Today’s Song of the Day is “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson. On this day in 1983, with this song, Michael Jackson became the first Black artist to get heavy rotation on MTV. After launching on August 1, 1981, MTV was reluctant to play music videos by Black artists. MTV denied accusations of racism as they insisted that their format was rock music. MTV was programmed by guys with radio backgrounds who tried to program it like a radio station with a rock format, something that proved impossible because they didn’t have enough videos by rock artists. What they did have were lots of European acts, who had been making videos for years, and were overwhelmingly white. Record companies wouldn’t budget for videos by their black artists since they didn’t think MTV would play them, so the network could make the argument that they simply didn’t have any good videos by black artists that were worthy. That argument went out the window when Jackson made the “Billie Jean” video, which was startlingly innovative.
“Billie Jean” was the second single (after “The Girl is Mine“) from Jackson’s legendary Thriller album. It reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100, topped the Billboard Hot Black Singles chart within three weeks, and became Jackson’s fastest-rising number one single as a solo artist.
Jackson’s performance of “Billie Jean” on the TV special Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever won acclaim and was nominated for an Emmy Award. It introduced a number of Jackson’s signatures, including his version of the moonwalk, black sequined jacket, and high-water pants.
“Billie Jean” has been recognized with numerous awards and honors. At the 1984 Grammy Awards the song earned Jackson two of a record eight awards; Best R&B Song and Best R&B Male Vocal Performance. It won the Billboard Music Award for favorite dance / disco 12″ LP, and the magazine’s 1980’s poll named “Billie Jean” as the “Black Single of the Decade”. The American Music Awards recognized the track as the Favorite Pop/Rock Single, while Cash Box honored the song with the awards for Top Pop Single and Top Black Single.