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Billie Jean

by

Michael Jackson



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

This song is about a girl who claimed that Jackson was the father of her child. Jackson based it on a woman who used to stalk him, writing him letters about a son she thought was his. Jackson rarely spoke about this woman, but he had a very hard time dealing with this unwanted attention, and he became more reclusive as a result. The song was his way of expressing his feelings without addressing her directly.

While Jackson didn't give many details about the real Billie Jean, his producer Quincy Jones said that Jackson found the woman one day lounging by his pool with a bathing suit and sunglasses on. According to Jones, she accused Jackson of being the father of one of her twins, which Jones thought was pretty funny.
In his autobiography Moonwalk, Jackson said that Quincy Jones wanted to change the title to "Not My Lover" because he thought it would be confused with the tennis star Billie Jean King. Jackson ended up winning that battle.
Michael Jackson says about this song in Moonwalk, "A musician knows hit material. It has to feel right. Everything has to feel in place. It fulfills you and it makes you feel good. You know it when you hear it. That's how I felt about 'Billie Jean.' I knew it was going to be big while I was writing it. I was really absorbed in that song. One day during a break in a recording session I was riding down the Ventura Freeway with Nelson Hayes, who was working with me at the time. 'Billie Jean' was going around in my head and that's all I was thinking about. We were getting off the freeway when a kid on a motorcycle pulls up to us and says, 'Your car's on fire.' Suddenly we noticed the smoke and pulled over and the whole bottom of the Rolls-Royce was on fire. That kid probably saved our lives. If the car had exploded, we could have been killed. But I was so absorbed by this tune floating in my head that I didn't even focus on the awful possibilities until later."
According to Rolling Stone magazine's Top 500 songs, Jackson came up with the song's rhythm track on his home drum machine and nailed the vocals in one take.
This won the 1983 Grammy Award for Best Rhythm & Blues Vocal Performance and Best Rhythm & Blues Song for the writer Michael Jackson.
The video for this song is often credited with breaking the color barrier on MTV, which debuted August 1, 1981. The clip for "Pass The Dutchie" by Musical Youth was the first video by a black act to make regular rotation on the network, but they were considered a novelty, with no member older than 16.

Jackson's "Billie Jean" video was the first to make heavy rotation, and more black faces started appearing on the network soon after, notably Prince. MTV was accused of racism in this era, notably by Rick James, whose "Super Freak" clip was rejected by the network. 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 (like Musical Youth), 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, and a precursor to the video game Dance Dance Revolution, as some scenes showed Jackson performing his dance moves by stepping on squares as they would light up.

