Black Or White

Album: Dangerous (1991)
Charted: 1 1

Songfacts®:

  • The lyrics of this song are a plea for racial tolerance. Jackson wrote it with producer Bill Bottrell, who also worked with Jackson on his Bad album and won the 1994 Grammy for Record of the Year for Sheryl Crow's "All I Wanna Do."
  • Slash of Guns N' Roses was often misattributed as playing the guitar intro. He did play on the song "Give in to Me" from the Dangerous album, but definitely not "Black Or White," which he made clear in a Spinner interview. Said Slash: "It just doesn't sound like me, anyone would know that. It's not the guitar sound you would expect from me, but somehow I got pigeonholed as the guy who played on that song."
  • The video featured a morphing technique that was very innovative at the time. Macaulay Culkin and George Wendt (Norm from the sitcom Cheers) appeared in it, as well as Tyra Banks before she gained supermodel status. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Michael - Nobleton, Canada
  • The 11-minute music video, helmed by "Thriller" director John Landis, got a lot of hype. It premiered on MTV, BET, and Fox at the exact same time, and was perhaps the most controversial video ever recorded by Jackson, showing him dancing and destroying all things racist, including a swastika used by the Nazis. During the last four minutes of the clip, which were excised after protests, Jackson also performed some rather explicit crotch grabs, threw a garbage can through a store window, and destroyed a car.

    In response to the controversy, Jackson said: "It upsets me to think that 'Black or White' could influence any child or adult to destructive behavior, either sexual or violent." >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Chris - London, England
  • R&B and hip-hop helmsman Teddy Riley was the main producer on many of Dangerous' tracks. He explained to Musicradar.com his contribution on this song: "I added the percussion to the track. I used wood percussion – cow bells, shakers and things like that. Producer Bill Bottrell had an EIII drum machine playing loops. I sat with the track for a while then I said, 'OK, this is a good track. But what it needs is instrumentation'. It had the guitars and Slash from Guns N' Roses on there but I felt if it was going to play live and acoustical, then we'd need to add some acoustical percussion. It was the case that I'd find the tracks very studio sounding and I wanted to add the live funk to them."
  • A rapper known as LTB performed the rap on this song, which was lip-synched by Macaulay Culkin in the video.
  • Weird Al Yankovic had the idea to parody this song as "Snack All Night," following his food-themed Jackson parodies "Eat It" and "Fat." Jackson, who was a big fan of Yankovic's work, told him to leave this one alone since it was a very meaningful song.

    Al was in a creative funk at the time, but pulled out of it thanks to Nirvana and his parody "Smells Like Nirvana."

    Jackson didn't get the same respect from the show In Living Color, which portrayed him singing this as "Am I Black Or White?," making fun of his increasingly pallid complexion. This bit has him destroying a car as in the video and getting arrested. When a cop cuffs him, he says, "I guess I am black."
  • This was Jackson's 12th #1 hit as a solo artist, putting him in third place (tied with Diana Ross & The Supremes) for the most #1 songs on the Hot 100, behind The Beatles (20) and Elvis Presley (18). Both Mariah Carey, matching Elvis' 18, and Rihanna, with 14, will later beat Jackson's feat.

    It was also the fastest-rising single in 22 years (since The Beatles' "Get Back"), jumping from #35 to #3 in its second week, and landing at #1 in its third week.
  • The success of "Black Or White" solidified Jackson's reputation as "The King of Pop." Although he'd been called the name a couple times in the past, he wanted to make it official, especially since the tabloids had taken a shine to dubbing him "Wacko Jacko" for his eccentric behavior and changing appearance. Any network that hoped to air the song's music video had to agree to refer to Jackson as "The King of Pop." MTV even sent out a memo to its staff instructing personnel to use the moniker at least twice a week up until the premiere.

    Dan Beck, a former executive at Epic Records and part of Jackson's marketing team, worried the push for royal status would hurt the pop star's career. "Believe me, we were trying to talk him out of it," Beck said in a Songfacts interview. "Our feeling was that radio was going to just roll their eyes and say, 'Screw you!'"

    Instead, the video was the most requested clip on MTV and the single reigned at #1 for seven weeks.

