Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'

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"Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'"
Single by Michael Jackson
from the album Thriller
B-side "Rock with You" (live)
Released May 8, 1983 (1983-05-08)
Format 7" vinyl / 12"
Recorded 1982
Genre Post-disco, funk
Length 6:02 (album version)
4:21 (single version)
Label Epic
Writer(s) Michael Jackson
Producer(s) Quincy Jones
Michael Jackson (co-producer)
Michael Jackson singles chronology
"Beat It"
(1983)
"Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'"
(1983)
"Human Nature"
(1983)
Thriller track listing
"Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'"
(1)
"Baby Be Mine"
(2)
HIStory Begins track listing
"Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough"
(13)
"Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'"
(14)
"Heal the World"
(15)
This Is It track listing
"Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'"
(1)
"Jam"
(2)

"Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" is a song by American recording artist Michael Jackson. Released on May 8, 1983, by Epic Records, "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" was the fourth single from Jackson's sixth studio album Thriller (1982). The opening track of the album, it was written, composed and co-produced by Jackson, and was produced by Quincy Jones.

The song's lyrics pertain to strangers spreading rumors to start an argument for no good reason. Musically, "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" evokes the disco sound of Jackson's previous studio album, Off the Wall, released in 1979. The song is characterized by a complex rhythm arrangement and a distinctive horn arrangement. "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" has been covered and sampled by multiple recording artists since its release. Aside from Thriller, the song appears on multiple compilation and greatest hits albums by Jackson.

"Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" was generally well received by contemporary music critics. The song was also commercially successful, charting within the top 20 and top 30 in several countries. It became Jackson's fifth consecutive top 10 single in the United States on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number five, and later re-entered charts in 2008 after the release of Thriller 25. Following Jackson's death in June 2009, the song re-entered music charts worldwide, mainly due to digital download sales. Unlike previous singles from Thriller, "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" did not have a music video to accompany it, but was performed by Jackson on world concert tours, as both a member of The Jacksons and as a solo artist.

As part of the release of Thriller 25, a remix of "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'", entitled "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' 2008 with Akon", was recorded with Akon, and released as the second single from the album. The song was commercially successful, mainly charting within the top 10 in six countries, as well as the top 20 in several territories worldwide and top 40 in Canada. The song was more successful internationally than in the United States, having peaked on the Billboard Hot 100 at number 81, which was the song's lowest charting position.

Background[edit]

"Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" was written, composed and co-produced by Michael Jackson, and produced by Quincy Jones. It was originally written for his sister La Toya Jackson about her troubled relationship with her sisters-in-law,[citation needed] but Michael ended up recording the song, and La Toya sometimes performs the song at her concerts. The song was originally recorded in 1978 for the inclusion on the Off the Wall album, but was later re-recorded in fall 1982, in Los Angeles, California.[1] "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" was one of the four songs that Jackson received writing credits on for his sixth studio album Thriller in 1982.[1] The song was released by Epic Records as the fourth single from the album. Unlike Thriller '​s previous singles, "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" did not have a film or a music video released to promote it.

Aside from Thriller, "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" has been featured on multiple compilation and greatest hits albums by Jackson since the song's release.[2] "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" appeared on the first disc of Jackson's two-disc compilation album HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I in 1995 as well as the 25th anniversary edition of Thriller, entitled Thriller 25, and the greatest hits album King of Pop; both albums were released in 2008.[2] The song is also featured on the box set collection released in 2004, The Ultimate Collection, the greatest hits album The Essential Michael Jackson, the compilation album This Is It, and the special box set The Collection released days after Jackson's death.[2] Some versions of the 1995 Earth Song CD single included the Brothers in Rhythm Mix and Tommy D's Main Mix as B-sides. The song was also remixed to the Immortal album in 2011. The demo version of the song was also released in This Is It (2009).

Composition[edit]

A twenty-three second sample from Jackson's "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'". In the sample, part of the song's chorus can be heard.

Problems playing this file? See media help.

