Behind the Mask (song)

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"Behind the Mask"
1980 UK single cover
Single by Yellow Magic Orchestra, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and various others
from the album Solid State Survivor and X∞Multiplies (International Versions)
ReleasedAugust 1980
StudioAlfa Studio "A", Shibaura, Minato, Tokyo
Composer(s)Ryuichi Sakamoto
Lyricist(s)Chris Mosdell
Producer(s)Haruomi Hosono
Yellow Magic Orchestra, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and various others singles chronology
"Behind the Mask"
"Nice Age"

"Behind the Mask" is a 1979 song by the Japanese synth-pop group Yellow Magic Orchestra. The composer, Ryuichi Sakamoto, wrote the first version for a television commercial. This was expanded with the band and the British lyricist Chris Mosdell for inclusion on the 1979 Yellow Magic Orchestra album Solid State Survivor. In the US and the UK, "Behind the Mask" was released as a single from the album X∞Multiplies in 1980.

In the early 1980s, the American pop singer Michael Jackson recorded a version with extra lyrics and melodies. It was omitted from his 1982 album Thriller as no royalty arrangement could be agreed. Jackson's demo was released on the album Thriller 40 in 2022.

In the 1980s, artists including Greg Phillinganes, Eric Clapton and the Human League recorded versions based on Jackson's demo. Clapton's version, released in 1987, was a top-20 single in some markets. An updated remix of Jackson's version was released on the 2010 album Michael.

Yellow Magic Orchestra version (1979)[edit]

The Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto wrote the first version of "Behind the Mask" for a 1978 television commercial for Seiko watches.[1] His band, Yellow Magic Orchestra, recorded a new version for their 1979 album Solid State Survivor. This featured English lyrics written by the British poet and lyricist Chris Mosdell, which Sakamoto sang using a vocoder.[citation needed]

Mosdell based his lyrics on the imagery of a traditional Japanese Noh mask and a poem by the Irish poet W. B. Yeats, "The Mask".[2] Mosdell said he was "talking about a very impersonal, socially controlled society, a future technological era, and the mask represented that immobile, unemotional state".[2]

In 1980, "Behind the Mask" was released as a single in the United States and the United Kingdom, where it was included on the third Yellow Magic Orchestra album, X∞Multiplies.[3][4]

Track listing[edit]

US promotional 7" single

  1. "Behind the Mask" (mono) – 3:35
  2. "Behind the Mask" (stereo) – 3:35

US promotional 12" single

  1. "Behind the Mask" – 3:35
  2. "Nice Age" – 3:55
  3. "Technopolis" – 4:15

US 7" single

  1. "Behind the Mask" – 3:35
  2. "Citizens of Science" – 4:33

UK (yellow vinyl and promotional black vinyl) and Italy 7" single

  1. "Behind the Mask" – 3:35
  2. "Yellow Magic (Tong Poo)" – 6:20

UK 12" single

  1. "Behind the Mask" – 3:35
  2. "Yellow Magic (Tong Poo)" – 6:20
  3. "La Femme Chinoise" – 6:05

Argentina 7" single

  1. "Cerca de la Mascara (Behind the Mask)" – 3:35
  2. "Vacacion de un Dia (Day Tripper)" – 2:39

Michael Jackson demo (1982)[edit]

The American singer Michael Jackson recorded a version of "Behind the Mask" during the recording of his sixth album, Thriller (1982). It was introduced to him by his producer, Quincy Jones, who had heard it on a visit to Japan.[2] Jackson added a melody and extra lyrics.[2] Mosdell said: "He made it into a love song about a woman. It was a completely different premise to me ... But hey, I let him have that one."[2]

"Behind the Mask" was not included on Thriller as Sakamoto, Mosdell and Jackson could not reach an agreement on royalties.[5][2] On November 18, 2022, Jackson's demo was released on the anniversary album Thriller 40 as "Mike's Mix (Demo)".[6] Jackson's demo was used to create versions by other artists.

Greg Phillinganes version (1984)[edit]

"Behind the Mask"
Single by Greg Phillinganes
from the album Pulse
B-side"Only You"
Producer(s)Richard Perry

Jackson's keyboardist Greg Phillinganes recorded a version of "Behind the Mask" for his 1984 album Pulse.[5] Phillinganes released his version as a single in 1985, and in the United States it reached number four on the Billboard Dance Club Songs chart and number 77 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.[7][8]

Track listing[edit]

7" single

  1. "Behind the Mask" – 4:07
  2. "Only You" – 6:16

12" single

  1. "Behind the Mask" – 6:27
  2. "Behind the Mask" (instrumental) – 5:13
  3. "Only You" – 6:16



Chart (1985) Peak
US Dance Club Songs (Billboard)[7] 4
US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs (Billboard)[8] 77

