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"Black or White" is a single by American singer and songwriter Michael Jackson. The song was released by Epic Records on November 11, 1991, as the first single from his eighth studio album, Dangerous. He co-wrote, composed, and produced it with Bill Bottrell.

"Black or White"
Michael Jackson - Black or White.png
Single by Michael Jackson
from the album Dangerous
ReleasedNovember 11, 1991
Length4:16 (album version)
3:19 (single version)
  • Michael Jackson
  • Bill Bottrell
Michael Jackson singles chronology
"Do the Bartman"
"Black or White"
"Remember the Time"
Music video
"Black or White" on YouTube
Audio sample


"Black or White" was written, composed and produced by Michael Jackson and Bill Bottrell,[1] and was picked as the first single from the album Dangerous. An alternate version was first heard by Sony executives on a plane trip to Neverland, as the third track of the promotional CD acetate. It began to be promoted on radio stations the first week of November 1991 in New York and Los Angeles.[1][2] "Black or White" was officially released one week later, on November 5, 1991.[2]


The song has elements of dance, hip hop and hard rock music such as Bill Bottrell's guitars and Jackson's vocal style. This song is played in the key of E major, with Jackson's vocal spanning from E3 to B4, and its tempo is measured at 115 BPM.[3][4][5][6][7][8][9]

The rap "Protection for gangs, clubs and nations/Causing grief in human relations/It's a turf war on a global scale/I'd rather hear both sides of the tale/See, it's not about races/Just places, faces/Where your blood comes from is where your space is/I've seen the bright get duller/I'm not going to spend my life being a color" (01:45-02:01 from the song) is sung and was written by the producer and co-writer Bill Bottrell himself, under the pseudonym L.T.B.

"After the first few days of work on it, we had the heart of the song, the verses, the chorus and all of Michael," Bottrell said years later, "But we had this big emptiness in the middle, and it was like that in our minds for several months."

The idea of rap popped into Bottrell's head one morning when he was at home with a lyric inspired by the theme Jackson approached in the song. The producer recorded the rap, in a version he intended to serve as a temporary one, and played the piece for Jackson. "He loved it," Bottrell said.

Bottrell's initial plan was to get a real rapper to record that part. He suggested to Jackson that they use LL Cool J or Heavy D, who were in the studio working on other tracks on the album. But Jackson insisted they use Bottrell's recording, something the producer was not entirely comfortable with. "You know, I'm a songwriter and producer," Bottrell confessed. "I'm not a rapper and I did not mean to be the white guy who's rhyming over there."

Jackson, however, insisted - possibly Bottrell believes, because he was a white guy and not a rapper. "I'd be white and have made that rap kind of echoed the content of the song. Then, in his mind, everything fit. " [10]

The song's main riff, played by Bill Bottrell, is often incorrectly attributed to Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash. Slash's guitar playing is actually heard in the skit that precedes the album version of the song [11][12] and he did play the main riff during live performances of the song.


To prepare the audience for the special occasion of the televised premiere of the "Black or White" video, Epic records released the song (without the accompanying images) to radio stations just two days in advance. In a period of twenty-four hours, "Black or White", described by the record company as "a rock 'n' roll dance song about racial harmony", had been added to the playlists of 96 percent of 237 of the United States of America's Top 40 radio stations.[13]

"Black or White" entered the Billboard Hot 100 at number 35.[14] A week later it shot up to number three and in its third week, December 7, 1991, it ascended to number one, making it the fastest chart topper since The Beatles' "Get Back", which also won the Hot 100 in just three weeks in 1969 and also his twelfth number-one entry.[14][15] It closed the year at number one, and remained at the top of the singles chart into 1992 for a total of seven weeks, making Michael Jackson the first artist to have number one popular hits in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.[15] In the UK, the single became the first single by an American to go into the singles chart at number one since 1960, when "It's Now or Never" by Elvis Presley did in the same manner.[14] Around the world, "Black or White" hit number one in 20 countries, including the US, the UK, Canada, Mexico, Cuba, Turkey, Zimbabwe, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the Eurochart Hot 100, number two in Germany and Austria and number three in the Netherlands.[14][15][16] The single was certified platinum in the US, selling over one million copies and became the second best selling single of the year.[13][15] As of August 2018 the song further certified two time platinum for the digital sales.[17]