A post-disco and funk song,[3][4] "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" was viewed as a nod to the disco sound of Jackson's material on his previous studio album, Off the Wall, released in 1979.[2] Arranged by Jackson himself and played by percussionist Paulinho da Costa, the song's rhythm was regarded as a "complex interweaving of drum-machine patterns and work", while the horn section, arranged by Jerry Hey, was described as both "brassy and precise".[2] Slant Magazine commented that the song was a "complicated tapestry of colliding hooks and pop references." The song's lyrics, "Too high to get over, too low to get under", has strong similarities to Funkadelic's opening salvo for "One Nation Under a Groove".[5]

The lyrics pertain to the media and press, as well as gossip and people trying to start arguments or problems for no reason, which he states in the lyrics, "Someone's always tryin' to start my baby crying," and then goes to a more "quasi paranoia" yield in the "near-bitterness" chorus, 'You're a vegetable, you're a vegetable/ You're just a buffet, you're a vegetable/ They'll eat off you, you're a vegetable.'"[6] In "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'", Jackson's vocal range spans from G#3 to E5. Played in the key of E Major, the song is moderately bright and its metronome is 122 beats per minute.[7] It has a basic sequence of D/E–E–D/E–E as its chord progression.[7] The coda at the end of the song, which comes directly from Cameroonian saxophonist Manu Dibango's 1972 disco song "Soul Makossa", is "Mama-say mama-sah ma-ma-coo-sah".[5] Makossa is a Cameroonian music genre and dance. Dibango sued Jackson and settled out of court for one million French francs, agreeing thereby to waive future rights to this recording but not future use of the material.[8][9][10]

Critical reception[edit]

"Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" has received generally positive reviews from contemporary music critics. Christopher Connelly, a writer for Rolling Stone, described "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" as being Thriller '​s "most combative track".[6] Connelly noted that in the "hyperactive" song, Jackson's "emotions are so raw that the song nearly goes out of control".[6] He further commented that the song has a "tune that's almost as exciting as seeing Jackson motivate himself across a concert stage – and a lot more unpredictable".[6] Remarking that while the song's lyrics "won't keep Elvis Costello awake nights", they "do show that Jackson has progressed past the hey-let's-hustle sentiments that dominated Off the Wall".[6] He added that Jackson's "raw ability and conviction make material like", citing "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'", as well as other of Thriller '​s songs, "into first-class cuts".[6]

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, a writer for AllMusic, listed "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'", along with "Beat It", "Billie Jean", and "Human Nature", as being the best songs from Thriller. He also described the song as the "freshest funk on the album".[4] Eric Herderson, a writer for Slant Magazine, commented that with "three quick rimshots", he felt that "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" was like a "court fanfare".[5] Robert Christgau, a music critic, commented that he'd "expect to bear more" of Thriller '​s "Wanna Be Startin' Something" and "Thriller" on the "dancefloor" rather than in his "living room".[11] "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" received one Grammy Award nomination; it was nominated for "Best R&B Song" at the 1984 Grammy Awards, but lost to "Billie Jean," another of Jackson's singles from Thriller.[12]

Chart performance[edit]

In 1983, "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" had a good chart performance worldwide. The song entered the Billboard Hot 100 chart top ten positions on July 2, 1983, at number nine, having moved up six places from the song's previous week.[13] On July 16, "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" charted at number five, which was the song's peak position on the chart.[14] The song's peak position made "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" Thriller '​s fourth consecutive single to peak within the top ten on the Billboard Hot 100.[2] It was more commercially successful than Thriller '​s follow-up single "Human Nature" on the Billboard Hot 100, with the song peaking on the chart at number seven.[15] The song also peaked within the top ten, at number five, on the Black Singles Chart.[15]

Internationally, the song was commercially successful, mainly charting within the top 20 and top 30 on music charts. In the United Kingdom, on June 11, 1983, the song entered the chart's top 40 positions at number 38.[16] The following week, the song moved up 24 positions to number 14,[17] and on June 25, the song peaked within the top ten at number eight.[18] The song remained on the charts for a total of nine weeks in 1983.[19] In New Zealand, on July 24, 1983, "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" entered the charts at number 47. The following week, the song peaked at number 35, which was its peak position, and remained in the top 50 of the chart for three weeks.[20] "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" entered the Dutch charts on July 9, 1983, charting within the top five at number four. The following week, the song charted at number three, which was its peak position, for three consecutive weeks. The song charted within the top ten for several weeks, and remained in the top 20 for ten weeks in 1983.[21]

