Smooth Criminal

Album: Bad (1987)
Charted: 8 7
  • songfacts ®
  • Artistfacts ®
  • Lyrics
  • Songimage
  • 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.

    The lean was accomplished with specially designed shoes that could lock into an anchor on the floor. Jackson patented the system.
  • 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. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    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."
Please sign in or register to post comments.

Comments: 28

  • Poeddog from UsaThe CPR theory was confirmed by MJs sound engineer on a recent Dr Phil episode concerning a woman who is suing for copyright of the song because she claims to be "Annie".
  • Marc from -, MdFirst-ever interview with the girl in this video, including what she's doing now and never-published pics: http://noblemania.blogspot.com/2013/07/the-girl-in-video-smooth-criminal-1988.html
  • Cyberpope from Richmond, CanadaSimon Stewart, Dundee, United Kingdom: it's a long-known magician's trick to have the peg in the floor & special shoes.
  • Simon Stewart from Dundee, United KingdomDoes it not occur to anyone that it is a combination of magnets and the entire stage moving that allows the lean?
  • Jim from Ventura, CaActually, this video was a tribute to Fred Astaire. In the movie, "Band Wagon," there is an elaborate bar scene with Fred and Cyd Charisse which Smooth Criminal borrows heavily from. You can see MJ is dressed identically (albeit updated) and even the lead in is remarkably identical. You can find mashups on Youtube
  • Joe from Fort Lauderdale, FlThe commenters who think that Jackson is using the CPR term are right as rain. Not only does the training teach one the phrase, "Annie are you OK?" but the words are taught to be said over and over, three or four times in a row, exactly the way they are in the lyrics. One can imagine a neighbor discovering the body, or a MDT arriving at the apartment using those exact words to revive her.
  • Kaz from C, Ohum the leaning effect were not with ropes, MJ holds a patent on something that goes in the shoes to help you lean forward, the song is about rape, and MJ did Swear in "Scream" - "Stop messing with me, just stop messing iwth me...just stop F---in' with me, make me want to scream." -its right before the break before janet says "o my god i can't believe what i saw as I turned on the tv this evening" (it needs to be the unedited one because the edited one puts a noise over it.)
  • Jas from Clifton, TxI saw an interview on VH1 about 2 minutes ago where Michael Jackson said this song was really just about random stuff he was reading in the LA Times, random crime, etc. It wasn't any single incident, he just liked the way the song sounded. He had an odd personal life, but he was a genius when it came to knowing a good song when he heard it. It's a shame that people are so hung up on events in his life, which you should note he was found innocent every single time, instead of focusing on just how intelligent he really was.
  • Spongebob from Bikini Bottom, KyIsnt it obvious, it is simply about a murder.nothing else. just that
  • Pe from Bilzen, Belgium@KAren, i thought that also, and my husband thought it was annie are you walking, hi hiiiiii funny RIP M.J.
  • Annie from Ashland, PaAnnie Oakley was not a gunfighter, she was an exhibition shooter. In other words she was a sharpshooter. Great song, R.I.P.- MJ
  • Eddie from Long Island, NyI Heard this was a video about a gangster that breaks into Annie's house, kills her parents (bloodstains on the carpet) and s Annie whoever that is
  • Matt from Seminole, Ok"dad gone it" means something along the lines of "dammit". But Michael Jackson would never swear. haha
  • Joel from San Diego, CaI think the smooth criminal was a guy who sweet talked Annie out of her virginity then left. And now Annie is all upset cause her little heart is broken.
  • Kiarra from St. Charles, MoI instantly thought about those dummies that you perform CPR in First Aid class or one of those villains from 1040's movies. One of my friends told me that she thinks it's about domestic violence.
  • Jimmy from Knox, TnI was not a big fan of Michael Jackson but this song is great and Alien Ant Farm did a good remake.R.I.P.Michael Jackson
  • Mary from Phoenix, AzWell, I think Hillary from Chicago is right on for the meaning of the chorus "Annie are you okay". Look at one of the verses in the song: "So They Came Into The Outway
    It Was Sunday - What A Black Day
    Mouth To Mouth Resus - Citation
    Sounding Heartbeats - Intimidations

    Makes sense to me. Thank you Hillary!
  • Brenda from Idaho Falls, IdThe pregnant pause in the middle of the song adds to the dramtic effect. You sit there in anticipation waiting for him to break out with more. Very effective.
  • Hillary from Chicago, IlFor CPR classes they use a training doll/dummy called CPR Annie, and the first thing you're taught is to gently shake it and ask "Annie are you okay"
  • Kelsey from Bat Country, VaI love this song. it's my favorite and favorite video! RIP MJ!! We're all with you man!!
  • Nabila from Santa Rosa, Argentinaanyone knows what "dad gone it" means?
    the lyrics say that supposedly.
  • Alan from London, United KingdomThe music was also used in the Sega Genesis game "Moonwalker"
  • Karen from Manchester, NhI read recently about the shoes; there are pegs in the floor that fit into the heels of the shoes to hold the dancers' feet in place for those leans. (For the record, I went for years thinking it was, "Eddie, are you OK?" Shows what I know.)
  • Matthew from Milford, MaI figured that Annie was a woman that Michael Jackson was particularly close to (note the past tense...)
  • Linc from Beaumont, TxThis is just a great song no matter who sings it!
  • Emily from Newcastle, Australiajason, dublin, Ireland.

    he does it with special shoes, my brother really wants the same type of shoes.

    and there are NO! strings, EVER!
  • Jamie from Lancaster, EnglandOne of THE best music videos ever made. An instant classic.
  • Jason from Dublin, Irelandgreat song and an equally great video. how exactly does he do that lean thing in the s.c. video and live performance?
see more comments

Graduation SongsFact or Fiction

Have you got the smarts to know which of these graduation song stories are real?

Francis Rossi of Status QuoSongwriter Interviews

Doubt led to drive for Francis, who still isn't sure why one of Status Quo's biggest hits is so beloved.

Divided Souls: Musical Alter EgosSong Writing

Long before Eminem, Justin Bieber and Nicki Minaj created alternate personas, David Bowie, Bono, Joni Mitchell and even Hank Williams took on characters.

Oliver LeiberSongwriter Interviews

Long before she was judging contestants on American Idol, Oliver was producing Paula Abdul. Here's how he helped turn this unknown choreographer into a star.

Curt Kirkwood of Meat PuppetsSongwriter Interviews

The (Meat)puppetmaster takes us through songs like "Lake Of Fire" and "Backwater," and talks about performing with Kurt Cobain on MTV Unplugged.

Director Nick Morris ("The Final Countdown")Song Writing

Nick made some of the biggest videos on MTV, including "The Final Countdown," "Heaven" and "Don't Know What You Got (Till It's Gone)."