Many of the songs Jackson writes are very personal in nature, but this one (which he wrote himself) tells the fictional story of a particularly adept gangster, something far from his personal experience. Jackson takes the role of onlooker in the song, coming across the victim and asking her over and over - "Annie are you OK?" Apparently, Annie is not OK, as she's been struck by the smooth criminal.
This song was a highlight of Jackson's live shows, where he performed variations of the 45 degree lean popularized in the video, often leaving the crowd wondering how it was done. The routine grew more elaborate over time; on the Dangerous tour (1992-1993), he basically reenacted the video with four dancers. The HIStory tour (1996-1997) brought a more theatrical performance, with Jackson dressed like a 1930s Chicago gangster. He would appear on stage with a prop machine gun and blast away six or so rival gangsters, whose bodies were then dragged off stage to great applause.
There are four versions of the video, with the original being in the Moonwalker
film. The most famous aspect of the video is the forward lean where Michael and his dancers appear to defy gravity. In the video, ropes and magnets were used to achieve the special effect. On stage, the dancers wore special shoes that could be furtively inserted into pegs on the stage floor, then quickly removed to resume full motion. The technique was filed under United States Patent Law
by Jackson and two collaborators in 1993, although the patent expired in 2005. (thanks, Becca - Fort Collins, CO)
It was the recording engineer, Bruce Swedien, who was the voice of the police chief on Jackson's recording.
Alien Ant Farm's version was a hit in 2001, going to #23 in the US and #3 in the UK.
That thumping you hear at the beginning is Jackson's own heartbeat, digitally processed through a Synclavier.
Colin Chilvers directed the Moonwalk film, including the 42-minute "Smooth Criminal" segment. Chilvers, who also directed films like The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) and Superman (1978), was inspired by the golden age of Hollywood. He explained to Rolling Stone: "I showed Michael a movie that I felt would fit the theme of the piece, The Third Man. He loved the look of it, that sort of film-noir look, so we used that to get the camera man to light it in a similar way. The dance piece was a tribute to Fred Astaire. And actually, he wears a similar kind of costume that Fred had used in one of his movies – Band Wagon. We had the pleasure of having Fred's choreographer come on the set. [Astaire's choreographer] Hermes Pan visited the set while we were doing the song and dance piece and said that Fred would have been very happy and proud of being copied by such a wonderful person.
The lean that we did, obviously that was a bit of a heritage from my days of Superman. 'Cause we had Michael on wires and fixed his feet to the ground so he could do that famous lean. I fixed their heels to the ground with a slot, so that they were locked into it. If you look in the video, when they come back up from that lean, they kind of shuffle their feet back – they were unlocking themselves from the support they had in the ground.
We had 46 dancers plus the choreographers, hair, make-up, everything else. And every day, lunchtime, we'd go and watch the dailies from the day before. And it would be like a party going on in the screening room. Michael would be there as well and they would be hoopin' and hollerin' when they saw themselves and how good it looked – or else, Michael would say, 'We can do better than that.' Not the usual way to make a Hollywood movie, that's for sure."