How Michael Jackson’s step-catching ‘Black or White’ dance routine shocked television audiences in 1991

Michael Jackson performs in his controversial 1991 music video

Michael Jackson performs in his controversial music video “Black or White” from 1991. (Photo: Propaganda Films / courtesy Everett Collection)

Well, he warned us that his new album would be … Dangerous. 30 years ago, Michael Jackson roared back on the pop music scene with his long-awaited follow-up to 1987’s bestseller Bad. The first single from the album, “Black or White”, was released on November 11, 1991, and the music video followed on November 14 with a simultaneous US premiere on MTV, BET and VH1, as well as the fast-growing Fox network.

In a clever planning, the video’s debut followed a brand new episode of Fox’s breakout comic book hit The Simpsons. Jackson had already starred in the season 3 premiere of Matt Groening’s idea, which aired months earlier, and Bart and Homer provided a favor by appearing in a quick intro and outro that put a squeeze on the Fox broadcast. This author was among the young people who never miss an episode Simpsons fans who clearly remember sitting down to watch “Black or White” because Bart said to them.

And it wasn’t just die-hard Simpsons fans tuned in. The magnificent orchestrated rollout elevated “Black or White” to a pop culture event not to be missed, an event watched by an estimated 500 million viewers worldwide. There was no saving on the cost of making the 11 minute long video something they would all remember. Jackson teamed up with “Thriller” director John Landis for “Black or White,” which boasts a $ 4 million budget – making it still one of the most expensive music videos ever.

The price tag bought them cameos from Home alone star – and Jackson’s personal friend – also Macaulay Culkin Cheers favorite, George Wendt. It also allowed for a super-large cast of extras and backup dancers, as well as groundbreaking special effects at the time, most notably an extended face-morphing sequence, which was groundbreaking by computer animation firm Pacific Data Images and featuring a cameo by a young Tyra Banks. (PDI later became part of DreamWorks Animation and worked on feature film hits such as Shrek and Madagascar.)

But it turned out to be the music- and special-effect-free final minutes of “Black or White” that attracted the most attention. In an extended epilogue, Jackson – in the body of a panther – sneaks out of the soundscape where the video is being filmed (look for Landis’ cameo in the background) and into a rain-soaked alley, where he transforms back into his human form.

The singer then starts into a free-form dance routine that is a part of it Singin ‘in the Rain and part Do the right thing. During the four-minute sequence, Jackson breaks open a store window with a trash can, vandalizes an abandoned car, and repeatedly grabs his crotch, where at one point he sharply pulls the zipper of his pants up in a tight close-up.

Michael Jackson's controversial

Michael Jackson’s controversial “Black or White” video featured an extended dance sequence in which King of Pop repeatedly grabbed his crotch. (Photo: YouTube)

It is clear that the then King of Pop seized the time to announce that he was back and Badthere than ever. But it also turned out to be a one night only show. The next morning, Jackson had agreed to cut the full dance sequence from all future broadcasts of the video following an outcry from parent groups and major media.

For years afterwards, it was only the censored version of “Black or White” that ended with the soundtrack before Jackson ventured into the alley in panther form, playing on MTV and elsewhere. Since 2016, however, the full 11-minute video has been widely available on the late singer’s official YouTube page with no reference to the headline-generating controversy it once provoked.

See the whole Black or white video below:

Weekly entertainment captured the tone of the first wave of coverage in its cover story on November 29, 1991, which break down what happened in the immediate aftermath of the video’s premiere broadcast. It tells a Fox source THAT ONE that the network’s telephone lines began to light up almost immediately with calls from parents watching the video with their Simpsonsloving children. “People could not believe he did,” the network insider said, referring to Jackson’s step-catching dance routine. “He didn’t just grab his crotch – he rubbed it.”

Behind the scenes, Fox contacted Jackson, who reportedly offered to drop the entire dance sequence. The singer also issued an apology via his representatives. “It upset me to think that ‘black or white’ could influence any child or adult to destructive behavior, whether sexual or violent,” the statement read. “I have always tried to be a good role model and have therefore made these changes to avoid any possibility of negatively affecting an individual’s behavior. I deeply regret any pain or pain that the last segment of ‘Black or White’ has caused children , their parents or other viewers. “

At the time, few were willing to publicly defend Jackson. Entering New York Times, music critic Jon Pareles panned the video as a “riot of distraction” and speculated that the insulting epilogue was a clever marketing ploy. “A viewer might wonder if the ‘controversy’ was part of the plan; four minutes is a lot of networking time, and having something banned would do wonders for Mr. Jackson’s PG image. It could make him seem like the album title would have it, ‘Dangerous.’ “(According to Weekly entertainment, Sony Music – which signed Jackson to a $ 65 million contract in March 1991 – stubbornly pushed back on the implication that it was all a publicity stunt.)

Jackson ignited a firestorm with his

Jackson ignited a firestorm with his “Black or White” video. (Photo: YouTube)

The album’s sales were certainly not hurt by the firestorm that was ignited by the video: When Dangerous dropped in stores on November 26, it instantly topped the Billboard charts and sold 1.8 million copies when the calendar turned to 1992. (That number rose to 15 million in November after). The accompanying world tour was just as successful. , where Jackson played 69 shows across the globe between June 1992 and November 1993.

But a more serious career blow awaited behind the scenes. In August 1993, Evan Chandler accused Jackson of sexually abusing his young son, Jordan, and the ensuing fallout quickly obscured everything that happened in “Black or White.” Although that case was eventually settled, Jackson’s public image was forever transformed: From 1993 until his death in 2009, reports of erratic behavior, drug abuse and further allegations of sexual abuse swirled, two of which were explored in the devastating 2019 documentary Leaving Neverland.

Although Jackson’s overall legacy remains a complicated subject, the once-discarded epilogue to “Black or White” has been re-evaluated in recent years, with some critics now seeing it through the lens of contemporary events such as the Rodney King verdict and the subsequent Los Angeles riots, which put racial injustice in the spotlight. Jackson did it himself for it in a 1999 MTV interview, in which he described it as an attempt to fight the racial injustice he saw in America in the early ’90s, with the Rodney King incident still fresh in everyone’s memory.

“I said I wanted to do a dance number where I could explain my frustration over injustice and prejudice and racism and bigotry,” Jackson remarked. “In dance, I was just upset and I let go, and that was what happened. I think people back then were worried about the violent content of the play, but it’s easy to watch. It is easy. “

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