How Michael Jackson’s crotch-grabbing ‘Black or White’ dance routine shocked TV audiences in 1991

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

Well, he did warn us that his new album was going to be… Dangerous. Thirty years in the past, Michael Jackson roared again onto the pop music scene together with his long-awaited follow-up to 1987’s bestselling Bad. The first single off the report, “Black or White,” dropped on Nov. 11, 1991, and the music video adopted on Nov. 14 with a simultaneous U.S. premiere on MTV, BET and VH1, in addition to the rapidly-growing Fox community. 

In a canny little bit of scheduling, the video’s debut adopted an all-new episode of Fox’s breakout cartoon hit The Simpsons. Jackson had already guest-starred on the Season three premiere of Matt Groening’s brainchild that aired months earlier, and Bart and Homer returned the favor by showing in a fast intro and outro that sandwiched the Fox airing. This author was amongst these younger never-miss-an-episode Simpsons followers who vividly remembers sticking round to look at “Black or White” as a result of Bart instructed them to. 

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And it wasn’t solely die-hard Simpsons followers who tuned in. The grandly orchestrated roll-out elevated “Black or White” to a can’t-miss popular culture occasion, one which was seen by an estimated 500 million viewers worldwide. No expense was spared in making the 11-minute video one thing they’d all bear in mind. Jackson re-teamed with “Thriller” director John Landis for “Black or White,” which boasted a $four million finances — making it nonetheless one of the costly music movies of all time

That price ticket purchased them cameos by Home Alone star — and Jackson’s private buddy — Macaulay Culkin, as effectively Cheers favourite, George Wendt. It additionally allowed for a super-sized solid of extras and backup dancers, in addition to then-cutting edge particular results, most notably an prolonged face morphing sequence pioneered by the pc animation firm Pacific Data Images and that includes a cameo by a younger Tyra Banks. (PDI later grew to become a part of DreamWorks Animation, and labored on characteristic movie hits like Shrek and Madagascar.)

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But it turned out to be the music and particular effects-free remaining minutes of “Black or White” that attracted essentially the most consideration. In an prolonged epilogue, Jackson — within the physique of a panther — slinks out of the soundstage the place the video is being filmed (search for Landis’s cameo within the background) and right into a rain-soaked alleyway the place he morphs again into his human kind. 

The singer then launches right into a free-form dance routine that is half Singin’ within the Rain and half Do the Right Thing. Over the course of the four-minute sequence, Jackson breaks a storefront window with a rubbish can, vandalizes an deserted automotive and repeatedly grabs his crotch, at one level pointedly pulling up his pants zipper in a decent close-up. 

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

Clearly, the then-King of Pop was seizing the second to announce he was again and Badder than ever. But it additionally turned out to be a one night time solely efficiency. By the subsequent morning, Jackson had agreed to chop the complete dance sequence from all future airings of the video following an outcry from dad and mom’ teams and main media shops. 

For years afterwards, it was solely the censored model of “Black or White,” ending with the soundstage scene earlier than Jackson heads into the alley in panther kind, that performed on MTV and elsewhere. Since 2016, although, the complete 11-minute video has been extensively out there on the late singer’s official YouTube web page with none reference to the headlines-generating controversy it as soon as provoked.  

Watch the complete Black or White video beneath: 

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Entertainment Weekly captured the tone of that preliminary wave of protection in its Nov. 29, 1991 cowl story, which broke down what occurred within the instant wake of the video’s premiere airing. A Fox supply instructed EW that the community’s cellphone traces began lighting up almost instantly with calls from dad and mom who watched the video with their Simpsons-loving youngsters. “People couldn’t believe he did that,” the community insider mentioned, referring to Jackson’s crotch-grabbing dance routine. “He wasn’t just grabbing his crotch — he was rubbing it.” 

Behind the scenes, Fox contacted Jackson, who reportedly supplied to drop the whole dance sequence. The singer additionally issued an apology through his representatives. “It upsets me to think that ‘Black or White’ could influence any child or adult to destructive behavior, either sexual or violent,” the assertion learn. “I’ve always tried to be a good role model and therefore have made these changes to avoid any possibility of adversely affecting any individual’s behavior. I deeply regret any pain or hurt that the final segment of ‘Black or White’ has caused children, their parents or any other viewers.”

At the time, few had been prepared to publicly defend Jackson. Writing in The New York Times, music critic Jon Pareles panned the video as a “riot of derivativeness,” and speculated that the offending epilogue was a canny advertising and marketing ploy. “A viewer might wonder whether the ‘controversy’ was part of the plan; four minutes is a lot of network time, and having something banned would do wonders for Mr. Jackson’s PG image. It could make him seem, as the album title would have it, ‘Dangerous.’” (According to Entertainment Weekly, Sony Music — which signed Jackson to a $65 million contract in March 1991 — strenuously pushed again on the implication that this was all a publicity stunt.)

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

Certainly, the album’s gross sales weren’t damage by the firestorm ignited by the video: When Dangerous dropped in shops on Nov. 26, it immediately topped the Billboard charts, and bought 1.eight million copies by the point the calendar flipped over to 1992. (That quantity rose to 15 million by the next November.) The accompanying world tour was equally profitable, with Jackson taking part in 69 exhibits across the globe between June 1992 and November 1993. 

But a extra critical profession blow was ready within the wings. In August 1993, Evan Chandler accused Jackson of sexually abusing his younger son, Jordan, and the following fallout rapidly eclipsed something that occurred in “Black or White.” Although that case was finally settled, Jackson’s public picture was endlessly reworked: From 1993 till his demise in 2009, studies swirled of erratic conduct, drug abuse and extra sexual abuse claims, two of which had been explored within the devastating 2019 documentary Leaving Neverland

While Jackson’s total legacy stays an advanced topic, the once-discarded epilogue to “Black or White” has been re-examined in recent times, with some critics now viewing it by the lens of contemporaneous occasions just like the Rodney King verdict and the following Los Angeles riots, which put racial injustice within the highlight. Jackson himself made that case for it in a 1999 MTV interview, the place he described it as an try and wrestle with the racial injustice he noticed in America within the early ’90s, with the Rodney King incident nonetheless recent in everybody’s thoughts. 

“I said I want to do a dance number where I could set out my frustration about injustice and prejudice and racism and bigotry,” Jackson remarked. “Within the dance, I just became upset and I let go, and that’s what happened. I think at the time people were concerned about the violent content of the piece, but it’s easy to look at. It’s simple.”