Whether protesting environmental destruction, racism, media distortion, materialism, war or injustice, Michael Jackson consistently used music as a means to challenge the status quo and change the world. While critics have been slow to acknowledge his dissident role, he stands alongside musicians like Bob Dylan, John Lennon and Radiohead as one of the most astute and powerful protest artists of the past century. Below are what I feel are ten of his best defiant songs.
1. Earth Song
Probably the most epic protest song in popular music history. Here’s why.
Key lyric: “Now I don’t know where we are/ Although I know we’ve drifted far.”
2. They Don’t Care About Us
Sharp, militant, direct — a rallying call for the voiceless and oppressed.
Key lyric: “I can’t believe this is the land from which I came.”
3. Is It Scary
Shrewd use of the Gothic tradition to turn the tables on a judgmental society.
Key lyric: “Am I amusing you/Or just confusing you/Am I the beast you visualized?”
Pent-up angst unleashed with a vengeance.
Key lyric: “Tired of injustice/Tired of the schemes.”
5. We’ve Had Enough
Easily one of the best anti-war songs of the decade.
Key lyric: “It seems as if we have no voice/ It’s time for us to make a choice.”
Denunciation of materialism and greed that rivals Pink Floyd.
Key lyric: “Are you infected with the same disease/ Of lust, gluttony and greed.”
7. Tabloid Junkie
Probably MJ’s best polemic against the media.
Key lyric: “You’re parasites in black and white/ Do anything for news.”
8. Black or White
Inspiring call for racial harmony with an undercurrent of indignation.
Key lyric: “Don’t tell me you agree with me/ When I saw you kickin’ dirt in my eye.”
Signaled MJ’s dramatic shift to more socially-conscious music in the early 90s, as he fends off the surrounding madness with music.
Key lyric: “The world keeps changing/Rearranging minds.”
MJ takes on the role of monster again to highlight society’s fears and obsessions.
Key lyric: “You should feel threatened by me.”
Honorable mention: Shout, Why You Wanna Trip On Me, Be Not Always, D.S., There Must Be More to Life Than This
What do you think? What’s your Top Ten? What’s missing?