Despite the production value and Jackson's star quality, MTV didn't play the video until the song was already a #1 hit. Les Garland, who ran the network at the time, claims that they loved the video and played it as soon as they could, but interviews with executives at Jackson's record company and with others familiar with the matter suggest otherwise. In the book I Want My MTV, multiple sources who worked at MTV claimed that the network wanted to air the "Beat It" video first, because Eddie Van Halen played on it and the song fit their format. Walter Yetnikoff, who was head of CBS Records (Jackson's was signed to its subsidiary, Epic), recalls threatening to pull all CBS videos from MTV if they didn't play "Billie Jean." He says he threatened to bring Jackson's producer Quincy Jones in on it as well, and the network acquiesced. When MTV started playing the clip, it was first put in medium rotation, then promoted to heavy rotation when viewers loved it. When the video for "Beat It" was delivered, that one also went into hot rotation. For a two month stretch in the summer of 1983, both videos were getting constant airplay, establishing Jackson as a video star. His next video effort was for "Thriller," which revolutionized music videos.
This was the second of 7 US top 10 hits from the Thriller album. "The Girl Is Mine" was released before this.
The video showcased Jackson's signature dance moves that he became famous for. His talents as a dancer helped make him a huge concert draw and a star on MTV. High-energy dancing was a huge part of his act, and artists like New Kids on the Block and his sister Janet followed his lead and made dance moves as big a part of their shows as singing. This trend continued as groups like *NSYNC and The Backstreet boys followed suit. Jackson choreographed the dance moves himself.
On the 1983 TV special 25 Years Of Motown, Jackson did The Moonwalk for the first time while performing this song. This was also the first time Jackson wore his famous white glove on stage - at the time it was a modified golf glove.
Jackson shot a Pepsi commercial in 1984 performing this with the lyrics altered to sing the praises of the soda. During the shoot, his hair caught fire from the pyrotechnics and he was rushed to the hospital. The commercial aired on the Grammy awards.
The UPC code on the album cover contained 7 digits that were rumored to be Jackson's telephone number. People with that number in many different area codes got swamped with annoying calls.
This inspired an "answer song" - Lydia Murdock's 1983 disco hit "Superstar." In "Superstar," Murdock adopts the persona of Billie Jean, telling her side of the story. No word on if Jackson ever heard it. (thanks, Adam - Dewsbury, England)
According to Q magazine, March 2008, Michael Jackson wrote this in his home studio in Encino. He worked for 3 weeks on the bass line alone.
Producer and record mogul Antonio "LA" Reid told Rolling Stone magazine April 15, 2004: "Billie Jean is the most important record he's made, not only because of its commercial success but because of the musical depth of the record. It has more hooks in it than anything I've ever heard. Everything in that song was catchy, and every instrument was playing a different hook. You could separate it into 12 different musical pieces and I think you'd have 12 different hits. Every day, I look for that kind of song." (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
Former Soundgarden lead singer Chris Cornell recorded a stripped-down, emotional version of this song for his 2007 solo album Carry On. In March, 2008, David Cook performed a similar version on American Idol, drawing rave reviews from the judges and some criticism from viewers who felt he ripped off Cornell's version. (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
Quincy Jones discussed this song in a radio interview printed in Radio Times. The Thriller producer recalled: "The intro to 'Billie Jean' was so long you could shave during it. I said we had to get to the melody sooner…but Michael said that was what made him want to dance. And when Michael Jackson says something makes him want to dance, you don't argue, so he won."
In the first chart week following Jackson's death, he placed a record 21 entries on the Hot Digital Songs chart, including this song. The late singer thus overtook the mark of 14 charted titles established by David Cook on the June 7, 2008, chart. One of Cook's cuts that week was his cover of this tune.
During an interview in Thailand, Jackson was asked about the inspiration behind this song. He replied: "There is a girl named Billie Jean, but it's not about that Billie Jean. Billie Jean is kind of anonymous. It represents a lot of girls. They used to call them groupies in the '60s. 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."
The music video was directed by Steve Barron, who was chosen because Jackson and Quincy Jones likes his work on the Human League video for "Don't You Want Me." Barron's original idea was more complex and involved a group of dancers. With budget a factor, they simplified the concept and went with the idea of Jackson having a Midas Touch, with the squares he stepped on lighting up. To save on set design, they used a technique where painted glass was placed in front of the camera to fill in the wide shots without building actual set pieces. You can see this on some shots where Jackson is on a sidewalk with a city landscape behind him.
The song re-entered the Hot 100 at #14 in June 2014 as a result of the popularity of a viral video featuring the track. 17-year-old Brett Nichols performed a Michael Jackson dance routine for his school's talent show, backed by the song's original audio. The clip of this performance racked up 15 million views on YouTube in about a week.
Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson Artistfacts
More Michael Jackson songs
More songs with girls' names in the title
More songs in heavy rotation in the early days of MTV
More songs that won Grammys
More songs about groupies
More songs produced by Quincy Jones
More songs used in commercials

Comments (56):

Interview with the girl in this video, including what she's doing now and never-published pics: http://noblemania.blogspot.com/2014/07/the-girl-in-video-billie-jean-and-cuts.html
- Marc, -, MD
@Sam, Seal Beach, CA You are rude, ignorant and obviously have a tin ear. This is the same basic riff. Moondance is a shuffle. Billy Jean is straight-8. Its the same chord progressionsame fundamental melody and same fundamental bass line. They are not in the same keys. Big Deal. (You probably can't tell that.) BJ is a whole step lower than MD. I suppose you'd als try to say that "Steal Away" by Bobby Dupree isn't based on What a Fool believes by Michael McDonald & Kenny Loggins. Tone-deaf MORON
- Martin, Norcross, GA
The whole world knows now Michael Jackson was INNOCENT. Funny how in the USA you are so spoon-fed by tabloids and sensationalism, you just forget the FACTS.
Anybody heard about the FBI files? Jackson has been followed for 15 years, his computers, books, everything was searched, his phones were taped, etc, and the FBI stated officially they NEVER found anything wrong with him. When will people wake up?

Read Aphrodite Jones's book, all about the trial, everything is there!!! Jackson was victim of crazy extorsionists, Janet Arvizo even did the same trick before (false accusations of sex harrassment and rape), it is totally CLEAR. After reading the book, you just won't believe how ignorant we are, to believe anything sensationnal in the press.

Wake up people, a juicy "story" about Jackson back at the times could give you 60 000$, what do you think happened!!! Fired ex-employees, employees who stole on his property, money-hungry losers, etc. could say any sh*t and get paid for their lies! Another thing we have learned during the trial! People should get INFORMED.
- Isabelle, montreal, QC
I got a leather jacket named Billie Jean.
- Brandon, Arlington, OH
This song was the sh!t back in the day. The ironic part is that Jack-o had no interest in women what so ever. I really think that someone did something to him when he was a kid, because you don't get like that just because you were an overworked child star. ..doesn't help any, but still you don't end up like how he did unless something happened to you as a kid. And this song is still the sh!t
- Jay, wheaton, MD
Thanks for bringing to my attention...Lydia Murdock's " Superstar"
One of the many aspects of Rock and Roll... It is a continuous story.
- brady, Niagara Falls, NY
On March 5th, 1982 "Billie Jean" reached No. 1 and stayed there for seven weeks, then "Come on Eileen" by Dexys Midnight Runners became No. 1 for one week. But Michael Jackson reclaimed No. 1 with "Beat It" and stayed there for three weeks!!!
- Barry, Sauquoit, NY
This is such a haunting song!When I go to sleep at night I think of this song.
- Adana, St.Petersbug, FL
To Billy in TX, and Rachel in OH, you need to check the facts, Michael was 100% innocent of any wrong doing with children. Stop reading the lies and look for the truth, it's there for anyone willing to look.
- Judy, Somewhere, FL
http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=9529
This may be on of the greatest pop songs of all time but lets give credit where credit is due. I Can't Go For That (No Can Do) by Hall and Oats inspired this song.
- Mike, Los Angeles, CA
"She said I am the one who will dance on the floor in the round." WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
- Don, B G, KY
i can (somewhat) relate to the late MJ, lyrically. i had a girlfriend who was a jealous biatch and whenever i mentioned other gilrs she got all "you're my property! tell her to eff off! you're mine!" and s--t like that. oddlt enough i saw the MJ 'This is it' movie three days after i broke up with her.
- charlie, las vegas, NV
MJ played himself the bass on this song using a Yamaha Bass Guitar......that's cool... R.I.P. King Of Pop
- abdullaah, kuala lumpur, Malaysia
Hey Jan from Lawrenceville GA. your stupider than Heidi from the hills I just went to Grooveshark.com and listened to moondance by Morrison and it sounds nothing like Billie Jean he's good but not as good as Michael R.I.P
- sam, Seal Beach, CA
I have seen many performances of this song. And aside from the one in Bucharest, he lip synchs. Its more noticeable in this song, because there are just certain parts he can't pull off live". Nevertheless, best dancer...heck, best entertainer.
- Matt, Seminole, OK
"Billie Jean" a very good song. I remember the clip, the images stopped while Michael Jackson was dancing. I'm very sorry that since many years people talk about all things concerning Michael and forget how talented he was. Rest in peace Michael in a world without pain and tears.
- Teresa, Mechelen, Belgium
Michael was with out a doubt one of the worlds greatest entertainers.... I really would have liked to have seen him stay much much longer on this earth where he gave so much love and magic to people from his music....Michael YOU WILL BE MISSED VERY MUCH.
- Dean, Miami , FL
ok, jan from lawrenceville...chill out. ok thanks for imforming that you think its a rip off..but seriously it sounds like Michael worked way hard on this song and that deserves respect. dont hate. Rest In Peace King Of Pop.
- Jackie, Katy, TX
This is a cool song. Now Michael honestly had horrorable personal life, but a exetremely sucsessful professional life. Really I hated him when he was alive, but now I starting to remember he was only human. I'm not forgiveing him for horrorable things he did, but he did do more in his short 50-year life than what most men could do in three lifes. Michael Joesph Jackson 1958-2009.
- Billy, Nederland , TX
Billy jean is one of my favorite songs of the 80,s & my fav of M.J. RIP M.J. 7/3/09
- James, yucaipa, CA
David Cook really nailed this song.
- Theresa, Murfreesboro, TN
Sean: The reason for MTV's white-only policy was allegedly demographic. MTV was founded by Les Garland and Bob Pittman. Their idea was to keep the channel "rock-oriented", which in practice meant they wanted to attract mainly college-age white men, and blacks and Hispanics need not apply. Artists like David Bowie and Rick James complained about this in interviews, and when asked to respond, Pittman said this: "We don't want to cater to fringe groups." That pretty much gave away the real reason. By 1983, both WTBS and NBC had all-night video shows which included black artists, causing further pressure on MTV. Finally, Walter Yetnikoff, the president of CBS Records, threatened to pull all their videos off MTV unless they would include a Michael Jackson video. They so did (Billie Jean), and their focus began to switch from plain rock & roll to pop, funk and R&B.
- Ekristheh, Halath, United States
Michael jacson was a musical Genius.
Nobody will ever sell as many records as he has - and will continue to sell for ever.
Elvis still sells records afterall,

