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Stranger in Moscow

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"Stranger in Moscow"
Stranger In Moscow.jpg
Single by Michael Jackson
from the album HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I
B-side"Off the Wall" (Junior Vasquez Mix)
ReleasedNovember 4, 1996 (worldwide) July 7, 1997 (United States)[1]
RecordedFebruary–March 1994[2]
StudioNeverland Ranch
(Los Olivos, California)
The Hit Factory
(New York City, NY)
Sony Music Studios
(New York City, NY)
Length5:44 (album version)
5:24 (album edit)
4:05 (radio edit)
5:32 (video mix)
Songwriter(s)Michael Jackson
Producer(s)Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson singles chronology
"They Don’t Care About Us"
"Stranger in Moscow"
"Blood on the Dance Floor"
Music video
"Stranger In Moscow" on YouTube
Audio sample
"Stranger in Moscow"

"Stranger in Moscow" is a song by American recording artist Michael Jackson from his ninth studio album HIStory. The song was released as the sixth and final single worldwide on November 4, 1996, but was not released in the United States until July 7, 1997 by Epic Records.[1] The track was written by Jackson in September 1993, while on the Dangerous World Tour stop in Moscow. An early version of the track appears in the video game Sonic the Hedgehog 3; according to conflicting accounts, Jackson and his team composed music for the game before leaving the project. Jackson wrote the lyrics as a poem before adapting them for the song.

The song's music video depicts the lives of six individuals, including Jackson, who are left isolated and disconnected from the world around them. This is Jackson's lowest charting song on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number 91, though it charted highly in the top 10 of numerous countries worldwide, including Australia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Italy, New Zealand, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. The song was performed on the HIStory World Tour in 1996–1997. It was covered a few times by other artists.


"Stranger in Moscow", like several other HIStory tracks, was Jackson's response to recent events in his personal life.[3] In 1993, the relationship between Jackson and the press soured entirely when he was accused of child sexual abuse. Although he was not charged with a crime, Jackson was subject to intense media scrutiny while the criminal investigation took place. Complaints about the coverage and media included using sensational headlines[4] and headlines that implied guilt,[5] accepting stories of Jackson's alleged criminal activity and leaked police material for money,[6][7] deliberately using unflattering pictures of Jackson,[5] and a lack of objectivity.[5]

The coverage upset Jackson, and damaged his health; Jackson's health had deteriorated to the extent that he canceled the remainder of his Dangerous World Tour and went into rehabilitation.[8][9] The media showed the singer little sympathy. The Daily Mirror held a "Spot the Jacko" contest, offering readers a trip to Walt Disney World if they could correctly predict where the entertainer would appear next.[8] A Daily Express headline read, "Drug Treatment Star Faces Life on the Run", while a News of the World headline accused Jackson of being a fugitive. These tabloids also falsely alleged that Jackson had traveled to Europe to have cosmetic surgery that would make him unrecognizable on his return.[8] Geraldo Rivera set up a mock trial, with a jury made up of audience members, even though Jackson had not been charged with a crime.[10]


Originally, HIStory was planned as a greatest hits album, with a few new tracks. However, Jackson and his collaborators were so pleased with the result of "Stranger in Moscow" that they decided to give HIStory a full studio album as the second disc.[11]

"Stranger in Moscow" is an R&B ballad,[12][13] written by Jackson in 1993 during his Dangerous World Tour stop in Moscow. It has a tempo of 67 beats per minute, making it one of Jackson's slowest songs.[14] The instrumental portion is based on the credits theme of Sonic the Hedgehog 3, a 1994 video game which Jackson and his tour keyboardist Brad Buxer were hired to compose for.[15][16] Conflicting accounts state that Jackson either dropped out of the project following the sexual abuse allegations around this time or, because of his dissatisfaction with the limitations of the Sega Genesis sound chip.[17]

The lyrics are based on a poem written by Jackson. Guitars were played by Steve Lukather while keyboards, synthesizers and bass are credited to David Paich and Steve Porcaro.[18] Jackson used Russian imagery and symbolism to promote the sense of fear and alienation in the track.[19] It concludes with a narrative, spoken in Russian, by a KGB interrogator (Ed Wiesnieski).[20] The narrative, translated into English is, "Why have you come from the west? Confess! To steal the great achievements of the people, the accomplishments of the workers..."[21]

Critical reception[edit]

"Stranger in Moscow" received praise from music reviewers and producers. James Hunter of Rolling Stone commented:

[Jackson is] angry, miserable, tortured, inflammatory, furious about what he calls, in "Stranger in Moscow", a "swift and sudden fall from grace"...HIStory feels like the work of someone with a bad case of Thriller nostalgia. Occasionally this backward focus works to Jackson's advantage: On "Stranger in Moscow" he remembers the synth-pop '80s while constructing wracked claims of danger and loneliness that rival any Seattle rocker's pain.[22]

