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Music

When Martin Scorsese directed a Michael Jackson music video

In 1983, Michael Jackson had reached the peak of his career with the release of Thriller, which was, at the time, the biggest album in the world by quite a margin. In the wake of this, the pressure was mounting on the King of Pop ahead of his next release. If he was to remain at this peak as a global superstar, the perfectionist would need to take his time to ensure that Bad would be good. 

In the early 1980s, the star had been under a great deal of pressure in his personal life as his solo fame caused friction with the other talent in his family. In 1984, Jackson finally cut ties with his family collective The Jacksons, and he looked to pursue his solo career without any further interaction from his siblings. His mental health began to take notable harm over this period and his meticulous nature meant that following Thriller, he would opt to take some time out of the spotlight before working on his next project. 

On January 27th, 1984, Jackson was filming a Pepsi commercial in a studio in California when a pyrotechnics feature malfunctioned setting fire to his hair which caused second and third-degree burns leaving much of his face permanently scarred. While recovering from the injuries, Jackson was prescribed a number of different painkillers and sedatives to help him overcome his physical pain; however, the medication began to serve as a sanctuary from his emotional pain as well, marking the beginning of a long-lived struggle with addiction. 

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Throughout the mid-1980s Jackson’s appearance began to change as he gradually lost his image as a youthful sex symbol and became increasingly the butt of jokes. Opting to remain out of the public eye, he became more reclusive and his addictions spiralled.

In 1986, Jackson had fortunately decided to make his return to making music after having briefly met his close competitor, Prince. It is not entirely clear whether Prince was actively encouraging Jackson or spurring him on with friendly competition, but something was said during this meeting that purportedly led to Jackson’s triumphant return to the studio to complete Bad.

The success of Jackson’s previous albums was bolstered by the films he produced to accompany the music. As one of the most iconic dance performers of all time, a visual display is half of his appeal as a pop star. Noticing this importance, Jackson had worked with esteemed filmmakers to create films in the past which included John Landis for his music video for Thriller and Francis Ford Coppola for his film Captain EO. In 1986, for his comeback album, Jackson approached director Martin Scorsese and screenwriter Richard Price who had just finished creating The Colour of Money (1986) together. Working from Price’s script, Jackson began to throw his weight into the choreography and gave suggestions that would further shape the narrative of the video. 

The original script told the story of a private school child who gets killed in a Harlem shootout. For the final cut, however, it was decided that the boy would not die. What resulted was one of the most prominent music videos of Jackson’s career which communicated the New York realism that only Scorsese’s assiduous filmmaking techniques could achieve. The production also saw the actor Wesley Snipes in one of his earliest screen acting roles in a stand-out performance as Mini Max which made the video all the more impactful and ultimately sent him on his own path to stardom.

At around the halfway point of the 18-minute production, the music begins and Jackson’s choreographed routine is captured all in one take with a moving camera technique as he gives one of the most earnest and emphatic performances of his career. The more serious tone of the film seems to reflect Jackson at a more mature and introspective stage in his life as you visualise the release of pressure that had been building up over the previous four years.

Stream Michael Jackson’s Bad (1987) below.