Heresy warning: the Motown 25 performance of Billie Jean is not my lover. It may have been the stuff of legend, but when I first watched it, I was totally underwhelmed. Because from the perspective of someone who was too young to have seen the Motown 25 performance and who only saw Michael perform it in 1992, by 1992 he’d got even better at it, and he’d added that extraordinary coda of sheer dance virtuosity which was the highlight of every concert. (Trivia time: here’s the sort of perfectionist Michael Jackson was – despite the universal instantaneous acclaim for the iconic Motown 25 performance, including a congratulatory phone call from Fred freaking Astaire, Michael still wasn’t satisfied with how he’d done because one splitsecond of the performance wasn’t perfectly executed. Can you guess which bit? Answer’s at the bottom of the post.[1. When he went up onto his toes after the moonwalk, he’d intended to freeze there a splitsecond longer than he did. You can see it in the Motown 25 video around 3.43. Now watch any performance of Billie Jean from the years that followed and you’ll see he never messed that part up ever again.] )
It’s hard to pick just one performance of Billie Jean to feature because every performance was a little different and he always changed up the coda a bit, but here’s one from the HIStory tour which I particularly like. (Bear in mind he was 38 at this point and the performance was in the middle of his exhausting 2 hour long live show.) He didn’t max out the moonwalk in the middle as much as he did in other performances but the coda (starts at 8.25) is one of the best I’ve seen, and I love how he beatboxes himself to the song’s last line.
- Only Human (Michael Jackson, 1958 – 2009)
- Remember The Time
- Remembering Michael Jackson ( Part 1): Billie Jean After Motown 25
- Remembering Michael Jackson (Part 2): Beatboxing and Songwriting
- Remembering Michael Jackson (Part 3): Not Just A Dancing Machine
- Remembering Michael Jackson (Part 4): Actually, A Total Freaking Dancing Machine