Music Review: Michael Jackson “Billie Jean”
Michael Jackson’s affair with a groupie comes back to haunt him in the persuasive “Billie Jean.”
Throbbing drums open the single, punctuated by cunning synthesizers. Jackson describes Billie Jean as a stunning woman with a glamorous aura. She’s aggressive but charming. He can’t read her yet is entranced by her as they dance. He would like to know who she is like.
Then, she confronts him, throwing him off his guard. She tells him she’s Billie Jean , a lover he had years ago. People are staring at them, whispering and speculating. “She was more like a beauty queen from a movie scene/I said don’t mind, but what do you mean I am the one/Who will dance on the floor in the round/She said I am the one, who will dance on the floor in the round/She told me her name was Billie Jean, as she caused a scene/Then every head turned with eyes that dreamed of being the one/Who will dance on the floor in the round.”
In the pre-chorus, he remembers advice his family had told him. They told him not to use women and watch for red flags. Also, to realize people will believe others if there lies have even a morsel of credibility. “People always told me be careful of what you do/And don’t go around breaking young girls’ hearts/And mother always told me be careful of who you love/
And be careful of what you do ’cause the lie becomes the truth.”
In the chorus, he says Billie Jean is a delusional, insignificant woman who thinks he is committed to her. He denies the child is his. “Billie Jean is not my lover/She’s just a girl who claims that I am the one/But the kid is not my son/She says I am the one, but the kid is not my son.”
In the second verse, Billie Jean takes him to court for child support. For the first month and a half, the judges are ruling in her favor. He seethes with every court appearance, knowing her manipulation of the truth is being believable. He regrets even knowing her name and getting involved. She has told the child that she and Daddy spent all night dancing together. Then, pulls out a photograph from her purse when the child was first born. Jackson deduces that the child’s eyes are a different color, therefore the child cannot be his. “For forty days and forty nights/The law was on her side/But who can stand when she’s in demand/Her schemes and plans/’Cause we danced on the floor in the round/So take my strong advice, just remember to always think twice/(Don’t think twice! Do think twice!)/She told my baby we’d danced till three, then she looked at me/Then showed a photo a baby cried his eyes weren’t like mine (oh, no!)/
‘Cause we danced on the floor in the round, baby.”
The pre-chorus changes quite a bit. Jackson recalls how the scent of her perfume enticed him. They then slept together. “People always told me be careful of what you do/And don’t go around breaking young girls’ hearts/She came and stood right by me/Then the smell of sweet perfume/This happened much too soon/She called me to her room.”
The chorus is sung five times, with a dance break in between to break the monotony. “Billie Jean is not my lover” is said 19 times.
“Billie Jean” succeeds for its distinguishing beat and fantastic storytelling. Jackson smears her as someone who is out to exploit him. However, he later admits there is truth to what she is saying. Both sides are presented. In the end, Jackson proves to be the shrewd one while Billie Jean becomes a sympathetic character. She’s simply looking for support while he do and say anything to get out of the situation.
Unfortunately, the “Billie Jean” defense is one Jackson would use in his real life. But his deviant, narcisstic behavior does not overshadow the song. In the past years (for me) listening “Bad,” “Smooth Criminal,” or “Man In the Mirror” is jarring considering what he has become.