5 “Smooth Criminal”
One more story-based Jackson epic, Jackson manages to foil yet another Mafioso-ring with (can you guess?) his dancing! Well, we’ll let it slide. Mostly because it’s such damn fine dancing. Fun Fact: In order to perform the slanted standing dance move, Jackson patented a new kind of leather that wouldn’t slip on the floor. Now that’s ingenuity! The video also rekindles our belief in magic stars, which have the power to save you from machine gun fire. Oh, and the power to turn MJ into a giant robot. If the plot sounds ridiculous, don’t blame us. Like we said, only Michael can make this much camp believable.
4 “Black or White”
A plea for racial harmony (wrapped up in the snazziest of drum loops and guitar samples), this song wins big on the scale of all time Jackson hits. More of a concept-driven video than a story-driven, the first half doesn’t feature any dancing beyond what Jacko does torso-and-up. (Mad props for doing the opposite of River Dance, by the way — Bleck!) You also have to love the end of the video, when Jackson starts angrily dancing and destroying cars. And turns into a panther. Yes, a panther. Suck on that, Siegfried and Roy! But the passion of his movement manages to save the action of the video from ever seeming too hokey — or at least not hokey enough to bother you.
Trust me, if there’s anything more bad going on in a subway station, you don’t want to witness it. And, yeah, you have to admit that the gangsters all wearing sunglasses (the black cowboy hat of the Michael Jackson video universe) are a little corny in a post-Tarantino world. What the video lacks in authenticity, though, it wholly makes up for in charm and charisma. Recalling the famous finger snapping, dance fighting scenes of Westside Story, Jackson moves through another iconic story with grace and conviction. Who’s bad? Only MJ could be this bad and this good all at once.
2 “Billie Jean”
Every child who grew up watching this video wished they had a pair of shoes that would light up the sidewalk, too. Michael Jackson’s magic is so engrossing, that it seemed more believable that he really lit up the sidewalk. It’s such a singular, simple idea, yet it’s so well-executed that it drives the entire video and never looses your focus. This is Michael Jackson best pure music video (e.g. one that doesn’t tell a story), and deserves to be here because it established the image we have cherished of him ever since: a man whose singing and dancing were so magical, he could light up the streets as well as our imaginations.
Michael Jackson-mania began full steam with this immortal classic. Suddenly, everyone in the nation (including a young Alfonso Ribiero in a Coke commercial) was trying to moonwalk and dancing like a zombie wolfman. This video also took dance-centered music videos out of the arena of pure entertainment and into the realm of art: the entire video is present like a classic horror movie, with title cards and introductory scenes long before the music begins. Thus, it gave birth to a new medium — the story-driven music video. Jackson wrote the book on this (sadly) fading art form; this is the first and best chapter.
What a thriller, eh? How many classic memories did that bring up? And maybe, for just a moment, you felt like a kid again? Well, you’re welcome. We do take great pride in the lists we compile here, and we’re always certain to do a thorough job bringing everything together. MJ speaks to the kid in all of, we know, and has far too many classics to fit on a list of five. So, if you wanna be startin’ somethin’, maybe you should put your favorite choice in the comments below. If it gets enough votes, it’ll make the list! On the other hand, if your choice sucks, we’ll take it off the wall. But, first, let us include a few more princely cuts that nearly made our list.
“Beat It” — The first time Jackson took on gangsters, he got a little help from Eddie Van Halen.
“Remember the Time” — We can’t decide which is better: Eddie Murphy’s cameo or Magic Johnson’s cameo?
“Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough” — Cheesy disco Jackson simply dancing and having a ball. Who could possibly get enough?