Comments: 30

  • Peace Of Fans from InaHi, here iam in 2020 still digging into his s--t lol. What I wanna say is yes I am one of the biggest fans. I fell for his voice, I fell for the way he made for his "art"(in this case, melody, music, instrument, lyrics, concept, style, etc), I found it very strange at first to a 5 yo me seeing a man grabbing his crotch things, n sounded hee hee/aow stuff like that. But he opened me to the music world, from him I learned english, I got to know to any other legend artists, I got entertained when I was down, I got amused and amazed by his art from performances to mv. The more I digging into him, the more I know that there were more songs of him that actually I just heard today. He being crowned as king of pop, as one of the biggest entertainer that ever lived etc with "world" words behind it. I mean he is still global phenomenon. I get it, not all of us accept it, just coz I am a fan of course I digging into his things n declare that he is the best forever. But I didn't agree to some people who praised him a lot like he was an angel n never doing wrong, I mean he was a human too, he had good n bad things. Especially about the look, I'm not trying to judge but to be honest he wasn't good looking in his last day because of his surgery. But I won't judge him because it was what he wanted to do like everyone else who trying to be in their best looks. But may be he failed. I just wanted the non mj especially who likes to mock to respect. But it your choice n right once again. N about his sexuality, let it be his, it shouldn't have to be asked by the world, even they asked whether he is virgin or not in interview wtf right? N what's bothering me most is the allegations. I love kids, n I cursed the one who hurt them, so I don't defend him coz I didn't know the truth behind it, an also I didn't blame him. So please just be at ur peace if y'all don't know the truth, coz if u falsely accused someone, u'll get ur turn one day. Once again it's my opinion, at least I wanted a peace life. Especially for the hater, haw about the fact that he saved even if only one life through his humanitarian stuff? Idk even it was a propaganda to covered up his bad but what about if it was true? Yes, people easily forget our goodness n always bring up the badness. N to those mjfam who I guess u r a fanatic, I don't blame u at all to defend him n praised him like a god, it's ur right, but please be at ur peace, don't insult other artist, coz they're making their best art too, ya maube for us their arts nothing to compare with mj, but the worlds doesn't spinning only to mj, yet mj still part of one of the greatest, and always the greatest for us mjfam. Peace and thank you.
  • Judy from Somewhere, FlTO Alexander, Ciudad Ojeda, Michael had vitiligo, which causes the skin to loose all pigment and become porcelain white.
  • Judy from Somewhere, FlAsh in WY and Dennis in MI, Lexie in London, et al, You need to check the facts, they're out there for anyone willing to take the time to look, Michael was not guilty of any wrong going with a child.
  • Rhi from Kathmandu, Nepalthank you MICHAEL... its an amazing song with a great message.
  • Jennifer Harris from Grand Blanc, MiI loved the video of this with George wendt yelling at Macauley Caulkin[Who was at a WWE Event one time] I also love the song.
  • Karlitos from Ottawa, OnThat video morphing technique is commonplace nowadays, but it was so new back then that it cost $10,000 per second to render.