Reviews of the song were generally favorable. David Browne praised: "He still knows how to fashion a hook that will take up permanent residence in your brain (away from its video, Black or White is spare and effortless)"[18] Rolling Stone's Allan Light in his Dangerous review, compares the song unfavourably to "Beat It": "Neither this slow-burn solo nor the Stones-derived riff on 'Black or White' offers the catharsis of Eddie Van Halen's blazing break on 'Beat It'".[19] Stephen Thomas Erlewine of Allmusic highlighted the song.[20] The Pazz & Jop critics' poll ranked "Black or White" at number 19.[21]


The Clivillés & Cole remixes for "Black or White", released as a promotional single in 1992, also charted on many European countries. In the UK, it reached number 14, and in Ireland, number 11. The promotional single also surprisingly peaked at number 18 in Australia.[22] Despite the favourable European response to this remix, it was never included on a Michael Jackson album or compilation, except on the third disc of the French & UK versions of Jackson's greatest hits album King of Pop.

Music videoEdit

The music video for "Black or White" premiered on MTV, BET, VH1, and Fox (giving them their highest Nielsen ratings ever at the time)[23] as well as the BBC's Top of the Pops in the UK[24] on November 14, 1991.[25] Along with Jackson, it featured Macaulay Culkin, Tess Harper, and George Wendt.[26] The video was directed by John Landis, who previously directed Thriller. It was co-choreographed by Jackson and Vincent Paterson. It premiered simultaneously in 27 countries, with an audience of 500 million viewers, the most ever for a music video.[25]

The first few minutes of the video feature an extended version of the song's intro. During this interlude (sometimes compared to Marty Callner's 1984 "We're Not Gonna Take It" video for Twisted Sister[27]) an 11-year-old kid (Macaulay Culkin) is dancing to rock music in his bedroom at night, causing four baseball team bobbleheads (from left to right, the Giants, the Pirates, the Dodgers, and the Rangers) to bobble. This attracts the attention of his grouchy father (George Wendt), who furiously scolds him to stop playing the music and go to bed. After his father storms out and slams the door behind him (causing a Michael Jackson poster on the door to fall off and its glass frame to smash), the boy retaliates by setting up large speaker cabinets hooked up to an amp (with levels of "LOUD", "LOUDER", and "ARE YOU NUTS!?!", respectively; with the dial turned up all the way to "ARE YOU NUTS!?!") behind his father's reclining chair, donning leather gloves and sunglasses, strapping on an Ernie Ball Music Man Eddie Van Halen signature model guitar and playing a power chord, and telling the father to "Eat this!".[23] The sound then shatters and destroys the house windows and sends his father (seated in the chair) through the roof and halfway around the world, where the actual song begins.[23] The kid's mother (Tess Harper), comments that his father will be very upset when he gets back. The album version of the song does not feature Culkin's nor Wendt's voice; they are replaced by voice actors performing a similar intro. The boy's father crashes in Africa, and Jackson sings "Black or White", surrounded by various cultures scene-by-scene.[25]

