songbook: smooth criminal

In M|H’s weekend feature, songbook, I’ll be looking at some of my favorite songs. Some I haven’t listened to in years, some I keep in regular rotation, but all having in some way informed my life, my taste, and and how I view music.

Michael Jackson – Smooth Criminal

In the case of “Smooth Criminal”, the video is just as important to me as the song. I can’t divorce them in my mind. Released as a single when I was four, it is among the more mind-blowing experiences of my formative years. Having a much older brother, pop music was just as prevalent as Sesame Street – when I was three I could name Michael Jackson and Cyndi Lauper as my favorite artists. Having an older brother also meant a dazzling look into the world of music videos, and “Smooth Criminal” was my absolute favorite one.

While the song was extremely catchy with it’s gunfire stops and the hypnotic repetition of “Annie are you okay? Annie are you okay? Are you okay, Annie?”, it’s really the video that cemented it for me. I couldn’t get over Michael’s dancing, or the exotic-to-my-four-year-old-eyes style, or the fact that it played out as a narrative. I have clear memories of dancing around the living room when this video came on, singing along to the chorus and being 98% convinced that I was achieving the gravity-defying forward lean that Michael and his cohorts did near the end of the video.

I’m completely convinced that this video laid the groundwork for my life-long love of dance, musicals, and pin-up era style. Even watching it now, twenty-two years later, it holds up. I’ll be singing the chorus to myself all day and dancing when no one is watching. I’ll undoubtedly try to moonwalk and fail miserably (but still feel cool). I’ve been hit by a smooth criminal.