Smooth Criminal

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"Smooth Criminal"
Smooth Criminal.jpg
Single by Michael Jackson
from the album Bad
B-side "Smooth Criminal" (instrumental)
Released October 24, 1988 (1988-10-24)[1]
Recorded January 1987[2]
Length 4:17
Label Epic
Songwriter(s) Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson singles chronology
"Another Part of Me"
"Smooth Criminal"
"Leave Me Alone"
Audio sample

"Smooth Criminal" is a song by American recording artist Michael Jackson from his seventh studio album Bad (1987). The song was written and composed by Jackson and produced by Quincy Jones (with Jackson as co-producer). First broadcast on television as a video in early October 1988, it was released as the album's seventh single on October 21, 1988, and peaked at number seven on the US Billboard Hot 100.[3] The song reached number 1 in Belgium, Iceland, the Netherlands and Spain. It was re-released on April 10, 2006, as a part of Jackson's Visionary: The Video Singles collection box set. The re-released Visionary single charted at number 19 in the UK Singles Chart. The song is one of Jackson's signature songs, and has appeared on numerous greatest hits albums.

The song contains a fast-paced beat intertwined with Jackson's lyrics about a woman named Annie, who has been violently attacked in her apartment.

The song serves as the theme song to Jackson's 1988 film Moonwalker, and plays as the background soundtrack in a section of the video game Michael Jackson's Moonwalker.

Background and composition[edit]

The song was written by Jackson and produced by Quincy Jones (with Jackson as co-producer). An early version of the song was written in 1985, and the original demo was recorded under the title of "Al Capone" (which was later released on Bad 25). This version did not make the album and was re-worked and re-written as "Smooth Criminal."

This song is played in the key of A minor.[4] Jackson's vocal spans from G3 to E5.[4] It has a moderate tempo of 118 beats per minute.[4] The refrain of the song contains the phrase "Annie, are you OK?" This is a phrase used in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training courses, and Michael Jackson is known to have taken a CPR course.[5] Resusci Anne, otherwise known as "Annie" in English-speaking countries, is the name of a mannequin commonly used in CPR training. As part of the course, trainees are taught to say "Annie, are you OK?" to the dummy in order to check that the patient is conscious and responsive.[6] [7]

Critical response[edit]

Jason Elias of AllMusic called the song one of Jackson's best: "Despite the content 'Smooth Criminal' is a gorgeous and exhilarating record."[8] The New York Times' Jon Pareles wrote: "in Smooth Criminal, the singer finds a bloodstained carpet and an unconscious body, and asks, obsessively, Annie are you O.K.? when, clearly, she's not."[9] Rolling Stone's Davitt Sigerson wrote: "Smooth Criminal" may be the result of retiring too soon after a Brian de Palma picture."[10]

Music video[edit]

Jackson originally wanted to make the music video in the western genre, but he later decided after watching 'The Godfather' with director Colin Chilvers to change it to a 1930s gangster style.[11] Film was shot between mid-February and April 1987.[2] The video premiered on MTV on October 13, 1988.

Jeffrey Daniel of the soul music group Shalamar co-choreographed the "Smooth Criminal" video with Jackson and Vincent Paterson, who was a back-up dancer in "Beat It" and "Thriller". It was directed by special effects coordinator Colin Chilvers. The dance sequence of the video in the 1930s style lounge (and Michael's white suit and fedora) pays tribute to the Fred Astaire musical comedy film The Band Wagon. Currently there are four different versions of the video for "Smooth Criminal", as well as an additional vignette created for the 2009 This Is It concert series:

  • Original Moonwalker version - This is the version included in the Moonwalker film. While technically the whole "Smooth Criminal" segment is about 40 minutes long, the actual "Smooth Criminal" song section is only about ten minutes. It is generally the most complete version of the video and includes the unedited middle section of interpretive dance with the dancers but does not include the last six seconds where a flapper fans herself after the door is shut behind Michael. In comparison to the original song this version has two lines in the second stanza added: "Everytime I try to find him he's leaving no clues left behind him. And they have no way of knowing of the suspect, or what to expect."
  • Moonwalker edit - This version is included on HIStory on Film, Volume II as well as Michael Jackson's Vision and it is basically an edited version of the ten-minute song section from the "Smooth Criminal" segment in the film Moonwalker. It is essentially the same, however it has some minor changes including: different opening music and no dialogue, the middle section with the dancers chanting has been truncated (some of the chanting has been shortened) and ends similarly to the original where Michael exits the club but with the addition of the lead flapper fanning herself.
  • Album version - This is the version of the video that is on Michael Jackson's official website, as well as his YouTube channel. It also appears during the end credits for Moonwalker and Number Ones and was included on the Visionary single and the bonus Target exclusive DVD of Bad 25.[12][13] The video is a montage of clips from the original Moonwalker version, that have either been sped up, or slowed down, and glossed with an added blur effect, as well as some alternate angles. The video is four minutes and seventeen seconds long. Throughout the video, the regular version of the song is played.
  • Single version - This unreleased version is edited to be in sync with the single mix taken from the "Smooth Criminal" single released October 24, 1988. It excludes the added lyric and interlude. This video is four minutes and three seconds long. It is considered an MTV Base video.
  • This Is It vignette - 2009 video, shot in black and white and intended to be shown during the London O2 concert series. It runs three minutes and forty-two seconds and features Jackson in a reprisal of his Moonwalker character, digitally inserted in the 1946 film noir Gilda which includes the song "Put the Blame on Mame" along with a few shots/scenes of his film Moonwalker.