I can't believe he's dead, I grew up with his music, danced to it at school discos, done the thriller video dance with mates at parties for a laugh.

So, he may have been a little weird, rumoured to be into young boys etc

But his music brought and still BRINGS joy to people all over the world.

I only hope he is remembered for his achievements rather than any discrepancies :(

RIP MJ
- LauraLee, Glasgow, United Kingdom
Rest In Peace, Michael Jackson...
- Hetfield, Port Louis, Mauritius
awesome song, apparently, its a true story. A fan claimed that he was the father of her child, and she insisted that he take responsibility. she sent a gun, and asked him to kill himself. the fan was later sent to the hospital, and it was confirmed that she was crazy. i think it's true, at least.
- Taylor, Mountain View , CA
THIS SONG was a rip off of VAN MORRISON'S MOON DANCE, i don't know why people to this day can't figure it out. THE RIFF TO MOON DANCE AND THE BEAT ARE IDENTICAL TO BILLIE JEAN, shame on michael and shame on you people who can't figure it out. you can even sing billie jean to the moon dance riff as its playing.
- jan, lawrenceville, GA
1) MJ didn't invent the 'moonwalk' its a break dancing move that he threw into his choreography. His doing the moonwalk made breakdancing commercial which of course killed it's popularity in urban areas.

2) MTV definitely had a policy of not playing black music videos. Whether this policy was based on racism or a demographic based business model we will never know. This policy is the reason that Black Entertainment Televisions' (BET) video music slots were so successful. Other video channels as well as music video slots like Friday Night Videos played black music videos.
- Sean, Washington, DC
I remember this inspiring one of the funniest mondegreens when Letterman and Paul Shaffer used to make fun of it on "Late Night" back in the early 80s: "But the CHAIR is not my son!"
- S.D., Denver, CO
The Chris Cornell version is very different and very cool.. This version was also covered by David Cook on season 7 of American Idol, I think the theme was songs from the year the contestant was born. (Babies!)
- Mel, Riverbank, CA
A remix of this song entitled Billie Jean 2008 featuring Kanye West will be included in Michael Jackson's Thriller 25 album due out Febuary 2008.

