman from India and a group of Russians. Jackson walks through visual collages of fire (defiantly declaring "I ain't scared of no sheets; I ain't scared of nobody"), referring to KKK torch ceremonies before a mock rap scene shared with Culkin and other children. The group collectively states, "I'm not gonna spend my life being a color." The final verse is performed by Jackson on a large sculpted torch, which the camera pans out to reveal as the Statue of Liberty. Jackson is seen singing on Lady Liberty's torch surrounded by other famous world edifices including The Giza Sphinx, Hagia Sophia, The Parthenon, Taj Mahal, St. Basil's Cathedral, Pyramids of Giza, Golden Gate Bridge, Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower.
At the end of the song, different people, including model Tyra Banks, dance as they morph into one another (shown as "talking heads"). This technique, previously executed without digital assistance in the Godley & Creme video for "Cry", known as morphing, had been previously used only in films such as Willow and Terminator 2. The morphing visual effects were created by Pacific Data Images..
The music video of the song appears on the video albums: Dangerous: The Short Films (long version), Video Greatest Hits – HIStory (long version), Number Ones (short version), and Michael Jackson's Vision (long version).
Controversy and censorship
Controversy was generated concerning the last four minutes of the original music video. Jackson walks out of the studio as a black panther and then morphs into himself. Then he walks outside to perform some of his most physically complicated dance techniques, in a similar way to "Billie Jean". This part contained sexually suggestive scenes when Jackson starts to grab his crotch, and then zips his pants up. In the original version, Jackson is seen smashing windows, destroying a car and causing an inn (called the "Royal Arms") to explode. Jackson later apologized saying that the violent and suggestive behavior was an interpretation of the animal instinct of a black panther, and MTV and other music video networks removed the last four minutes from subsequent broadcasts. To make the vandalism and violence more understandable to viewers, an altered original version, containing four racial graffiti messages were released. The version included in the box set Michael Jackson's Vision is the aired, televised version without the digital graffiti, and does not include the "prejudice is ignorance" title card.
To date, the uncut version has generally been seen in the United States on MTV2 only between the hours of 01:00 and 04:00, as part of their special uncensored airing of the "Most Controversial Music Videos" of all time. The extended version is also available on Jackson's DVDs. The original version (with graffiti) is available on the DVD releases of Video Greatest Hits – HIStory with the VHS and Laserdisc release containing the aired version, and online at MTVMusic.com. It was still shown in its entirety for some years in Europe. Indeed, UK channel MTV Classic aired the full video at 14:00 in the afternoon on April 11, 2010, including the brief cameo by Bart and Homer Simpson before the "prejudice is ignorance" image. MTV Classic have continued to air the full video post-watershed and recently aired in September 2012.
Starting in 1992, Nocturne Video Productions began playing the "Panther Segment" of the video as an interlude during Michael's Dangerous world tour. The clip is 20 seconds shorter than the original, omitting all the violence and the sexually suggestive scenes. The scene of the pants re-zipping was retained. On March 28, 2009, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's music video program Rage aired the uncensored, original graffiti version in its entirety in a 720p digital broadcast. Even though the short, censored version continues to air periodically to this day, some television channels still broadcast the complete racist graffiti version.
Covers and culture impact
"Black or White" has been covered by some artists since its release.
- In 1992, "Weird Al" Yankovic recorded a parody of "Black or White" titled "Snack All Night", which however never released commercially. Yankovic performed his version during a concert.
- In 2009, singer Adam Lambert performed the song on the 8th season of American Idol during the Michael Jackson episode, which was re-aired on June 29, in a tribute to the death of Jackson on June 25.
- In the early 1990s, the children's show Sesame Street also spoofed the song with a song called "Wet or Dry". Little Chrissy responds to the question of what makes him happy: he likes having fun "no matter if he's wet or dry", and demonstrates by playing his piano on both a stage and underwater (surrounded by fish). "Wet" and "dry" are further demonstrated with several kids, Mr. Handford, and Maria getting buckets of water dumped on them. Both the song and video spoof "Black or White".
The music video, particularly the "Panther Segment", have been referenced or parodied by television shows and artists.
- The video, including the "Panther Segment" was parodied by the sketch comedy TV show In Living Color, in which Tommy Davidson appeared as Jackson, but instead of a panther, Davidson morphs from a tiny black kitten.
- The "Panther Segment" was also parodied by the popular American sketch comedy television series MADtv.
- In 1991, English rock band Genesis parodied the "Black or White" video in the ending of their video for "I Can't Dance", in which member Phil Collins imitates Michael Jackson's "panther" fit in front of a stark white background.
- In 2011, Brooklyn hip hop group Das Racist released a music video for their song, titled "Michael Jackson", parodying the "Black or White" video. The song is features on the group's album Relax.
- In 2012 the television show Glee covered the song in the episode "Michael", it features primary voices from Kevin McHale, Lea Michele , Chris Colfer and Naya Rivera, and backing vocals from the rest of the cast. Jenna Ushkowitz and Darren Criss are not featured in the song or the performance. This cover debuted and peaked at number 64 at Billboard Hot 100, number 42 at Billboard Digital Songs, and number 69 at Billboard Canadian Hot 100 chart at the week of February 18, 2012.
Charts and certifications
- Written and composed by Michael Jackson
- Rap lyrics by Bill Bottrell
- Produced by Michael Jackson and Bill Bottrell
- Recorded and mixed by Bill Bottrell
- Bryan Loren: Drums
- Brad Buxer and Bill Bottrell: Percussion
- Bryan Loren (moog) and Terry Jackson (bass guitar): Bass
- Brad Buxer, John Barnes and Jasun Martz: Keyboards
- Bill Bottrell: Guitar
- Tim Pierce: Heavy metal guitar
- Michael Boddicker, Kevin Gilbert: Speed sequencer
- Morphing Sound Effect: Scott Frankfurt
- Rap performance by L.T.B.
- Composed by Bill Bottrell
- Directed by Michael Jackson
- Engineering and sound design: Matt Forger
- Special guitar performance by Slash
- Son played by Andres McKenzie
- Father played by L.T.B.
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