Article from Rolling Stone, January 9th, 1992
- by Michael Goldberg
Certainly Michael Jackson couldn't have imagined kicking off this round of career activity with a bigger bang. And yet the question remains: No matter how much hype is generated, can Jackson ever surpass his previous sales records? In the headline of a story that ran the week before the "Black Or White" video aired, the New York Times asked the question on every Jackson watcher's mind: "Thriller - Can Michael Jackson Beat It?"
Roughly two-thirds of Jackson's audience is located outside North America. In countries such as England and Japan, Michael Jackson is a very hot item. Clearly, he hopes to regain his audience here. And yet Jackson's own expectations seem impossible for any artist to achieve: He is hoping to sell 100 million copies of "Dangerous."
"If it sold 100 million, I don't think he'd be totally satisfied," says Bruce Swedien, one of the coproducers of the album. "But he'd hold still for that."
"With Michael, as with any superstar, reality and fantasy are totally confused," says John Landis. "It is very difficult to remain sane. I think he is doing the right thing by cutting himself off from the press, because the press tends to write what it wants anyway. He's very smart; he's a very nice man."
He also replaced his business manager and, more significantly, attorney John Branca, who had not only handled numerous complex legal cases and acted as interim manager at various critical points in Jackson's ascent but had also negotiated Jackson's purchase of the Beatles song catalog, now worth more than $120 million, three times what Jackson paid for it.
Finally Jackson left home, moving into Neverland and, according to several sources, distancing himself from at least some members of the family.
Surprisingly, despite a fresh cabinet of advisers, Jackson's new strategy for topping himself isn't new at all. Instead, he seems to be repeating, with slight variations, what has worked for him in the past.
Yet, things have changed since "Thriller" and "Bad." While rap became a force to be reckoned with, hard rock once again captured the nation's attention. Producers like L.A. Reid and BabyFace and Teddy Riley created New Jack Swing, the latest version of soul music. Stars like Madonna and Peter Gabriel, Hammer and R.E.M. have raised the stakes where video is concerned. And the Rolling Stones pulled off the biggest, most flamboyous tour of the decade.
As far as his album went, Michael Jackson, the biggest star in the world, had to come up with something that looked and sounded new and fresh yet wouldn't alienate his millions of fans, many of whom have decidedly conservative tastes.
Jackson's solution was to create a mass-appeal album in which about half of the songs mimic his previous work ("Heal the World" being an obvious rewrite of "We Are the World"; "Who Is It" copping his "Bille Jean" moves; "Black Or White" recalling "State of Shock.") He also brought in Teddy Riley to whip up cutting-edge street beats to make the album sound more contemporary.
And then, to announce the album in a style appropriate for "The King Of Pop," Jackson brought in his old friend John Landis for an encore. Landis had last worked with Jackson on the "Thriller" video in 1983. Although Landis says he doesn't have the exact figures, he estimates from his experience that "Black Or White" may have cost as much as $7 million. (Dave Glew, president of Epic Records, denies this figure but would not divulge the actual amount.) It also took about two months to shoot.
The weeks of filming found many celebrities dropping by the set, including Paul McCartney, Nancy Reagan, the O'Jays, Emmanuel Lewis and, naturally, Jackson's latest friend, "Home Alone" star Macaulay Culkin, who is not only featured in "Black Or White", but also appears on the cover of "Dangerous."
"Michael's really a celebrity magnet," says Landis. Then chuckling he adds: "I remember looking over at one of those giant, seven foot speakers Michael was having the sound played through, and Nancy Reagan was standing right in front of it. All I had to yell was 'Play-back,' and that would have been it."
"Black Or White" became one of the most expensive one-song videos ever made because of, among other things, the cost of the cast and the crew, which Landis says would read like "the credits to Ben Hur", and the extremely expensive "morphing" process used to transform men into women and Jackson into a panther.
And then there were the days when Landis and the crew were all set up on location, ready to begin filming, when Landis would get a call informing him that the star wouldn't be showing up at all. "I was told, on one occation," says Landis, "that Michael Jackson was doing a commercial for Sony Television, Japan."
Jackson also had his album to finish. "It was a difficult schedule," says Vince Paterson, who will be directing a video for "Jam" should Sony go ahead with the song as a single. "There were days when we were put on hold while he worked on the album. The album had to take precedence. So the video got scrambled. And if Michael was in the studio for eighteen hours, there was no point in then bringing him out to the set and trying to shoot him. He would have been dead, he would have been exhausted, and we would have just had to reshoot it anyway.
"If you've got a sound stage and equipment and people, you have to pay everyone involved whether or not anything gets done," says Paterson. "A lot of the expense was due to that. Bam! A couple hundred thousand dollars - gone!"
Landis says the video's controversial four-minute ending was entirely Jackson's idea. "He wanted it to be even more sexually explicit," says Landis, adding that some of the dancing they shot was even more extreme. As for the negative reaction to that part of the video - which resulted in Jackson's decision to cut out the entire ending - Landis says: "It was not so much what Michael was doing but the juxtaposition of simulated masturbation with the violence. And of course, the fact that it was Michael. I do not know that we discussed his intention, It was simply 'I'd like to do this' and me giving him what he wanted."
...to be continued!