Moonwalking through Michael Jackson’s music video closet

Lakshmi Sreedhar looks back at the King of Pop's role in the fashion industry and his imprint on the mise-en-scène.

Photo: Flickr

A few days ago Michael Jackson’s father, Joe, the patriarch of the Jackson family, died, and I remembered it had been exactly nine years since the music legend himself had passed away so suddenly.

As a tribute, I thought it would be great to discover the somewhat hidden gems in his closet, quite literally. MJ was not just an iconic artist, his fashion sense was also widely eccentric and brilliant – just like him.

Here I take a look at my five favourite styles from five popular MJ music videos:

Photo: Flickr

Thriller was undoubtedly the most popular song of his career. Jackson’s captivating 14-minute horror spoof music video broke records leading him to be called “The King of Pop” and left his imprint in the mise-en-scène for decades to come.

He was being stalked by paparazzi and obsessed fans during every outing with a cascade of shrieks — “Michael! Michael!” – everywhere he went, as he had suddenly become the apple of the public eye.

But what is odd is a man dancing in a bright cherry red biker-style outfit as a zombie and with zombies, in a graveyard. Talk about the red devil in disguise! The V-shaped jacket paired with red pants was sensational, to say the least. Deborah Landis, the designer of the jacket said that it did not cost more than a couple of thousands of dollars in total to make the jacket which was later auctioned. She cut the cloth herself and stood with the tailor as it was being stitched. Heidi Klum recently wore a similar outfit mirroring the werewolf during a Halloween party. Trust me when I say, it looked scary.

I don’t know how many men can carry a soft baby pink shirt and a red bow-tie. Maybe a few can. Then try this – pair it with a black leather jacket and tight pants. If anybody can look smoking hot in the most erratic clothes pairing, its MJ in the video for Billie Jean. Apparently, he picked up on the importance of “striking separates” in his youth. It worked.


For the title track of his seventh album, MJ donned leather. Since he released it nearly five years after his previous solo studio album Thriller, garnering six Grammy nods and making it to the list of Rolling Stones’ Greatest Albums of All Time, his fans went wild. Bad saw Jackson exercise even more artistic freedom, especially his black leather trends. It seems as though he loved black and leather, symbolically embracing the ‘Bad Boy’ look once again for the Bad music video where he was seen wearing black leather. Silver chains, silver-studded belts and buckles screamed a thug-life, gangster l look. Just go and google the Bad tour concerts to get an idea of girls dressing like him and singing “I’m bad”.


The red-zippered jacket for “Beat It” as he played the leader of a dance mob, winning over gangsters and stopping fights, is one of my favourites. Nailing the “no one wants to be defeated, just beat it” look, his outfit for bad was simple, yet eye-catching. Needless to say, it’s hard to actually pay attention with such a hooking tune.



In the decades since its release, Beat It has been covered, parodied, and sampled by numerous artists including Fall Out Boy, Fergie, and many others. The song was also featured in the National Highway Safety Commission’s anti-drunk driving campaign. The single was certified platinum in the United States and  Rolling Stone placed “Beat It” on the 344th spot of its list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Black or white saw Jackson mainly wearing a series of black pants paired with white banyans and sometimes a loose white shirt while surrounded by traditional Thai dancers in costume or rising from dust or women dancing in saris. His leg armour and wrist guard were evocative of fetish gear. Interestingly, all the kids featured in the video were dressed in effortless chic outfits featuring graphic print mixing, snapback skewed just-so, suspenders, big shades, and retro trainers. Almost as if Anna Wintour was part of the clique. Popular landmarks such as the Parthenon, Eiffel Tower and the Sphinx encircled MJ somewhat like designer handbags—a mélange of humanity’s “status symbols”.


We’ll always remember the gold-filigree-embellished admiral jacket MJ wore for We are the World, the crew socks and loafers, and that one right-hand shiny silver glove. All of it sparkling. He wore it for the studio recording of the long version of the same song as well. Over the years, Jackson had worn several outfits that resembled a military style, not just on stage but also during regular outings.

Even for the Bad tour, he had worn a gold-embedded jacket paired with a huge gold belt, as can be seen in the picture.


This man was so talented, it will be a miracle if there is ever going to be an artist who beats him, whether as a fashion icon or as a music artist.


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