    But money was no object for MJ and he absolutely wanted it in.
  • Abdullaah from Kuala Lumpur, MalaysiaDamn! How did Slash agree to play the riffs to this song?...It's too simple even my baby brother can play it.......
  • Kahla from Long Beach, CaI love this song and the video is cool. And if you notice he references the KKK when he says i ain't scared of no sheets.
  • Theresa from Murfreesboro, TnHot song, Adam Lambert did a great version of this hit on Idol.
  • Jeff from Austin, TxI always thought it was really humanitarian of Michael Jackson to write a song like this. I mean, here's a wierd looking grey guy, talking about racial equality. Maybe one day everyone will figure out what he is, then someone can write a song about his race.
  • Bob from Hallanedale, FlI have always liked MJ's songs, his voice, and this song is really great. But---why did he do this to his face? MJ was a handsome man at one point until he decided he wanted to look like Diana Ross. Being a Physician/Surgeon, I am trying to comprehend why anyone would want to do this to themselves? What really bothers me is that a surgeon actually agreed to doing this--what kind of a trained doc would do this? Some of my friends and I figured out how he described to the surgeon what he wanted to look like. When the surgeon asked him for a general idea of the appearance he wished to portray, MJ replied "Well doc, I would like to look like s--t!
  • Jena from Leavenworth, KsThe 90's show "In Living Color" did a spoof on tis video in which "Michael" (played by Tommy Davidson) gradually appears whiter and whiter. The words were, "Look me in the face and tell me if you think I'm black or white." At the end of the video, at the car-smashing scene, a cop comes up and handcuffs him to take him to jail. He looks at the camera and says, "Oh! Guess I really am black!" Hilarious!!
  • Aya from NswMy favourite music video- the full length version. Fantastic massage and the panther dance sequence has incredible power, as controversial as it was.
  • Meredith from Wauwatosa, WiWho'd have thought that Michael Jackson would have a song that has such a powerful and wonderful message behind it?! Very good song and music video!
  • Helena from London, EnglandThis is the best song I've ever heard in pop music! Michael Jackson rocks!
  • Dave from Cardiff, WalesDangerous was an amazing album. This song, "Dangerous", "Heal The World", "Who Is It?", "Will You Be There?", amongst all the other songs, each one a classic... Surely Michael's strongest album by far, even better than Thriller!
  • Brandon from Peoria, IlThe original ending of the music video showed Jackson dancing on, and later smashing up a car. A rather strange ending for a song about peace. The ending was later changed to better known version of Jackson morphing into a panther. Jackson also made a formal appology concerning that ending.
    Also if you pay attention during the morphing scene, you will see Basketball Player Isiah Thomas.
  • Sarah Floyd from Bloomingdale, Ilwell i would try to score a date but he moved. so i guess i am screwed over that. who ever is a fan for michael jackson is awesomly cool. so i am a fan so im awesomly cool. anyways this song is da bomb. i love michael jackson.
  • Matthew from Dalton, PaI saw the video and I was freaked out by the intro with George Wendt yelling at Macauley Culkin. He sounded like a temper-fueled monster.
  • Alexander from Ciudad OjedaIt's funny how he, throughout the whole song, reamins singing "It don't matter if you're black or white" when he actually changed his color from black to white. Why would he ever want to change his color?
    My mom once told me he was getting leukoderma and that's why the color change.
  • Ken from Louisville, KyThe music video was directed by prominent film director John Landis, who also directed Jackson's "Thriller" short movie/music video.

  • Sarah Floyd from Bloomingdale, Ilok i dont care if he was black or white. and i think he is cute. any way it doesnt matter what color you are. what you do. just as long as your happy what your doing. you are your own person. and michael jackson did what he wanted to do. thats all that matters.
  • Kenneth from Cleveland, OhAccording to some of the posters here innocent until proven guilty unless you are Black ,which illustrates how true this song is.One thing I hate is when people quote the chorus of this song and say it implies Jackson is saying it doesn't matter in America if you are Black or White.The song is saying it doesn't matter to him if someone is Black or White-big difference.This song was also a smash ,the racist media always implies that Dangerous and it's songs were not hits ,that is a flat out lie.
  • Lexie from London, EnglandMichael Jackson may be a reclusive kiddie-fiddler who never grew out of his childhood and has big issues with how he looks, but he writes some damn good songs. And this is one of them.
  • Dennis from Boyne City, MiMichael should not be in prison. Even if he did what he was accused of, that boy was a teenager and knew what he was doing!
  • Ash from Charleston, WvYeah, that's right. It don't matter if you're black or white. So long as your under 12.
  • Chris from Chch, New ZealandMichael wrote this in his tree about 1990, Bill boterell wrote the rap and he wrote the original lyrics, An absolute HUGE #1 song, going #1, his DANGEROUS album sold 1 million more than BAD, his previous
  • Akash from Abbotsford(use To Be Vancouver, United StatesThis song is really good. Back in the early 90's when it was released it was #1 for 5 weeks staright and reached #1 on its third week on the charts. The song also has a good message .
  • Sam from Beirut, OtherOne of the most amazing songs that actually depict a sad truth : racial segregation
  • Jam Kemal from Lindua, South AfricaMichael wanted to get a message heard so, the genius he is, he made a mainstream, easy to get into pop/rock song so the message would be heard. The plan worked perfectly well, the single became a transatlantic charttopper.
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