Jon Pareles of The New York Times stated, "The ballads are lavishly melodic. 'Stranger In Moscow', with odd lyrics like 'Stalin's tomb won't let me be,' has a beautiful chorus for the repeated question 'How does it feel?' ".[12] Fred Shuster of the Daily News of Los Angeles described it as, "a lush, pretty minor-key ballad with one of the album's catchiest choruses".[23]

Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic noted of HIStory, "Jackson produces some well-crafted pop that ranks with his best material... 'Stranger in Moscow' is one of his most haunting ballads".[24] Longtime collaborator Bruce Swedien, has described "Stranger in Moscow" as one of the best songs Jackson had ever done.[11] Patrick Macdonald of The Seattle Times described "Stranger in Moscow" as "a pretty ballad interspersed with sounds of rain."[25] Further praise came in 2005 when it was felt that the song had successfully portrayed "eerie loneliness" and was characterized as beautiful by Josephine Zohny of PopMatters.[26] Tom Molley of the Associated Press described it as "[an] ethereal and stirring description of a man wounded by a 'swift and sudden fall from grace' walking in the shadow of the Kremlin".[27]

Chris Willman of Los Angeles Times stated:

"Stranger in Moscow", is a step removed from the focused paranoia of much of the rest of the album, more akin to the deeper, fuzzier dread of a past perennial like "Billie Jean". Jackson imagines himself alone and adrift in a psychic Russia, pre-glasnost, hunted by an unseen KGB: "Here abandoned in my fame / Armageddon of the brain", he sings in the somber, constricted verses, before a sweeping coda kicks up four minutes in and the stalkee suddenly breaks his cool to wail about a desolate, inconsolable loneliness. Here, in this song, is the real genius—and probably real personhood—of Michael Jackson.[28]

Rod Temperton, one of Jackson's songwriters from his earlier career, believes that "Stranger in Moscow" is Jackson's best song.[29]

Music video[edit]

Michael Jackson walking the streets of the city in the music video.

The song's music video, directed by photographer Nick Brandt, and filmed in Los Angeles, is focused around six unrelated people living in isolation in a cityscape on a dark, cloudy day while the rest of the world moves around them in slow motion.[30] The first half of the video introduces these figures. Five of the figures are: a bald man looking down at the city from his apartment window, a middle-aged woman sitting alone in a coffee shop, a homeless man lying on the damp street, a well-dressed man feeding pigeons, and a teenage boy ostracized from a street game of baseball. The sixth figure is Jackson himself, seen walking the city streets while he sings. Special effects are used to show birds and wasps flying, glass breaking and coffee spilling, all in slow motion.[31]

In the second half of the scenario, heavy rain descends on the city and the citizens try to flee, all again seen in slow motion. From the safety of shelter, the six "strangers" watch everyone's futile attempts to avoid the sudden change in weather. Eventually, they decide to go outside, where they look up at the sky and allow the rain to soak them. The video ends with Michael whipping his hair. During this scene, a soft Russian voice is heard, a reference to Moscow.[32]

Cinematography (especially the camera) on Stranger in Moscow anticipated the bullet-time effect that was later featured in the movie, The Matrix.

The music video also appears on Jackson's video albums HIStory on Film, Volume II and Michael Jackson's Vision.

Jackson's biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli, has stated that the video is based on Jackson's real life. He used to walk alone at night looking for new friends, even at the peak of his musical popularity. The 1980s saw him become deeply unhappy; Jackson explained, "Even at home, I'm lonely. I sit in my room sometimes and cry. It's so hard to make friends... I sometimes walk around the neighborhood at night, just hoping to find someone to talk to. But I just end up coming home."[27][33]

Live performances[edit]

The song was performed during HIStory World Tour (1996-1997). It was also slated to be performed in the "This Is It" concerts in London, which was scheduled to run from July 2009 to March 2010. On selected nights, "Stranger in Moscow" was going to be performed instead of "Human Nature". The shows were cancelled due to Jackson's untimely death in June 2009.

Track listing[edit]



  • Written, composed and produced by Michael Jackson
  • Vocal arrangement by Michael Jackson and John Barnes
  • Vocals and drum programming by Michael Jackson
  • Keyboard, synthesizer and bass by David Paich
  • Keyboard and synthesizer by Steve Porcaro
  • Guitars by Steve Lukather
  • Michael Jackson's heartbeat recording by Dr. Eric Chevlen: digitally processed in the Synclavier
  • Rhythm arrangement by Michael Jackson and John Barnes


Cover versions[edit]


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