The video won Best Music Video at the 1989 Brit Awards and the Critic's Choice awarded Jackson the "Best Video" award and the People's Choice Awards for "Favorite Music Video" for that same year.

The style of clothing as well as mannerisms Jackson portrayed were reused in the numerous adaptations of the video game Michael Jackson's Moonwalker. The song itself serves as the background music for the "Club 30s" stage, the nightclub seen in the music video, that appears in the game.[14]

Anti-gravity lean[edit]

Jackson performs an anti-gravity lean in the "Smooth Criminal" music video.

In the music video, Michael Jackson and the dancers immediately around him perform a seemingly impossible forward lean; this illusion was created using strings and wires in the music video.[15] Without these, it would be tedious and impossible.[16] To accomplish this maneuver in live shows, a hitching mechanism which Jackson co-patented was built into the floor of the stage and the performers' shoes, thereby allowing performers to lean without needing to keep their centers of mass directly over their feet.[17] The system consists of pegs that rise from the stage at the appropriate moment and special shoes with ankle supports and cutouts in the heels which can slide over the pegs and be temporarily attached to the stage.[18]

In the patent, it is stated that the illusion in the music video was achieved by means of harnesses and cables which had to be connected to and disconnected from the floor by stagehands.[18]

Live performances[edit]

The song was performed live on all of Jackson's tours.

Bad World Tour: During the second leg of Jackson's Bad World Tour (1988-1989), directed and choreographed by Jackson and Vincent Paterson. The performance featured a dance routine modeled after the scene from Moonwalker. This version of the song is available on the DVD Live at Wembley July 16, 1988. In this version, he wears the signature white suit coat with blue armband and pocket square and the white fedora over his normal outfit. The "Hotel" intro was performed, similar to the opening of This Place Hotel in the 1987 leg of the Bad Tour, containing a spoken introduction and Jackson's silhouette dancing behind a lit curtain.

Dangerous World Tour: By the time the 1992 Dangerous World Tour came around, this performance became a regular on Jackson tours. This time, the jacket and hat were put on top of the gold leotard. Also, the anti-gravity lean was introduced during this tour. During the Bad tour, the lean was a drop to the floor, but Jackson stopped himself before hitting it. The lean was pulled off using a special cut-out in the performers' shoes patented by Jackson that held them to the floor using nails while they leaned forward. This performance can be seen on the DVD Live in Bucharest: The Dangerous Tour.

Part of the song was also briefly used in the middle of the live version of the song "Dangerous" since Jackson's performance at the 1995 MTV Video Music Awards to the 2002 American Bandstand 50th Anniversary performance.

History World Tour: During the 1996-1997 History World Tour, the costume was the coat, hat and a blue shirt and a white tie over the gold pants. The "Hotel" opening was scrapped for a similar opening with no spoken line, instead showcasing the background dancers and a keyboard interlude of "Childhood" by Brad Buxer.

This Is It: The song was rehearsed for the This Is It concerts, which were scheduled to run from July 2009 to March 2010 before Jackson's untimely death in June 2009. Rather than featuring Jackson dancing behind a lit curtain, the performance would open with a 3-D vignette of Jackson being chased by several gangsters from early 1930s films, inserting him into the film noirs Gilda, The Big Sleep, and In a Lonely Place. The vignette would end with Jackson jumping out of a window as Humphrey Bogart shoots at him and onto the stage where he picks up a tommy gun and shoots out the lights of a marquee to spell "Smooth Criminal". Throwing the tommy gun aside, Jackson would then pause for a moment before cuing the band to start the song. The performance would have also featured the return of the anti-gravity lean and the inclusion of dancers descending from the ceiling inside chandeliers that they would blow out with tommy guns.

