Scream (Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson song)

"Scream" is the lead single from Michael Jackson's ninth studio album, HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I. It is a duet with his younger sister Janet, and was released as a double A-side with "Childhood", a solo song by Michael. The single was released on May 31, 1995.

Single by Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson
from the album HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I
ReleasedMay 31, 1995 (1995-05-31)
FormatCD single, cassette single, 7-inch single, 12-inch single
RecordedOctober 1994
The Hit Factory
(New York City, New York)
December 1994
Flyte Tyme Studios
(Edina, Minnesota)
Songwriter(s)Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis
Producer(s)Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson
Michael Jackson singles chronology
"Gone Too Soon"
"Scream" / "Childhood"
"You Are Not Alone"
Janet Jackson singles chronology
"Whoops Now/What'll I Do"
Music video
"Scream" on YouTube

"Scream" is cited primarily as an aggressive, retaliatory song directed at the tabloid media and their coverage of the child sexual abuse accusations made against Michael Jackson in 1993. "Scream" was written, composed and produced by Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson; Michael played many of the instruments. It incorporates elements of pop, R&B, electrorock, new jack swing, dance-pop, and funk. Recording for Scream took place at the Hit Factory in New York City in October 1994 and at Flyte Tyme Studios in Edina, Minnesota in December 1994. The song was leaked to radio stations early, despite Epic Records' attempt to keep it off air until the official release date.[1][dead link]

Generally well received amongst critics, it has been compared favorably to other songs by Michael Jackson. The corresponding music video remains one of his most critically acclaimed; it won three MTV Video Music Awards and the Grammy Award for Best Music Video. At a cost of $7 million, it was listed in the Guinness World Records as the most expensive music video ever made; however, director Mark Romanek has refuted the claim, saying that there were two other music videos from the same era which cost "millions more" than the video for "Scream".[2]

"Scream" would become the first single in the 37-year history of Billboard to debut at number five on the US Billboard Hot 100, where it peaked. Elsewhere, it topped the charts in Italy, New Zealand, and Spain while reaching the top five in Australia, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. Michael performed "Scream" on his 1996–1997 HIStory World Tour. Following his death in 2009, Janet performed the song on her 2011 Number Ones, Up Close and Personal as a tribute to him, the 2015–2016 Unbreakable World Tour, and on several dates of her 2017-2018 State of the World Tour.


"Scream" is a song primarily directed at the tabloid press. As far back as the late 1980s, Jackson and the press had a difficult relationship. In 1986, the tabloids ran a story claiming that Jackson slept in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber to slow the aging process; he was pictured lying down in a glass box. When Jackson bought a pet chimpanzee called Bubbles, it was reported as evidence of increasing detachment from reality.[3] It was reported that Jackson had offered to buy the bones of Joseph Merrick (the "elephant man"). However, Jackson stated the story is untrue in both an interview with Oprah[4] and an interview with Martin Bashir in Take Two - The Footage You Were Never Meant To See. Still, these stories inspired the pejorative nickname "Wacko Jacko", which Jackson acquired the following year and would come to despise. He stopped leaking untruths to the press, so the media began making up their own stories.[3][5]

In 1989, Jackson released the song and music video "Leave Me Alone", a song about his perceived victimization at the hands of the press.[6] The video shows Jackson poking fun not only at the press but also the situation he was in. In the video, there are images of shrines to his friend Elizabeth Taylor, newspapers with bizarre headlines, Jackson dancing with the bones of The Elephant Man, and an animated nose with a scalpel chasing it across the screen.[7]

In 1993, the relationship between Jackson and the press came to a head when he was accused of child sexual abuse. Although never charged with a crime, Jackson was subject to intense media scrutiny while the criminal investigation took place. Complaints about the coverage and media included using sensational headlines to draw in readers and viewers when the content itself did not support the headline,[8] accepting stories of Jackson's alleged criminal activity in return for money,[9] accepting confidential, leaked material from the police investigation in return for money paid,[10] deliberately using pictures of Jackson's appearance at its worst,[11] a lack of objectivity[11] and using headlines that strongly implied Jackson's guilt.[11] At the time, Jackson said of the media reaction, "I will say I am particularly upset by the handling of the matter by the incredible, terrible mass media. At every opportunity, the media has dissected and manipulated these allegations to reach their own conclusions."[12]

