“Billie Jean” was released as the second single from one of the most famous albums of all time by all artists-“Thriller” in 1983. “Thriller” is Michael Jackson’s sixth studio album and has achieved an immortal status among the music community. According to Wikipedia, “Thriller” is the best selling album of all time, and “Billie Jean” was a big part of its success. The sales of both the single and the album still continue today. Other notable singles of the album were “Thriller,” “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” and “Beat It.”
“Billie Jean” won two Grammy Awards under R&B categories while being nominated for the prestigious ‘Song of the Year’ award. The song also won an American Music Award for ‘Best Pop/R&B Song,’ all in 1984. RollingStone magazine ranked the song at #58 on their list of ‘500 greatest songs of all time.’ The single also spent 7 weeks at #1 spot on Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Who is Billie Jean?
To summarize a long story in short, “Billie Jean” is not about a specific person-at least that is the accepted theory as of now. This theory is largely supported by Michael Jackson’s own autobiography “Moonwalk,” where he writes:
“There never was a real Billie Jean. The girl in the song is a composite of people my brothers have been plagued with over the years. I could never understand how these girls could say they were carrying someone’s child when it wasn’t true…”
However, fans also theorize that this was a personal experience by MJ. Supporting this theory is a story put forward by the co-producer of this song, Quincy Jones. He has said that Jackson met a woman one day by the pool, wearing a bathing suit and sunglasses, and had accused MJ of being the father to her twins. But according to MJ, this was a common phenomenon faced by the popular stars back in the day. So, there could have been one specific Billie Jean or it is just a name they picked in random.
Quincy Jones and MJ had apparently argued about the title of the song. Quincy wanted to name it “Not My Lover” to avoid confusion with the tennis star Billie Jean King. But we can see who won that argument.
Watch “Billie Jean” Music Video by Michael Jackson
Even the “Billie Jean” music video has its own rich story. This was the first music video with an African American that gained major airtime on television. MTV, who was accused of racism back then, played this video on rotation and hence, this song is considered to have marked a turning point in music video history.
In a nutshell, the music video shows paparazzi following Michael Jackson as he strolls down the street, engaged in his high-octane dance choreography. Even though the paparazzi snap pictures of MJ, he does not materialize in the photos. Every step MJ takes and everything he touches lit up-possibly to show his star power. Finally, MJ approaches a hotel where he is supposedly meeting Billie Jean. Under the covers of the bed, MJ disappears and the paparazzi who had been following MJ to the hotel are arrested by the police for spying on Billie Jean. The video was directed by Steve Barron.
Michael Jackson Performing “Billie Jean” Live and Introducing the ‘Moonwalk’
Lyrics Review and Song Meaning of “Billie Jean”
We will go through the lyrics in the light that this is a song about a girl named Billie Jean who tried to falsely accuse Michael Jackson is the father of her kids.
MJ sets the background to the story in the first verse. She was an attractive woman and she calls up MJ to the dance floor for a round. “Who will dance on the floor in the round?” line on the first verse is quite unclear of the meaning. It could be a simple offer for a dance, or a metaphor for sex, which would also fit the theme of the song.
The dance was on, and she introduces herelf as ‘Billie Jean.’ It goes well until she causes a ruckus on the dance floor. Everyone’s heads turn towards them. Everyone has those eyes that lust to be ‘the one’ to dance with her. But MJ is ‘the one’ in this instance, which he probably was regretting after the scene she caused.
These lyrics shed some light on the confusing scenario unfolding in “Billie Jean.” Michael Jackson starts explaining what the ruckus was about.
MJ says he was warned of the girls he would have relationships with-especially when you are as big as Micheal Jackson-King of Pop. Everybody is out to get you, and these Billie Jeans are as bad as any other. MJ had been properly warned by his mother as well, to be on the lookout for the people whom you love and lose. Lies can be made to seem truths.
When performing as The Jackson 5 with his brothers, Michael Jackson saw the conquests of his brothers, which he explains as;
“They used to call them groupies in the 60’s. They would hang around backstage doors, and any band that would come to town they would have a relationship with, and I think I wrote this out of experience with my brothers when I was little. There were a lot of Billie Jeans out there. Every girl claimed that their son was related to one of my brothers.”
Is this the real inspiration behind “Billie Jean,” we would never know.
MJ Performing “Billie Jean” at Its 30th Anniversary
Lyrics of the chorus finds MJ emphasizing on the fact that ‘Billie Jean’ was not his lover or partner, and it is impossible that they made a kid together. MJ believes that she is just lying with ulterior motives. ‘The one’ which was mentioned in previous verses appear again in the chorus. But MJ is firm on the fact that this kid is not his.
If the story of the ‘groupies’ was true, it is hard to deny the possibility that there could have been a few accidental impregnations as well.
‘Forty days and forty nights’ hold some significance in religion and literature. Genesis 5 in the Bible speaks about rain falling on earth for forty days and forty nights. 40 days and 4o nights is also the length of a lent.
However, it seems as if Billie Jean took the issue to the court which dragged on for forty days and nights. The court was favoring on Billie Jean, which probably would have reminded of his mother’s warnings-“lies become truths.”
MJ believes he was caught up in her ‘schemes and plans’ and all they had was a ‘dance on the round’ whatever that means! Now MJ gives the listeners some advice-to think twice and hard about getting involved with people.
Interesting how in the fourth verse of “Billie Jean,” Michael Jackson calls it “my” baby. He was in strong denial of his parentage up until now. Or was is that the court proceeding ended with enforcing parentage on Michael?
This ‘Billie Jean’ girl shows a photo of her baby and MJ is taken aback by the baby’s eyes which he thinks looks like his. It is quite clear how lies become truths now. You speak of a lie long enough and it becomes the accepted truth and even you, yourself will believe the lie.
All this because they decided to ‘dance on the floor in the round.’
The second and final bridge of the song puts an interesting twist on the whole story. It seems that Billie Jean was seducing him. This could very well be a flashback to the first time they danced on the floor. Are the memories coming back to MJ? Did he really follow her to her room? The sweet perfume smell, those movie star looks and crazy dances must have intoxicated MJ enough to forget the night. And he also says it all happened too fast for him to grab on to any of it.
Either way, this final bridge makes it seem like Billie Jean was right all along, and Michael Jackson did make a mistake. However, he does not want to accept it.
The chorus that ends “Billie Jean” track is almost a cry in an anguish of the mistake he has done. He keeps on screaming that she is not his lover and that kid is not his. But the reality has already struck him too hard.
Thus, we conclude one of the most iconic songs from the vault by Michael Jackson. You can really feel the MJ touch in the lyrics, music composition, production, the video and choreography in the entire song.
We thoroughly enjoyed analyzing and interpreting this iconic track. Let us know what you think about “Billie Jean” song, lyrics and music video, and let us know if you have different interpretations of the song and the music video.
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Full Lyrics to “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson