Thursday, November 14, 1991

Michael Jackson’s video for “Black or White” debuted

First posted 2/7/2021; updated 3/16/2021.

Black or White

Michael Jackson

Writer(s): Michael Jackson, Bill Bottrell (see lyrics here)

Released: November 11, 1991

First Charted: November 15, 1991

Peak: 17 US, 14 CB, 12 RR, 23 AC, 3 RB, 12 UK, 12 CN, 18 AU (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 2.0 US, 0.6 UK, 3.32 world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 430.4 video, -- streaming

Awards: (Click on award for more details).

About the Song:

When “Black or White” hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, it made him the first artist to land on top in the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. It debuted at #35, shot to #3 the next week, and was on top the week after that. It reached the pinnacle faster than any song since the Beatles’ “Get Back” in 1969. In the UK, it was the first song since Elvis Presley’s “It’s Now or Never” to debut at #1. WK It topped the charts in 20 countries.

The record company billed “Black and White” as “a rock ‘n’ roll dance song about racial harmony.” WK Albumism’s Chris Lacy said it “merges classic rock with soulful crooning in a call for racial unity.” WK Billboard’s Larry Flick said it was an “instantly gratifying pop/rocker that reveals his grittiest and most affecting performance in years.” WK Entertainment Weekly’s David Browne said Jackson “still knows how to fashion a hook that will take up permanent residence in your brain.” WK

Depending on the account, Slash of Guns N’ Roses may or not have played the main guitar riff on the song. Some sources say it was actually Bill Bottrell, who co-wrote and produced the song, but that Slash did play the riff during live performances. WK Bottrell himself said it was Slash and that the piece he plays on was originally developed from a track intended for the 1987 Bad album. BR1

The video was directed by John Landis, who had also helmed “Thriller.” It premiered on November 14, 1991, simultaneously in 27 countries, amassing 500 million views, the most ever for a music video. WK In the U.S., it premiered on BET, Fox, MTV, and VH1, landing the highest Nielsen ratings ever at that time. WK Networks wanting to air the video were required to refer to Jackson as “The King of Pop.” SF The video was controversial because of violent and sexual scenes such as Jackson grabbing his crotch, smashing windows, and destroying a car.

Resources and Related Links:

  • DMDB encyclopedia entry for Michael Jackson
  • DMDB page for parent album Dangerous
  • BR1 Fred Bronson (2007). The Billboard Book of Number One Hits (4th edition). Billboard Books: New York, NY. Page 801.
  • SF Songfacts
  • WK Wikipedia

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