Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” Lyrics Meaning
As we all know, Michael Jackson (1958-2009) originally blew up as a member of a band called the Jackson 5. The group consisted of he and four of his brothers from the Jackson family. And Michael, having joined the crew when he was about six years old, was in fact the youngest involved. Meanwhile the oldest, Jackie, was already entering his teens. Or another way of looking at it is that Michael’s older brothers were logically sexually-active before he was.
This combined with the fact that they were indeed famous and toured with other likewise musicians contributed to Jackson witnessing a considerable degree of groupie activity throughout the years. And according to MJ, said ladies would regularly accuse his brothers of fathering one of their sons. And such is the reality upon which “Billie Jean” is partially based on.
And logically Michael, in fact being the most-popular of all the Jacksons, had to deal with such issues also. One incident in particular which is said to have influenced this song is a particular woman – whom he allegedly never even met – making such a claim against him. And that particular case of harassment is said to have gotten so severe that Mr. Jackson started manifesting nightmares. Indeed it was not fully resolved until said lady was admitted into a psychiatric ward.
Narrative of “Billie Jean”
So with that historical background in mind, we can come to understand the angst with has come to define this song. It begins with Michael being taken aback by the beauty of a particular lady. And the insinuation, though stated artistically, is that they indeed end up doing the do. And to make a long story short, by the time the second verse comes around it appears she has him in court, claiming paternity. Moreover the whole scenario is quite taxing on the singer, as he realizes that “the law (is) on her side”.
Additionally throughout the whole ordeal, his conscience is bothering him. And why? Apparently his mother had long warned him against getting mixed up with random women. In fact the second verse concludes with Michael realizing that Billie Jean’s baby does in fact bears a resemblance to him. But the second verse is also the final verse, so the narrative ends on sort of a cliffhanger.
“The Kid is Not my Son!”
Yet throughout the song Michael’s primary sentiment is clear. He is asserting that Billie Jean’s son is not his own, despite the two of them having “danced on the floor in the round”. And the secondary sentiment is one of him regretting having done so in the first place, i.e. putting himself in this predicament. This is especially true considering that the fact that, as alluded to earlier, “people always told” him not to play games with such ladies.
Michael does take the blame for ‘breaking this young girl’s heart’. He admits to doing something serious with her even though he did not desire any type of actual relationship. However, he insists her kid isn’t his!
But that being said, again based on the aforementioned genesis of this track, Billie Jean isn’t exactly innocent herself. Rather she is a groupie trying to capitalize off of the singer’s wealth and fame. Yet Michael too acknowledges his own fault in falling into this trap in the first place.
The performance aspect of this song has been one of the main factors contributing to its success, as Michael could really get down to this tune. This was illustrated in the song’s music video. The Steve Barron-directed clip was subject to racial discrimination when it first came out. But, via pressure from Michael’s record label, it went on to be the first by a Black artist which MTV played regularly.
In fact Michael Jackson’s early music-video performances, which included “Billie Jean”, are actually credited with helping MTV survive as it faced issues during its formative years.
“Billie Jean” was also inducted into the Music Video Producers’ Hall of Fame in 1992. And basically, any list of ‘greatest music videos ever’ by reputable institutions have recognized this song.
Facts about “Billie Jean”
This is the second single from Michael Jackson’s famed “Thriller” album, which from a commercial standpoint was the most-successful album ever. And such was in large part due to the success of “Billie Jean” itself, which Epic Records released on 2 January 1983.
In order to be classified as one of the best-selling songs in history, said track would have had to have sold at least five-million copies. Meanwhile “Billie Jean” has sold in excess of 10 million. That basically means it was successful worldwide.
For instance, this song has been certified multi-Platinum in both Canada and the United States, in addition to it also achieving Platinum status in over five other countries.
Moreover “Billie Jean” reached the number-one position on music charts in many places, including:
And of course it also hit number 1 in Britain and Michael’s home (the United States).
And when Michael Jackson surprisingly passed away in 2009, “Billie Jean” managed to chart again in about 20 countries.
This track has also been named in several lists of the greatest songs of all time. For example, it also made it into Rolling Stone’s coveted the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list.
FYI: Aside, “Billie Jean”, M.J.’s album “Thriller” produced 6 other hit singles, including the following:
Major Awards won by “Billie Jean”
“Billie Jean” also contributed to the King of Pop having a record-setting year at the 1984 Grammys, as it earned him awards in the following categories:
- “Best Male Vocal Performance”
- “Best R&B Song”
1984 was also the year in which Michael Jackson likewise made history at the American Music Awards by bringing home eight trophies. And amongst those was one won by “Billie Jean” for “Favorite Pop/Rock Single“.
Indeed even a performance of “Billie Jean” Michael Jackson rendered on 25 March 1983 in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of Motown Records earned him an Emmy nomination.
In fact it was during this presentation that Michael Jackson introduced the world to many of his trademarks, such as the bejeweled white glove. He also used that opportunity to outdoor his famous dance, the Moonwalk. And it set the stage for Michael transitioning into the greatest pop musician of all time.
Usage in Pepsi Advert
Moreover Michael Jackson’s infamous Pepsi television commercials in 1984 used a revised (Pepsi-espousing) version of “Billie Jean” as its musical feature. And the reason they went down in infamy is because during their filming Michael’s hair caught fire.
Billie Jean King
Some readers may recognize “Billie Jean” as also being the name of a legendary tennis player, Billie Jean King, who was still active around the time this song was released. This is something that the track’s co-producer and legend in his own right, Quincy Jones, realized also. In fact he wanted Michael to change the title of the song to “Not My Lover” as not to cause any confusion between Billie Jean and Billie Jean King. But MJ refused, and he and Quincy even had beef for a few days partially due to this disagreement.
And besides Quincy Jones, the other producer of “Billie Jean” is Michael Jackson himself.
In fact Jackson and Mr. Jones had other interpersonal issues concerning the creation of this track. However, what ultimately compelled Quincy to give in to the commands of the King of Pop was when Jackson assured him that this song ‘makes him want to dance’.
Tracks that influenced “Billie Jean”
There are a couple of musical predecessors to “Billie Jean” which are said to have influenced its sound. First is a song called “State of Independence”, which Donna Summer covered in 1982. Her rendition was produced by Quincy Jones and featured Michael as a backup singer. And this song is allegedly the source from where Quincy Jones and Jackson derived the riff for “Billie Jean”.
The second influencer is said to be a track some may be more familiar with, Hall & Oates’ “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)” (1981). One half of the pair, John Oates, has stated that Michael expressed a personal affinity for this song. And the other, Darryl Hall, tells a story whereas Jackson apologized to him directly for ‘stealing its grove for Billie Jean’. However, Darryl didn’t care, as he considered Michael’s product to be more or less an original.
A little known fact about “Billie Jean” is that another lesser-known artist named Lydia Murdock actually dropped an answer song to tune in 1983 entitled “Superstar”.
Did Michael Jackson write “Billie Jean”?
Yes. “Billie Jean” was written exclusively by Michael Jackson.