In 2008, after the release of Thriller 25 the song re-entered music charts worldwide. "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" entered the Italian music charts on February 21, 2008, charting at number 14; it remained on the chart for only one week.[22] The song entered the Danish music charts on February 28, charting within the top 30 at number 29. The following week, it peaked at number 22.[23] In Switzerland, the song entered the top 50 at number 47 on February 24, 2008. The following week, the song peaked at number 30. After a total of six weeks on the chart the song, fell out of the top 100, and after four weeks re-entered the chart at number 83, before falling off the chart again.[24]

Following Jackson's death in June 2009, his music experienced a surge in popularity.[25] "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" re-entered the United Kingdom charts on July 4, 2009 and peaked at number 57 the following week.[26] On July 12, "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" re-entered Switzerland music charts for the second time. The song charted at number 37, which was its peak position, and remained on the charts for three weeks, before charting out of the top 100 positions.[24]

Live performances[edit]

Jackson and background dancers performing "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" during rehearsals for the This Is It concerts. Video footage of performances of the song were featured in the film Michael Jackson's This Is It in 2009.

"Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" was one of the songs released as a single without an accompanying video. It nonetheless has attained a popularity rivaling its sister compositions on the album, and became Jackson’s song of choice for opening live concerts, athough not being as strictly associated with a specific dance routine as those others has arguably allowed for more flexibility in performances and staging.

Two notable occurrences during live performances are the physically complicated “stop/start” dance technique that brings Jackson and his dancers to a frozen stop several times, and the sing-along between performer and audience during the bridge.

"Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'", along with "Thriller", "Beat It" and "Billie Jean", was also used on every set list of Jackson’s tours, from the Victory Tour in 1984, right the way through to the HIStory Tour in 1997. Unlike most of the other songs performed live, "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" has never been lip-synched during any of Jackson’s tours.

The song was first performed by Jackson as both a member of The Jacksons as well as a solo artist during world concert tours. It was performed by Jackson during the Jacksons final world concert series, including the Victory Tour in 1984, for which it was the tour's opening song. Similar to the Victory Tour, "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" was the Bad World Tour opening song on both tour legs. The concert series lasted from 1987 to 1989. A version was released on the 2012 DVD Live at Wembley July 16, 1988.

"Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" was also performed during Jackson's Dangerous World Tour from June 1992 to November 1993. The Dangerous World Tour was supposed to last longer, but was cancelled due to Jackson's health concerns, as well as the stress from the false child sexual abuse accusations made against him. A version was released on the 2004 DVD Live in Bucharest: The Dangerous Tour.

The next, and what would be the last performance of the song, was during Jackson's world concert tour, HIStory World Tour, from 1996 to 1997.

Since March 2009, Jackson was preparing to perform "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" during his This Is It concert series from 2009 to 2010.[27] During rehearsals for the This Is It concerts, Jackson's performance of "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" contained an a cappella snippet of "Speechless", from Jackson's studio album Invincible (2001). Following Jackson's death in June of the same year, video footage of Jackson rehearsing the song was featured in the 2009 concert documentary, Michael Jackson's This Is It.[28] The video footage was also featured on the film's DVD.[29]

Manu Dibango controversy[edit]

After Barbadian pop singer Rihanna sampled the song in her 2007 hit single "Don't Stop the Music",[30][31] she and Jackson were both sued in February 2009 by Cameroonian musician Manu Dibango, who claimed that both songs, stole the "mama-say mama-sa mama-ko-sa" hook from his 1972 single "Soul Makossa" without permission. According to Agence France-Presse, Jackson admitted that he borrowed the line and settled the case with Dibango out of court. However, when Rihanna had asked Jackson in 2007 for permission to sample the hook, he had approved the demand without contacting Dibango. His lawyers brought the case before a Parisian court, demanding 500,000 in damages that should have been paid by Sony BMG, EMI and Warner Music until the issue was resolved.[32]