The video shows scenes in which African Zulu hunters begin dancing by using moves from Southern African dance[dubious ], with Jackson following their moves and them mirroring his; as do, in sequence, traditional Thai dancers, Plains Native Americans (located at the Vasquez Rocks formation in California), an Odissi dancer from India and a group of Russians[23] (wearing Ukrainian clothing and dancing Hopak), the last scene of which is contained in a snowglobe two babies (one white and one black) are playing with. Jackson walks through visual collages of fire (defiantly declaring "I ain't scared of no sheets; I ain't scared of nobody"), referring to KKK torch ceremonies before a mock rap scene shared with Culkin and other children (including Mark Pugh and David Shelton of Another Bad Creation).[25] The group collectively states, "I'm not gonna spend my life being a color." The final verse is performed by Jackson on a large sculpted torch, which the camera pans out to reveal as the Statue of Liberty. Jackson is seen singing on Lady Liberty's torch surrounded by other famous world edifices including The Giza Sphinx, Hagia Sophia, Pamukkale, The Parthenon, Taj Mahal, St. Basil's Cathedral, Pyramids of Giza, Golden Gate Bridge, Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower.

At the end of the song, several different people, of differing races and nationalities, including actor Glen Chin, model Tyra Banks, actress Khrystyne Haje, and actor Jeffrey Anderson-Gunter, dance as they morph into one another (shown as "talking heads"). This technique, previously executed without digital assistance in the Godley & Creme video for "Cry", known as morphing, had been previously used only in films such as Willow and Terminator 2. The morphing visual effects were created by Pacific Data Images.[14] In the extended version of the music video, after the song, a black panther walks out of the studio and emerges into Jackson, as he dances and destroys a glass bottle, a building window, and a parked car labeled with graffitied racist words in a city street. After his damage, he re-emerges into the black panther. Finally, Bart Simpson from The Simpsons dances to the song while watching it on the TV. Unfortunately, Homer yells at him to "Turn off that noise!" Bart replies, "Chill out, Homeboy." Then, Homer angrily turns the TV off.

The music video of the song appears on the video albums: Dangerous: The Short Films (long version), Video Greatest Hits – HIStory (long version, without graffiti on VHS version but with graffiti on DVD version), Number Ones (short version), and Michael Jackson's Vision (long version without graffiti).

Controversy and censorshipEdit

A comparison between the two versions of Michael Jackson's "Black or White" music video: the original version and the computer-altered racist graffiti version (with the messages reading "Hitler Lives" with "swastika", "Nigger Go Home", "No More Wetbacks" and "KKK Rules").

Controversy was generated concerning the last four minutes of the original music video. Jackson walks out of the studio as a black panther and then morphs into himself.[25] Then he walks outside to perform some of his most physically complicated dance techniques, in a similar way to "Billie Jean". The scene is also very similar to that of a commercial Jackson appeared in for L.A. Gear in 1989. This part contained sexually suggestive scenes when Jackson starts to grab his crotch,[23] and then zips his pants up. In the original version, Jackson is seen smashing windows,[23] destroying a car and causing an inn (called the "Royal Arms") to explode. Jackson later apologized saying that the violent and suggestive behavior was an interpretation of the animal instinct of a black panther, and MTV and other music video networks removed the last four minutes from subsequent broadcasts.[25] To make the vandalism and violence more understandable to viewers, an altered version was produced, with racial messages added via CGI graffiti to the windows Jackson breaks. The version included in the boxed set Michael Jackson's Vision is the aired, televised version without the graffiti, and does not include the "prejudice is ignorance" title card.

To date, the uncut version has generally been seen in the United States on MTV2 only between the hours of 01:00 and 04:00, as part of their special uncensored airing of the "Most Controversial Music Videos" of all time. The extended version is also available on Jackson's DVDs. The original version (without graffiti) is available on the DVD releases of Video Greatest Hits – HIStory with the VHS and Laserdisc release containing the aired version, and online at It was still shown in its entirety for some years in Europe. Indeed, UK channel MTV Classic aired the full video at 14:00 on April 11, 2010, including the brief cameo by Bart Simpson and Homer Simpson before the "prejudice is ignorance" image. MTV Classic have continued to air the full video post-watershed and recently aired in September 2012.

