Black or White

This article is about the Michael Jackson song. For the Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel song, see Black or White (Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel song). For the 2014 American film, see Black or White (film).
"Black or White"
Single by Michael Jackson
from the album Dangerous
B-side "I Can't Help It"
Released November 11, 1991 (1991-11-11)
Recorded June 25, 1990 – October 29, 1991
Length 4:16 (album version)
3:19 (single edit)
Label Epic
  • Michael Jackson
  • Bill Bottrell
Certification Platinum (RIAA)
Michael Jackson singles chronology
"Do the Bartman"
"Black or White"
"Remember the Time"
Music video
"Black or White" on YouTube
Music sample
"Black or White"

"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 Jackson's eighth studio album, Dangerous. It was written, composed and produced by Michael Jackson and Bill Bottrell.

Background and composition

"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, rap 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 song's main riff is often incorrectly attributed to Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash. His guitar playing is actually heard in the skit that precedes the album version of the song.[10][11]


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 forty radio stations the first day of release.[12]

"Black or White" entered the Billboard Hot 100 at number 35.[13] 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" also won the Hot 100 in just three weeks in 1969.[13][14] 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.[14] 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.[13] 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.[13][14][15] The single was certified platinum in the US, selling over one million copies and became the second best selling single of the year.[12][14]

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)"[16]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'".[17] Stephen Thomas Erlewine of Allmusic highlighted the song.[18] The prestigious Pazz & Jop critics' poll ranked "Black or White" at number 19.[19]


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.[20] 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 (album).

Music video


The music video for "Black or White" was first broadcast on MTV, BET, VH1, and Fox (giving them their highest Nielsen ratings ever)[21] as well as the BBC's Top Of The Pops in the UK[22] on November 14, 1991.[23] Along with Jackson, it featured Macaulay Culkin, Tess Harper, and George Wendt.[24] The video was directed by John Landis, who previously directed Thriller. It was choreographed by Vincent Paterson. It premiered simultaneously in 27 countries, with an audience of 500 million viewers, the most ever for a music video.[23]

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[25]) 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). This attracts the attention of his grouchy father (George Wendt), who furiously orders 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 (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 a Wolfgang guitar and playing a power chord, and telling the father to "Eat this!".[21] The sound then shatters and destroys the house windows and sends his father (seated in the chair) halfway around the world, where the actual song begins.[21] 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.[23]

The video shows scenes in which African hunters begin dancing by using moves from West African dance, 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[21] (wearing Ukrainian clothing and dancing Hopak). 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.[23] 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.[13]

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 censorship

Music video comparison
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. Two of the four racial messages in this version of the short film are anti-black (Nigger Go Home (making reference to 666 by the G's) and KKK Rules), one Anti-Mexican/foreigner (No More Wetbacks), and one anti-Jew/neo-Nazi (Hitler Lives with swastika)

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.[23] 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,[21] and then zips his pants up. In the original version, Jackson is seen smashing windows,[21] 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.[23] To make the vandalism and violence more understandable to viewers, an altered version was produced, adding racist graffiti to the windows Jackson breaks. The version included in the box 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 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.

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.[23] 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. On March 28, 2009, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's music video program Rage aired the uncensored, original graffiti version in its entirety in a 720p digital broadcast. Even though the short, censored version continues to air periodically to this day, some television channels still broadcast the complete version.

Track listings

  • Maxi CD
  1. "Black or White" (single version) – 3:22
  2. "Black or White" (instrumental) – 3:22
  3. "Smooth Criminal" – 4:13
  • 7" single and 3" CD
  1. "Black or White" (single version) – 3:22
  2. "Black or White" (instrumental) – 3:22
  • 12" single
  1. "Black or White" (The Clivilles & Cole House/Club Mix) – 7:36
  2. "Black or White" (The Clivilles & Cole House/Dub Mix) – 6:34
  3. "Black or White" (House with Guitar Radio Mix) – 3:53
  4. "Black or White" (single version) – 3:22
  5. "Black or White" (Instrumental) – 3:22
  6. "Black or White" (Tribal Beats) – 3:38