The singer began taking painkillers, Valium, Xanax and Ativan to deal with the stress of the allegations made against him.[13] Jackson's health had deteriorated to the extent that he canceled the remainder of his tour and went into rehabilitation.[14][15] Jackson booked the whole fourth floor of a clinic and was put on Valium IV to wean him from painkillers.[14] A few months after the allegations became news, Jackson had lost approximately 10 lb (4.5 kg) in weight and had stopped eating.[15][16] The singer's spokesperson told reporters that Jackson was "barely able to function adequately on an intellectual level".[15] While in the clinic, Jackson took part in group and one-on-one therapy sessions.[14][15]

When Jackson left the U.S. to go into rehabilitation, the media showed him little sympathy. The Daily Mirror held a "Spot the Jacko" contest, offering readers a trip to Disney World if they could correctly predict where the entertainer would appear next.[14] A Daily Express headline read, "Drug Treatment Star Faces Life on the Run", while a News of the World headline accused Jackson of being a fugitive. These tabloids also falsely alleged that Jackson had traveled to Europe to have cosmetic surgery that would make him unrecognizable on his return.[14] Geraldo Rivera set up a mock trial, with a jury made up of audience members, even though Jackson had not been charged with a crime.[17]

"Scream"/"Childhood" and HIStory were Jackson's first releases since the allegations, and the press was waiting to see if the album would sell well. One analyst for SoundScan expressed the opinion that the press were out of touch with the public when it came to Jackson; the public liked him, while the press did not. He believed that "naysayers" in the media would be left surprised with the commercial reception to the HIStory campaign.[18]

In the UK, on 24 June 1995, "Scream (David Morales Remix)" was released as a single peaking at number 43, dropping to number 57 a week later. It remained on the charts for only 2 weeks.[19]

Album bookletEdit

In the HIStory album booklet there is an image of Gottfried Helnwein's 1981 watercolor "Das Lied / The Song" which is an image of a distressed child huddled in the corner of a room, screaming up at the ceiling. Jackson's handwritten lyrics to "Scream" were scrawled on the wall beside the child.[20] Towards the end of the booklet is a copy of a child's letter to the President of the United States, Bill Clinton, asking him to end war, pollution, and to stop the negative press reports about Jackson.[16]


Janet Jackson wanted to be involved with the project as a show of sibling support.[21] It was the first time they had worked together since 1982, when Janet provided backing vocals on "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)".[22] Janet said that it was "very fun" working with her brother again and that seeing her brother's work was "interesting".[22] "Scream" was written, composed and produced by the Jackson siblings, with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.[23] It was the first time Michael Jackson had worked with Jam and Lewis, although Janet had worked with them successfully on numerous occasions.[21] The album was created with the intention of following half R&B and half pop/rock themes, the same themes that brought Jackson success on his prior album, Dangerous.[21] Jackson was credited for playing instruments such as keyboard, synthesizer, guitar, drums and percussion on the single and album.[24]

In the song, Jackson tells the media to stop pressuring him and to stop misrepresenting the truth.[16] Jon Pareles of The New York Times observed, "fear has turned to aggression. The music has polarized; it's either clipped, choppy and electronic or glossy and sumptuous, only occasionally trying to combine the two. Most of the time, Jackson sounds as if he's singing through clenched teeth, spitting out words in defiance of any and all persecutors".[16] He believed that "Scream" had a similar sound to the music of Janet's acclaimed Rhythm Nation.[16] It was Michael Jackson's first and only song that contained the word "fuck" in the lyrics "Stop pressuring me/Stop pressuring me/Stop fucking with me"—which was thought of as an unusual choice for Jackson, considering his appeal with the younger audience. Other songs on HIStory contained words such as kike, shit, ass, and from The Notorious B.I.G., the word "nigga".[16][25][26] "Scream" incorporates elements of pop, R&B, hip-hop, funk and rock.[27][28]

