Note: See our review of the “Black or White” video here.
’90s No. 1s Revisited: “Black Or White”
The fifty-third No. 1 song of the 1990s was “Black Or White” by Michael Jackson. The release of this song, the first single off Jackson’s highly anticipated album Dangerous, was the biggest musical event of the year. The premiere of the $4m video, directed by John Landis and featuring Macaulay Culkin, was national news. The song spent seven weeks at No. 1, putting it in a two-way tie with “Billie Jean” (1983) as Jackson’s longest-running No. 1 single ever. Dangerous spawned six more Top 40 hits after “Black Or White,” spanning a wide range of genres and themes. It’s a classic CD.
Prior to “Black Or White,” Jackson was already the most famous pop singer in the world. As lead singer of The Jackson 5, he had four No. 1 hits, which were the band’s first four singles, released in 1969-70. The Jackson 5 went on to chart 13 more times, sending three more tracks to a No. 2 peak. Outside The Jackson 5, Jackson had reached No. 1 12 times before “Black Or White” (including on “We Are The World,” credited to USA For Africa but co-written by Jackson and widely associated with him). Following “Black Or White,” he would have one more chart-topper, 1995’s “You Are Not Alone.” He most recently appeared on the Hot 100 posthumously in 2014 with “Love Never Felt So Good,” featuring Justin Timberlake. It peaked at No. 9 in the U.S., but went to No. 1 in a few other countries.
Let’s listen to “Black Or White”:
Jackson’s artistic legacy focuses largely on his singing, dancing and fashion, and that’s understandable because he’s one of the best singers in recorded music history, certainly the most groundbreaking dancer, and a fashion icon beyond comparison. But he’s under-appreciated as a songwriter and producer, and tracks like “Black Or White” are stunning examples of his talent in these areas. This song is about as perfectly written as a pop song can be, and the recording sounds a full generation past Thriller, just nine years prior.
Was it dope? Good God, yes. This song went to No. 1 in the United States, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Cuba, Denmark, Finland, France, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the U.K. and Zimbabwe. In the U.S. alone it topped the Hot 100 and the Dance chart, peaked at No. 3 on the R&B/Hip-Hop chart and even appeared on the Adult Contemporary Chart. It doesn’t get much bigger, better or doper than “Black Or White.”
Does it hold up? As of this writing, the video has 115 million views. So, yes, it’s a critical part of Jackson’s catalog and legacy, and the most noteworthy contribution to it from the 1990s. And as a recording, the music holds up very well — is a classic, clean pop song.
Dopeness: 5 out of 5 Birkenstocks
’90s No. 1s Revisited is a regular feature on “Was It Dope?” where we walk through every No. 1 song of the 1990s on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in order, give it another listen, and answer two critical questions: Was it dope? And does it hold up?