Eric Clapton version (1986)[edit]

"Behind the Mask"
Single by Eric Clapton
from the album August
B-side"Grand Illusion"
ReleasedJanuary 1987
Length4:47 (album version)
3:38 (single edit)
LabelWarner Bros.
Eric Clapton singles chronology
"It's in the Way That You Use It"
"Behind the Mask"
"Tearing Us Apart"

The English musician Eric Clapton recorded "Behind the Mask" for his 1986 album August. Greg Phillinganes brought the composition to Clapton's attention. Phillinganes played keyboards and performed background vocals on Clapton's recording. This version did not credit Jackson as one of the song's co-writers, but Mosdell confirmed that Jackson's estate took 50% of the songwriting royalties from the recording.[5]

Clapton's version of "Behind the Mask" was released as a single in January 1987. It reached number 15 on the UK Singles Chart on February 21, 1987.[9]

Track listing[edit]

UK 7" single (928461-7, W8461)

  1. "Behind the Mask" (edit) – 3:38
  2. "Grand Illusion" – 4:30

UK 12" single (W8461)

  1. "Behind the Mask" (LP version) – 4:47
  2. "Grand Illusion" – 4:30
  3. "Wanna Make Love to You" – 5:36

UK 2 × 7" single (928461-7, W8461F)

  1. "Behind the Mask" (edit)
  2. "Grand Illusion"
  3. "Crossroads" (live)
  4. "White Room" (live)



Chart (1987) Peak
Luxembourg Radio Singles (Billboard)[10] 12
UK Singles (OCC)[9] 15

Ryuichi Sakamoto version (1987)[edit]

Following the breakup of Yellow Magic Orchestra in 1983, Ryuichi Sakamoto re-recorded "Behind the Mask" in 1987 with Jackson's additional lyrics and lead vocals by Bernard Fowler. A similar arrangement had been performed (with Fowler) during Sakamoto's Media Bahn Live tour the previous year. A CD single with three tracks and a CD maxi single with six tracks entitled "Behind the Mask +3" were released.

Track listing[edit]

Japan CD single

  1. "Behind the Mask" – 5:29
  2. "Risky" – 6:22
  3. "Field Work" – 5:07

Japan CD maxi single ("Behind the Mask +3")

  1. "Behind the Mask" – 5:29
  2. "Risky" – 6:22
  3. "Field Work" – 5:07
  4. "Steppin' into Asia" (TV track) – 3:39
  5. "Field Work" (edit) – 2:34
  6. 両眼微笑 (instrumental) – 3:57

Michael Jackson remix (2010)[edit]

"Behind the Mask"
Single by Michael Jackson
from the album Michael
B-side"Hollywood Tonight" (vinyl)
ReleasedFebruary 21, 2011
Recorded1982 (original)
2010 (rework)
Length5:02 (album version)
3:39 (edit)
5:01 (Mike's Mix demo version)
  • Michael Jackson
  • John McClain[12]
Michael Jackson singles chronology
"Hollywood Tonight"
"Behind the Mask"
"All in Your Name"
Music video
"Behind the Mask" on YouTube

Jackson's 1982 demo of "Behind the Mask" was used to create a remix by John McClain, released on the 2010 album Michael. McClain's additions include a saxophone solo, background vocals by Shanice, and crowd noise from the 1992 TV special Live in Bucharest: The Dangerous Tour.[13][12]

On February 21, 2011, the remix was released by Epic Records as the third single from Michael. It was released as a single to radio and as a limited 7" for Record Store Day, and a music video edited together from fan contributions was released under the title "The Behind the Mask Project".[citation needed]

Critical reception[edit]

Reviewing Michael, Jody Rosen from Rolling Stone called the remixed version of "Behind the Mask" "a fiercely funky cousin to "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' ."[14] Dan Martin from NME wrote that it was "an absolute revelation, a swirl of psychedelic, orchestra-twinged R&B ... Jackson howls a solid-gold melody at his fearsome best, and blippy production and robotic backing vocals dancing behind it."[15] Writers from Billboard thought the song was among the album's "must-listen songs".[16] The journalist Joe Vogel found the remix skillful, making it sound brand new and retro at the same time, and that it was one of the album's highlights.[17] Leah Greenblatt from Entertainment Weekly felt the saxophone was dated.[18]

Music video[edit]

On February 28, 2011, a project for this song's music video titled "Behind the Mask Project" was announced: "the Estate of Michael Jackson and Sony Music will provide everyone who likes music an opportunity to help create online a unique groundbreaking music video for the single 'Behind the Mask'." All the world can use a simple online tool to take part in making the music video since March 7, 2011.[19] On March 30, 2011, a 17-second video of what Sony Music had been doing with some of the thousands of submissions for the "Behind the Mask Project" was released.[20][21]