Leaking of "Scream"Edit

Two weeks before the official release of "Scream", Jackson happened to hear it on a Los Angeles radio station. The station was playing "Scream" once an hour until served with a cease and desist order from Epic Records. Two other stations in Philadelphia also received similar orders. All involved denied that Epic leaked them the song early. The song had been a closely guarded secret by the label and most staff members were not allowed access to a copy.[29]

Though they potentially faced legal action, the Los Angeles radio station programmer noted that, "some things are more important... The record company was furious, lawyers were involved and the situation got hairy... But on a release as big as Michael Jackson's, there's no way we're going to wait if we receive a leak. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity because his security is really insane."[29]


Critical reactionEdit

Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic expressed the opinion that "Scream", "improved on the slamming beats of his earlier single 'Jam,'" a song that received critical acclaim in its own right, as the recipient of two Grammy nominations: Best R&B Vocal Performance and Best R&B Song.[30][31] James Hunter of Rolling Stone noted that, "the excellent current single 'Scream' or the first-rate R&B ballad 'You Are Not Alone' – manage to link the incidents of Jackson's infamous recent past to universal concepts like injustice or isolation. When he bases his music in the bluntness of hip-hop, Jackson sketches funky scenarios denouncing greed, blanket unreliability and false accusation."[27] He went on to say of "Scream" and "Tabloid Junkie", "[these] two adventurous Jam and Lewis thumpers work completely: Jackson's slippery voice is caught in mammoth funk-rock constructions. They're reminiscent of Janet Jackson's hits, in which Jam and Lewis allow space for lush vocal harmonies taken from the Triumph-era Jacksons; the choruses of 'Tabloid Junkie' in particular sing out with quick-voiced warnings about the failings of media truth."[27]

Patrick MacDonald of The Seattle Times called "Scream" the best song on the album. He continued, "The refrain of "Stop pressurin' me!" is compelling, and he spits out the lyrics with drama and purpose. The song has bite and infectious energy." MacDonald did, however, consider the use of profanity unnecessary.[25] Deepika Reddy of The Daily Collegian wrote, "The lyrics to the album's debut single and video 'Scream' are for the first time in Jackson's convoluted career, painfully direct. He sings 'Stop pressuring me/Stop pressuring me/It makes me want to scream' with a force and resentment that's new and surpassing." "'Scream' and 'Tabloid Junkie' have a raw aspect that Jackson hasn't approached since a near-miss with 'Billie Jean.'"[32] Richard Harrington of The Washington Post, however, called it "dull and musically uninvolved." He was also of the opinion that it sounded like "Jam" from 1991, thus dated.[33] "Scream" was nominated for "Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals" at the 1996 American Music Awards, and shortly afterward it gained a Grammy nomination for "Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals."[28]

Commercial reception of "Scream"Edit

"Scream" was a worldwide hit. In the U.S. it was the first song in the 37-year history of Billboard to debut at number five; however that would be its peak position.[28] The single was certified platinum by the RIAA and sold 700,000 copies domestically.[34][35] It reached number one in Italy, Spain and New Zealand, number two in Australia and Norway and number three in the UK. It became a top five hit in every major music market.[36][37] A remix of "Scream" was also issued in the UK which charted at number 43 and in 2009 re-entered the UK charts at number 70.[28]

"Scream" music videoEdit


In "Scream", Jackson and his sister Janet angrily retaliate against the media for misrepresentation to the public. The acclaimed video was shot primarily in black and white, at a cost of $7 million.

