Michael Jackson – Bad

First Hit #1: October 24, 1987

Now this is a lead single. Bad might not be Thriller, but it’s still Michael Jackson in the ’80s, which is the best kind of Michael Jackson, and Bad does what he does best. The bassline is distinct and an instant earworm, Jackson’s performance has that mix of aggression and ambition that defines his best songs, and the layers of harmony and well placed vocal ticks make the song exciting and by extension makes the album something you want to hear more of. It’s not perfect, Jackson’s macho posturing never really rang through, no matter how many leather jackets and backup dancers he surrounded himself with. I don’t particularly believe he’s bad, but it is pretty catchy even if he’s still a tiny pop star.

It is more overtly electronic than his early material, which is a nod to the times. That bassline is great, but it sounds like it could be coming from a Sega Genesis – and was, in fact, used on the Sega Genesis with minimal modification, for the game Moonwalker, which involves Jackson rescuing children and turning into a robot car – and it does inadvertently date the material. But it’s still great material, catchy and fun light pop no matter how much Jackson wants people to believe it’s a darker direction. At least while trying to toughen up his image, he didn’t forget his core strengths as a performer.

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One Response to Michael Jackson – Bad

  1. RBerman says:

    The pattern on a monarch butterfly’s wings resembles huge eyes in order to scare away potential predators. Warning! Large, dangerous creature here! In reality, any other woodland creature could munch those cellophane wings to shreds without a second thought. That’s also the story of “Bad,” which like its obvious predecessor “Beat It” shows a scared inner city kid trying to assert himself against a hostile environment.

    It’s also the story of Michael Jackson as seen in the lyrics of his songs from “Billie Jean” to “Dirty Diana” to “Stranger in Moscow.” The inviting smile is gone forever, replaced by a scowl, a sneer, and a crotch grab. Anger is a good cover for fear, for a while. And so the video for this electropop song shows Jackson dressed up like Judas Priest, with enough buckles and studs on his black leather suit to pose a substantial hazard in an MRI suite. The long hair is supposed to be edgy and Bon Joviesque (and, as you note, totally at odds with the actual song’s synthy, harmonized pop), but when a formerly short-haired man goes long, it’s often not a fashion statement, but a sign that life is falling apart, and grooming has taken a back seat to survival. So yes, “Bad” is a good song. But it also chronicles the next chapter in the sad book of the King of Pop.

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