Charts[edit]

Weekly charts[edit]

Year-end charts[edit]

Chart (1983) Position
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[44] 11
Canada (RPM Top Singles)[45] 38
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[46] 17
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[47] 23
US Billboard Hot 100[48] 68
US Cash Box[49] 51

Charts successions[edit]

Preceded by
"I'm Still Standing" by Elton John
Canadian RPM number-one single
July 23, 1983 – July 30, 1983 (2 weeks)
Succeeded by
"White Wedding" by Billy Idol
Preceded by
"Stars on 45 Proudly Presents The Star Sisters" by Stars on 45
Dutch Top 40 number-one single
July 30, 1983 – August 6, 1983 (2 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Rondo Russo" by Berdien Stenberg

Personnel[edit]

Track listing[edit]

Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' 2008[edit]

"Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' 2008"
Single by Michael Jackson and Akon
from the album Thriller 25
Released January 23, 2008
Format CD single, Digital download
Recorded November 25, 2007
Genre Soul, hip hop, R&B, dance, pop
Length 4:14 (Album Version)
3:51 (Radio Edit)
Label Epic, Legacy Recordings
Writer(s) Michael Jackson, Aliaune Thiam, Giorgio Tuinfort
Producer(s) Michael Jackson, Akon, Giorgio Tuinfort
Certification Gold (Australia)
Michael Jackson singles chronology
"The Girl Is Mine 2008"
(2008)
"Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' 2008"
(2008)
"Mind Is the Magic"
(2010)
Akon singles chronology
"I'll Still Kill"
(2007)
"Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' 2008"
(2008)
"What You Got"
(2008)
Thriller 25 track listing
"P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing) 2008"
(12)
"Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' 2008"
(13)
"Beat It 2008"
(14)

"Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'", was re-recorded for the 2008 re-issue of Thriller, entitled Thriller 25. Similar to "Beat It 2008", the song was titled on the CD sleeve as "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' 2008 with Akon". Recorded in 2007, the 2008 version features remix elements and additional vocals from Akon.[50] The 2008 version was written and produced by Akon.[50] The single of that song was the last one released during Jackson's lifetime.

"Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" received mixed reviews from contemporary music critics, with critics having felt that while the 2008 version was good, it was not better than the original, but was better than other re-issues on Thriller 25. Stephen Thomas Erlewine from Allmusic commented that "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" was turned into a "moody piano murk".[51] He further commented that while the song is not great, "it is better than Fergie parroting the lyrics of "Beat It" back to a recorded Jackson, and it's better than will.i.am turning "The Girl Is Mine" into a hapless dance number."[51] Rob Sheffield, a writer for Rolling Stone, commented that "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" is "actually kind of great" and praised the song's composition.[52]

The song was released by Epic Records and Legacy Recordings in January 2008, as the second single from the re-issue album. It was commercially a modest success internationally, charting within the top 20 in several countries, as well charting within the top ten in four territories.[53] The song charted at number three in Sweden,[54] number four in New Zealand,[55] number eight in Australia[56] and number ten in France.[57] "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' 2008" charted at number 15 in Belgium's Flanders and Wallonia charts.[53] and also charted at number 20 in Italy.[58] In the US, "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' 2008" peaked at number 81 on the Billboard' Hot 100, giving the song its lowest charting position. The song also charted on the Pop charts at number 48, as well as number 47 on the Pop Hot 100 Airplay.[15]

Other charting positions include number 47 on the Billboard Hot Digital Songs and the Hot Canadian Digital Singles Chart at number 33.[15] It also peaked at number 2 on the Dance Club Songs chart.[15] "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' 2008" also reached number 19 on the year-end chart of Dance Club Play Song. A music video was also shown on some channels to help promote the single and album; it featured a montage of previous Michael Jackson music videos and concert footage, and also clips of Akon singing his parts.

Chart performance[edit]