The 4:46 minute music video for "Scream" was choreographed by Travis Payne, LaVelle Smith Jnr, Tina Landon and Sacha Lucashenko in May 1995, and Sean Cheesman, directed by Mark Romanek, with the production being designed by Tom Foden. Jackson did not create the "concept" for the video, which he had often done in the past, but left it to Romanek. Jackson later described the making of "Scream" as a collaborative effort. The song and its accompanying video are a response to the backlash Jackson received from the media in 1993.[22][38][39]

Foden commented, "Mark had written the treatment and the general idea was that Michael and Janet were on this large spacecraft. And they were alone... They were getting away from Earth, and the different sets were the different environments on the spacecraft where they could have a little bit of fun and where they could relax."[40] Production of the music video's 13-piece set were restricted to a one-month period and is produced by Foden art directors Richard Berg, Jeff Hall, and Martin Mervel.[40] Foden describes the assignment as a "military operation" explaining, "The idea was to give each of the art directors three sets: a complicated one, a not-so-complicated one, and one of the smaller, easier vignettes."[40] Typography in the video was designed by P. Scott Makela.[41] Jackson was happy to work with his sister again, explaining that as they still had a passion for dancing it reminded him of "old times."[22]

In the video, Janet Jackson takes on a darker persona, previously unseen in her own music videos. Jim Farber of the New York Daily News described her as "Sporting a thick thatch of wig hair, and eyes darkened by coal-black makeup... sullen and arty... Janet, however, never looked tougher, or more in control."[42] The video has influences of Japanese sci-fi anime; several clips of the Zillion anime series, Vampire Hunter D movie, and the film Akira can be seen in the background screens.[42] The version of the video included on Michael Jackson's Vision is uncut and contains the "Stop fucking with me" lyric, which was censored in HIStory on Film, Volume II.


The video begins showing a sign appearing with the logo of the song's title. The scene then changes a spacecraft traveling past Earth before the camera zooms in inside. The lights come on and reveal Michael and Janet inside individual capsules. During this sequence, the song's intro, a soundtrack of noise music with heavy sub-bass, uncharacteristic for the song's style, is heard. Suddenly, the spacecraft zooms out through the outer part of the galaxy, sending them screaming, and the song starts when the screaming Michael pounds his hands on the capsule window, shattering it.

In the first verse, Michael is seen in the room where he is floating on gravity. Then, Michael is shown in a room with thousands of guitars where he breaks one while Janet sings the next verse. Then, it shows Michael dancing on the wall while Janet looks at her nail before playing a game of tag. Then, it shows Michael and Janet in a room where they are using a remote control by changing pictures of Andy Warhol, art painting, statues, etc. Next, it shows both Michael and Janet in the media room where they are playing a video game which Michael wins. Then, Janet sports a skimpy bikini in some scenes while at the core of the craft, grabs at her breasts, gives the camera a middle finger and simulates male urination where Michael is shown taking controls into some kind of Observation. (In the out-takes, there is a still color photograph of Michael also giving the camera a middle finger.)

Michael is then seen in a white room while wearing a black robe where he is meditating before screaming which breaks the glass above him. The scene then shifts, showing Michael and Janet performing a dance breakdown. Then, it cuts back to the media room where Janet is dancing with Michael being seen on the television screen while Janet does the same thing with Michael. Then, Michael is seen playing a tennis game where he is using a robotic orb to break jars.

Reception and influenceEdit

The video premiered in the summer of 1995, on MTV and BET and the next evening on ABC-TV's "Primetime Live" during Diane Sawyer's interview with Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley. The interview was broadcast to approximately 64 million viewers.[28] The video is one of Jackson's most critically acclaimed; Heather Phares of Allmusic described the video as a "stylish, interstellar clip."[38] James Hunter of Rolling Stone called it a contemporary video, "in which Michael and his sister Janet jump around like '90s fashion kids trapped in a spaceship stolen from a Barbarella film set."[27] Jim Farber called it a "supercool black-and-white clip... The clip's great allure is that neither of the siblings looks quite real. While the visuals hold barely any connection to the lyric, and seem to have no clear point, the weird look captivates." He was of the opinion that while Michael Jackson outshines his sister in the vocals, it is Janet Jackson who gives the better performance in the music video.[42]