  • The Clivillés & Cole Remixes
  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
  • UK PAL VHS promo
  1. "Black or White" (Extended Version) (Music Video) - 6:23
  • Visionary CD side
  1. "Black or White" (single version) – 3:22
  2. "Black or White" (Clivillés & Cole House Guitar Radio Mix) – 3:53
  • Visionary DVD side
  1. "Black or White" (Music Video) – 11:00

Covers and cultural impact

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

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

Charts and certifications

Peak positions

Chart (1991–92) Peak
Australia (ARIA)[34] 1
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[35] 2
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[36] 1
Canadian RPM Adult Contemporary[37] 3
Canadian RPM 10 Dance[38] 1
Canadian RPM Top Singles[39] 1
Cuba Singles Chart[15] 1
Denmark (Tracklisten)[15] 1
Eurochart Hot 100 Singles[15] 1
Finland (Suomen virallinen lista)[40] 1
France (SNEP)[41] 1
Germany (Official German Charts)[42] 2
Irish Singles Chart[43] 1
Israel Singles Chart[15] 1
Italy (FIMI)[44] 1
Mexico (Mexican Airplay)[15] 1
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[45] 3
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[46] 2
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[47] 1
Norway (VG-lista)[48] 1
Spain (AFYVE)[49] 1
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[50] 1
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[51] 1
Turkish Singles Chart[52] 1
UK (Official Charts Company)[53] 1
US Billboard Hot 100[54] 1
US Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary[54] 23
US Billboard Hot Dance Club Play[54] 2
US Billboard Hot Dance Music/Maxi-Singles Sales[54] 1
US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles[54] 3
Zimbabwean Singles Chart[15] 1

Chart (1992) (Clivilles & Coles remixes) Peak
Australia (ARIA)[20] 18
Irish Singles Chart[43] 11
UK (Official Charts Company)[53] 14
Chart (2006) Peak
France (SNEP)[41] 64
Irish Singles Chart[43] 22
Italy (FIMI)[55] 7
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[46] 24
Spain (PROMUSICAE)[56] 2
UK (Official Charts Company)[53] 18
Chart (2009) Peak
Australia (ARIA)[34] 6
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[35] 17
Denmark (Tracklisten)[57] 22
European Hot 100 Singles[58] 25
France (SNEP)[59] 9
Hot Canadian Digital Singles[54] 8
Italy (FIMI)[55] 7
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[46] 21
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[47] 16
Norway (VG-lista)[48] 18
Spain (PROMUSICAE)[56] 22
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[50] 11
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[51] 7
UK (Official Charts Company)[53] 25
US Billboard Hot Digital Songs[54] 13
Chart (2011) Peak
Hungary (MAHASZ)[60] 6
Chart (2016) Peak
Poland (Polish Airplay Top 100)[61] 64

End-of-year charts

End of year chart (1991) Position
Australia (ARIA)[62] 34
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[63] 19
End of year chart (1992) Position
Australia (ARIA)[62] 83
US Billboard Hot 100[64] 14

End of decade charts

Chart (1990–1999) Position
US Billboard Hot 100[65] 39


Country Certification Sales
Australia 2× Platinum[66] 140,000[66]
Germany Gold[67] 250,000
New Zealand Platinum[68] 15,000[68][69]
United States Platinum[14] 1,000,000[14]



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External links

Preceded by
"I'm Too Sexy" by Right Said Fred
Australian ARIA Singles Chart number-one single
November 30, 1991 – January 18, 1992
Succeeded by
"Let's Talk About Sex" by Salt-n-Pepa
Preceded by
"Dizzy" by Vic Reeves and The Wonder Stuff
UK number-one single
November 23–30, 1991 (2 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" by George Michael and Elton John
Preceded by
"Set Adrift on Memory Bliss" by P.M. Dawn
Billboard Hot 100 number-one single
December 7, 1991 – January 18, 1992
Succeeded by
"All 4 Love" by Color Me Badd
Preceded by
"Song of Ocarina"
by Jean-Philippe Audin and Diego Modena
French (SNEP) number one single
January 25, 1992 – February 2, 1992
Succeeded by
"Song of Ocarina"
by Jean-Philippe Audin and Diego Modena
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