The uncut version was also shown in Australia at 11:45 pm AEST on Saturday June 2, 2012 as the first song on the weekly late night, guest-programmed music video show Rage, on ABC1 and in Europe (except Italy, San Marino and the United Kingdom), on VH1 Classic at 21:30 CET on Saturday, September 29, 2018.

The first version made available in the iTunes Store contains neither the panther scene nor The Simpsons' cameo, and is cut after the morphing sequence. Since then, a new version has been released with the graffiti and The Simpsons cameo called "Black or White (Michael Jackson's Vision)."

Starting in 1992, Nocturne Video Productions began playing the "Panther Segment" of the video as an interlude during Michael's Dangerous world tour. The clip is 20 seconds shorter than the original, omitting all the violence and the sexually suggestive scenes.[25] The scene of the pants re-zipping was retained. In predominantly Islamic countries during the HIStory Tour, the scene was replaced with the Carmina Burana "Brace Yourself" montage originally used as the intro in the previous Dangerous Tour.

Track listingsEdit

7": Epic / 657598 7 (UK)Edit

Side one
  1. "Black or White" (single version) – 3:22
Side two
  1. "Black or White" (instrumental) – 3:22

7": Epic / 34-74100 (US)Edit

Side one
  1. "Black or White" (single version) – 3:22
Side two
  1. "Black or White" (instrumental) – 3:22

12": Epic / 657598 6 (UK)Edit

Side one
  1. "Black or White" - 3:22
  2. "Bad" - 4:04
Side two
  1. "Black or White (instrumental)" - 3:22
  2. "Thriller" - 5:57

12" (The Clivillés & Cole Remixes): Epic / 657731 6 (UK)Edit

Side one
  1. "Black or White" (The Clivillés & Cole House / Club Mix) – 7:36
  2. "Black or White" (The Clivillés & Cole House / Dub Mix) – 6:34
Side two
  1. "Black or White" (The Underground Club Mix) – 7:29
  2. "Black or White" (House With Guitar Radio Mix) – 3:53
  3. "Black or White" (Tribal Beats) – 3:38

Limited Edition 12": Epic / 49 74099 (US)Edit

Side one
  1. "Black or White" (The Clivilles & Cole House/Club Mix) – 7:33
  2. "Black or White" (The Clivilles & Cole House/Dub Mix) – 6:27
Side two
  1. "Black or White" (House with Guitar Radio Mix) – 3:53
  2. "Black or White" (single version) – 3:22
  3. "Black or White" (Instrumental) – 3:22
  4. "Black or White" (Tribal Beats) – 3:34

CD: Epic / 657598 2 (UK)Edit

  1. "Black or White" (single version) – 3:22
  2. "Black or White" (instrumental) – 3:22
  3. "Smooth Criminal" - 4:16

CD (The Clivillés & Cole Remixes): Epic / 657731 2 (UK)Edit

  1. "Black or White" (The Clivillés & Cole House / Club Mix) – 7:36
  2. "Black or White" (The Clivillés & Cole House / Dub Mix) – 6:34
  3. "Black or White" (The Underground Club Mix) – 7:29
  4. "Black or White" (House With Guitar Radio Mix) – 3:53
  5. "Black or White" (Tribal Beats) – 3:38

CD: Epic / 34K 74100 (US)Edit

  1. "Black or White" (single version) – 3:22
  2. "Black or White" (instrumental) – 3:22

UK Promo VHS (PAL)Edit

  1. "Black or White" (domestic version) (Music Video) - 11:00


CD side
  1. "Black or White" (single version) – 3:22
  2. "Black or White" (Clivillés & Cole House Guitar Radio Mix) – 3:53
DVD side
  1. "Black or White" (Music Video) – 11:00

Covers and cultural impactEdit

"Black or White" has been covered by some artists since its release.