In 1995, Scream gained 11 MTV Video Music Award Nominations—more than any other music video—and won "Best Dance Video", "Best Choreography", and "Best Art Direction."[28][40] Reacting to this, Jackson stated that he was "very honored", explaining that he had worked "very hard" and he was "very happy" with the reception up to that point.[22] It was also given a Billboard Music Award for best Pop/Rock video.[28] A year later, it won a Grammy for Best Music Video, Short Form; shortly afterward Guinness World Records listed it as the most expensive music video ever made at a cost of $7 million, although this was later refuted by the director.[28][43] In 2001, VH1 placed "Scream" at number nine on their list of the 100 greatest music videos.[44]

In 1997, "Scream" was remixed as "Scream Louder (Flyte Tyme Remix)" for Michael Jackson's remix album Blood on the Dance Floor: HIStory in the Mix. The remix used elements from the Sly & The Family Stone song Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again). Another official remix was produced by Naughty By Nature and was called, "Scream (Naughty Remix)" and has a new urban R&B instrumental beat & a rap verse by Treach of Naughty By Nature.

"Scream" was a creative influence on other music videos such as the 1999 release of the award-winning "No Scrubs" by TLC.[45] This influence was also present on the 2008 release of "Shawty Get Loose" by Lil Mama and Chris Brown. Reacting to the comparisons made between the videos, Mama explained, "I feel honored, because that was one of the initial goals, and I feel that it was executed well." She adding that the emulation was intentional and that Brown was the only logical choice to step into Michael Jackson's role.[46] Ciara's music video for her single "I'm Out" was heavily influenced by the video by referencing the all-white scenery and attire. Tyga's 2018 released music video "Dip" featuring Nicki Minaj is heavily influenced by the video.[47]

MTV Video Music Awards tributeEdit

As the future-shock intro to "Scream" hit the screen, and plumes of white fog sprouted up amid a space-age set made up of white honeycombs, Janet kicked through a mirror and emerged to screams from fans and celebs alike, as Alicia Keys, Beyoncé and Pink hooted their excitement.

—Gil Kaufman, MTV[48]

In September 2009, Janet Jackson performed "Scream" on the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards as part of a medley tribute to Michael Jackson, who died three months earlier.[48] MTV General Manager Stephen Friedman stated "[t]his is not something that just came together—we've been in talks with [Janet] for a while... We felt there was no one better than Janet to anchor it and send a really powerful message."[49] She worked with several world-renowned choreographers, including Dave Scott, Cris Judd, Brian Friedman, Wade Robson, Tyce Diorio, Travis Payne, Jeri Slaughter, Laurie Ann Gibson, Mia Michaels and Tina Landon, with her personal creative director, Gil Duldulao, coordinating the performance.[49] Gil Kaufman of MTV commented "[w]earing a black-and-white, skintight leather dress with matching pants, Janet busted some of her and Michael's signature moves, flawlessly re-creating her late brother's steps as they were projected on the screen behind her."[48] Michael Slezak of Entertainment Weekly commented, "she worked that stage harder than an underpaid assistant doin' overtime, and as tributes go, this was as energetic as it was heartfelt."[50]

Track listingsEdit

US CD Single[51]
  1. "Scream" – 4:37
  2. "Childhood (Theme From "Free Willy 2")" – 4:27
US 12" Single[52]
  1. "Scream (Classic Club Mix)" – 9:00
  2. "Scream (Pressurized Dub Pt. 1)" – 10:06
  3. "Scream (Naughty Main Mix)" – 5:42
  4. "Scream (Dave "Jam" Extended Urban Remix)" – 5:09
  5. "Scream (Single Edit #2)" – 4:04
  6. "Childhood (Theme From "Free Willy 2")" – 4:27
  7. "Scream (The LFO Remix)" - 5:21

Remixes for "Scream"Edit


Certifications and salesEdit

Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[93] Gold 35,000^
New Zealand (RMNZ)[94] Gold 15,000*
United Kingdom (BPI)[95] Silver 200,000^
United States (RIAA)[34] Platinum 1,064,402[96][97][98]

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone

Cover versionsEdit

See alsoEdit


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