Billie Jean is one of the best songs ever created. Perfection.
- Aya, NSW, Australia, United States
Too bad the man Jackson became overshadowed the man he once was. He really was, and still is, a talented songwriter.
- Matt, New York, NY
one of my favorite all time songs. i just love that line " she told me her name was billie jean and she caused a scene"
- Caitlin, Upper Township, NJ
Has anyone heard Chris Cornell's cover of this song. It's... different.
- Matt, Uxbridge, MA
John, MTV had a policy against playing black artists on the network. CBS record execs had to threaten to pull their others artists' videos from MTV in order to force MTV to play "Billie Jean".
- Carl, San Diego, CA
This is the best song of all time it really changed the sound of music and is still played alot today
- stuart, belfast, Ireland
when he came to Australia , i was watching him perform this song on stage . seemed like he was miming ......didn't even sound like it was live...i wonder
- pete, nowra, Australia
In an interview with Michael Jackson himself, he said that when he was singing with the Jackson 5 his older brothers (especially Jermaine) had women claiming they fathered their babies. His brothers refered to them collectively by the androgynous name of Billie Jean. Fifteen years (or so) later Michael writes this song, inspired by his brothers' experiences...NOT from his own experience.
- Brandon, Peoria, IL
best song of all time
- jason, dublin, Ireland
In reply to Lala (anywhere, MT), on the Thriller special edition CD Quincy Jones says a woman jumped into his backyard and accused Michael of being the father of one of her twins...(!)
- Nelson, Melbourne
I'm with you John, and Ash... and I love this song, but I don't think anyone today would doubt little Mikey if he said he didn't father Billie Jean's son... Now if he said he didn't touch Billie Jean's son, that would be a different story entirely... Sometimes I hate living in the 21st century.
- Rachel, South Point, OH
actually on the Thriller special edition CD, Quincy Jones says that Michael said that it was about some random girl that jumped over a fence who he found laying out by his pool one day and was accusing him of being her babys daddy.
- lala, anywhere, MT
To Brian in Philadlphia: Michael Jackson was plenty old enough to have fathered a child when Billie Jean was released. Michael was born in 1958, this song was released in 1982.
- Paul, Detroit, MI
when i first heard of michael jackson i didnt know who he was until i saw a magazine. then i saw his interviews and bought all of his cds. and other stuff. i so love this song. i sing to every one of his songs
- sarah floyd, bloomingdale, IL
The moonwalk was first performed in a live concert of this song. Turns out, the night before, when he and his choreographer were practicing for the concert. Michael, just messin' around, did the moonwalk. The choreographer told him to do it again, and again, and again. The next night, when he did it during the guitar solo of "Billie Jean", the fans loved it. After that he did it in "Billie Jean" and "Smooth Criminal". I don't know if you have seen the first time he did the moonwalk, but it is amazing.
Thus, the moonwalk was born! : )
- Dawson, Draper, UT
I agree with Akash. It rocks. I betcha Akasha gets straight A's in school 'cause she knows that MJ owns. Peace out 'yall.
- Dawson, Draper, UT
I think this song is awesome! Too many people underestimate Michael's talent just because he has an unusual sexual preference.
- AJ, Cleveland, GA
How could there possibly have been a color barrier for this song to break on mtv? The network was barely a year old. I think the fact that someone put that as a songfact is evidence of our country's over emphasis on race and racial tensions. Maybe there wasn't a color barrier, perhaps instead no other black artists had made videos available to MTV. Not taking anything away from the song or video, but it seems to me that saying this broke the race barrier is ignorant when the lack of black artists on MTV was probably due to the fact that it wasn't that popular yet and the few if any black artists had sent them videos. Jackie Robinson broke a color barrier. Michael Jackson did not. (all this is my opinion and i'm open to any logical arguments.)
- John, Fort Thomas, KY
It was Michael's older brothers and the groupies that were around on tour that were the inspiration for the song. He would have been a little too young for that situation. Besides, we all know its not young females that floats his boat.
- Brian, Philadelphia, PA
This song is a CLASSIC !
I never get tired of listenin to it.
This song was #1 for 7 weeks making it MIchael Jackson's biggest single.
Love the beat and the vocals for the song.
- Akash, Abbotsford(use to be Vancouver, United States
I wonder if the story is true.
- Jade, Chippewa Falls, WI
The greatest dance song ever made. Although lyrics are a bit depressing

Written and composed by Michael Jackson
Arranged by Michael Jackson
Produced by Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones
- Jam Kemal, lindua, South Africa
michael j is the greatest singer of all time, and billie jean just tops it! personally i favour his song called 'threatened' in his invincible album!
- Alia, midlands, China
awesome song, classic, just classic
- Shana, Pembroke, Canada
Yeah! Billie Jean was the #1 black video on MTV! Michael broke barrier color! I love this music! That's Great! I agree, Michael Jackson is the King Of Pop!
- Bárbara, São Paulo, Brazil
This song inspired a parody, "Little Billy", with lyrics "Little Billy...is not my lover. He's just a boy....". A little foreboding, I think...
- Melissa, Irvine, CA
When Billie Jean reached #1, Michael became only the fifth artist to have the #1 pop song, #1 soul song,and the #1 album concurrently...the others being Ray Charles (1962), Stevie Wonder (1963), Sly & the Family Stone (1971), and Donna Summer (1979).
- cio, lithonia, GA
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