On June 6, 2011, was published the official trailer announcing when the final video would be published. On June 14, 2011, the official and final video was posted on the official Michael Jackson's channel on YouTube, but only accessible on the King of Pop's page on social networking site Facebook.[22] In the 1600 clips that compose it can be seen people from the Sahara to the main cities of the world,

An alternative video was originally shot and completed, featuring masked dancers in a nightclub, but the "Behind the Mask Project" was released instead of this video. This alternate video directed by the Grammy-winning directing duo Aggressive leaked on July 31, 2013.[23][24] The video was eventually uploaded to Jackson's YouTube channel on August 3, 2018.[25]

Track listing[edit]

1."Behind the Mask" (album version)5:01
Total length:5:01
"Behind the Mask"/"Hollywood Tonight" 7" vinyl single[27]
1."Behind the Mask" (radio edit)3:39
2."Hollywood Tonight" (Throwback Mix)3:46
Total length:07:00
Poland promotional CD single[28]
1."Behind the Mask" (radio edit)3:39
Total length:3:39


  • Michael Jackson – solo vocal, beat box, background vocals, production
  • Alex Al – bass
  • Paulinho da Costa – percussion
  • Khaliq Glover – mixing, engineering
  • Alfonzo Jones – background vocals
  • John McClain – production
  • Jon Nettlesbey – additional keyboards, drum programming, sequencing, digital editing, mixing, engineering
  • Greg Phillinganes – drums, additional keyboards
  • Mike Phillips – saxophone, saxophonic percussion
  • Shanice – background vocals
  • Allen Sides – engineering
  • Leon F. Sylvers III – background vocal arrangement, engineering
  • David Williams – guitar
  • Big Jim Wright – drums, keyboards, drum programming


Chart (2010–2011) Peak
Belgium (Ultratip Bubbling Under Wallonia)[29] 24
Japan (Japan Hot 100)[30] 71
UK Singles (Official Charts Company) 191

Release history[edit]

Country Date Format
France February 21, 2011[31] CD single (promo), Radio airplay
April 11, 2011[32] Vinyl single
Italy[33] April 12, 2011
Poland[28] July 4, 2011 Radio airplay

Other versions[edit]

It was covered by the Human League in 1993 with Yellow Magic Orchestra.[citation needed]

Señor Coconut had a cover version released in 2006.[citation needed]


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  2. ^ a b c d e f Heckel, Aimee (January 15, 2011). "Chris Mosdell, quirky Boulder lyricist, wrote lyrics for newly released Michael Jackson song". Daily Camera. Retrieved October 18, 2011.
  3. ^ "Xoo Multiplies – Yellow Magic Orchestra". AllMusic. Retrieved May 29, 2011.
  4. ^ "[Review] Yellow Magic Orchestra: X∞Multiplies (1980)". Progrography. Retrieved February 26, 2021.
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  13. ^ Brenda Jeanne Wyche (December 4, 2010). "Shanice "Behind the Mask" With Michael Jackson". Black Star News. Retrieved December 5, 2010.
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  15. ^ Martin, Dan (December 4, 2010). "Album review: Michael Jackson - Michael (Epic)". NME. Retrieved December 5, 2010.
  16. ^ Lipshutz, Jason; Mitchell, Gail; Graff, Gary (December 8, 2010). "Michael Jackson's Michael Track-By-Track". Billboard. Retrieved December 8, 2010.
  17. ^ Vogel, Joe (December 6, 2010). "Is Michael Really Michael? A Review of the King of Pop's New Album". Huffington Post. Retrieved December 10, 2010.
  18. ^ Leah Greenblatt (December 8, 2010). "Music Review: Michael". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved December 9, 2010.
  19. ^ "Michael Jackson's Ultimate Music Fan Global Mash-up To Launch Online March 7 - The Official Michael Jackson Site". February 28, 2011. Archived from the original on March 4, 2011. Retrieved March 30, 2011.
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  21. ^ "New Behind the Mask Project Teaser! Submissions End May 3rd - The Official Michael Jackson Site". Sony Music. April 29, 2011. Archived from the original on March 23, 2012. Retrieved May 3, 2011.
  22. ^ "THE WORLD UNITES ON NEW MICHAEL JACKSON VIDEO "BEHIND THE MASK"". Sony Music. The Official Michael Jackson Site. June 8, 2011. Archived from the original on June 11, 2011. Retrieved June 11, 2011.
  23. ^ Shumka, Dave. "Watch this unreleased Michael Jackson video before it gets taken down". CBC Music. Retrieved August 4, 2013.
  24. ^ "WATCH IT: Michael Jackson "Behind the Mask" (Aggressive, dir.)". VideoStatic.
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