  • In 1991, "Weird Al" Yankovic recorded a parody of "Black or White" titled "Snack All Night", which was never released. Although Jackson was a long-time supporter of Yankovic's work and had approved past parodies, he told Yankovic that he was reluctant to approve a parody of "Black or White" because of the message of the song.[28] Yankovic believes that Jackson's rejection of the parody was ultimately for the best, because he was unsatisfied with the quality of the song and its scrapping left room on his next album for "Smells Like Nirvana", one of his biggest hits.[28] As with other rejected parodies, Yankovic has performed "Snack All Night" during his concerts.[29]
  • In 2009, singer Adam Lambert performed the song on the 8th season of American Idol during the Michael Jackson episode,[30] which was re-aired on June 29, as a tribute to Jackson who died on June 25.
  • In the early 1990s, the children's show Sesame Street also spoofed the song with a song called "Wet or Dry". Little Chrissy responds to the question of what makes him happy: he likes having fun "no matter if he's wet or dry", and demonstrates by playing his piano on both a stage and underwater (surrounded by fish). "Wet" and "dry" are further demonstrated with several kids, Mr. Handford, and Maria getting buckets of water dumped on them. Both the song and video spoof "Black or White".
  • In 2013, as the new rules in the COP for rhythmic gymnastics allowed music with words. The Georgian gymnast Salome Phajava used a shortened version for her ribbon routine.
  • In 2013, the song was featured on a heavy metal tribute album as a tribute to Jackson's memory and legacy. The cover song featured Lajon Witherspoon of Sevendust on vocals and Bruce Kulick, formerly of KISS, on guitar.

The music video, particularly the "Panther Segment", have been referenced or parodied by television shows and artists.

  • The video, including the "Panther Segment" was parodied by the sketch comedy TV show In Living Color, in which Tommy Davidson appeared as Jackson, but instead of a panther, Davidson morphs from a tiny black kitten. At the end of the video, Jackson is arrested, and as he is being led off by the police, he muses, "I guess I really am black."[31]
  • The "Panther Segment" was also parodied by the popular American sketch comedy television series MADtv.
  • In 1991, English rock band Genesis parodied the "Black or White" video in the ending of their video for "I Can't Dance", in which member Phil Collins imitates Michael Jackson's "panther" fit in front of a stark white background.[32]
  • The "face morphing" portion of the video was satirized in a music video spoof "Garfield Rap" on a 1993 episode of Garfield and Friends.[33]
  • In 2011, Brooklyn hip hop group Das Racist released a music video for their song, titled "Michael Jackson", parodying the "Black or White" video. The song is features on the group's album Relax.[34]
  • In 2012, the television show Glee covered the song in the episode "Michael", it features primary voices from Kevin McHale, Lea Michele, Chris Colfer and Naya Rivera, and backing vocals from the rest of the cast. Jenna Ushkowitz and Darren Criss are not featured in the song or the performance. This cover debuted and peaked at number 64 on the Billboard Hot 100, number 42 at Billboard Digital Songs, and number 69 at Billboard Canadian Hot 100 chart at the week of February 18, 2012.[35]

Charts and certificationsEdit


  • Written and composed by Michael Jackson
  • Rap lyrics by Bill "L.T.B." Bottrell
  • Produced by Michael Jackson and Bill Bottrell
  • Recorded and mixed by Bill Bottrell
  • Bryan Loren: Drums
  • Brad Buxer and Bill Bottrell: Percussion
  • Bryan Loren (moog) and Terry Jackson (bass guitar): Bass
  • Brad Buxer, John Barnes and Jasun Martz: Keyboards
  • Bill Bottrell: Guitar
  • Tim Pierce: Heavy metal guitar
  • Michael Boddicker, Kevin Gilbert: Speed sequencer
  • Morphing Sound Effect: Scott Frankfurt
  • Rap performance by L.T.B. (pseudonym for Bill Bottrell)[90]
  • "Intro":
    • Composed by Bill Bottrell
    • Directed by Michael Jackson
    • Engineering and sound design: Matt Forger


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