Film adaptation[edit]

The song was adapted into a short film directed by Colin Chilvers which was the centerpiece of the 1988 film Moonwalker starring Michael Jackson and Joe Pesci in the lead roles.


The film begins with three homeless children—Sean, Katie and Zeke (Sean Lennon, Kellie Parker and Brandon Quintin Adams)—sneaking through a big city to see their friend Michael walk out of his store in a black suit covered over with his white jacket. As Michael stands in front of the door, he gazes at the night sky before he is attacked by mobsters with machine guns. The film then backtracks to show Michael and the children playing in a meadow in happier times. Their dog Skipper runs away, and as Michael and Katie look for him, they uncover the lair of Mr. Big (Joe Pesci). Mr. Big—whose real name is Frankie LiDeo, which is an anagram of Frank DiLeo—is a drug-dealing mobster with a disciplined private army at his command. He wants to get the entire population of Earth addicted to drugs, starting with children. He likes to eat nuts and leaves nutshells wherever he goes. He is obsessed with spiders, as displayed by their abundance at the entrance to his lair and his operation named "bugs and drugs". Further, all his henchmen sport a spider crest on their uniforms. Katie screams when she sees a spider on her hand, and Mr. Big discovers them spying on his operation.

The story returns to the shooting in front of Michael's store. Unknown to the mobsters, Michael has a lucky star, and using it, he escaped the gunfire. Upon realizing that Michael has escaped again, Mr. Big orders his henchmen to track him down with dogs. Michael is eventually cornered in an alley, where he uses his lucky star again to turn into a sportscar (the 1970 Lancia Stratos prototype) that mows down several of Mr. Big's henchmen. Michael is pursued through the city streets until he loses the henchmen. Meanwhile, the children scout out Club 30's, where Michael had told them to meet him, and find only an abandoned and haunted nightclub. As Michael arrives, Katie sees a silhouette of him turning back from a car into himself, this time in a white and blue suit. The door of the club opens with a gust of wind, and Michael walks in to find it filled with zoot suiters and swing dancers. The children gather outside a window of the club and watch Michael dance to "Smooth Criminal."

The song used in the film is much longer than the album release, with several lyrics that clarify the story. There is also an interlude wherein Jackson joins the other dancers in a modern interpretive dance. At the climax of the song, Mr. Big lays siege to the club and kidnaps Katie. Michael follows them back to Big's lair and ends up surrounded by his henchmen. Mr. Big appears and taunts Michael by threatening to inject Katie with highly addictive narcotics. Katie breaks free for a moment, but Mr. Big grabs her again and starts kicking Michael. As Mr. Big stands over Michael and orders his henchmen to kill him and Katie, Michael looks up and sees his lucky star. He transforms into a giant robot and kills all of Mr. Big's soldiers, then turns into a spaceship. Mr. Big gets into a large hillside-mounted energy cannon, firing on the spaceship as it flies into a nearby ravine. The children are his next target, but the spaceship returns from the ravine just in time to fire a beam into the cannon with Mr. Big inside, destroying it and killing him. The children watch the ship fly into the night sky with a shower of light.

The children return to the city, believing that Michael is gone forever. As the boys talk about Michael, Katie walks away crying and clutching a paper star. As she sits in a corner wishing for him to come back, the paper star flies out of her hand and Michael walks out of the night fog. He takes them to Club 30's, where they find that the club has turned into the backstage area of a concert. Michael's stage crew return the children's missing dog and then escort Michael onto the stage where he performs "Come Together".


  • Written, composed, clap, solo and background vocals by Michael Jackson
  • Produced by Quincy Jones
  • Co-produced by Michael Jackson, Bill Bottrell
  • John Robinson: Drums
  • Bruce Swedien: Recording Engineer
  • David Williams: Guitar, Bass guitar
  • Kim Hutchcroft, Larry Williams: Saxophones
  • Gary Grant, Jerry Hey: Trumpets
  • Kevin Maloney: Muted Steinway piano
  • Christopher Currell: Synclavier
    • Certain synclavier effects by Denny Jaeger and Michael Rubini
  • John Barnes, Michael Boddicker: Synthesizers
  • Chief of police announcement by Bruce Swedien
  • Michael Jackson's heartbeat recording by Dr. Eric Chevlen; digitally processed in the Synclavier
  • Rhythm arrangement by Michael Jackson and John Barnes
  • Vocal arrangement by Michael Jackson
  • Horn arrangement by Jerry Hey
  • Video directed by Colin Chilvers

Chart performance[edit]


Region Certification Certified units/Sales
United Kingdom (BPI)[40] Platinum 614,000[41]
United States (RIAA)[42] 2× Platinum 2,000,000double-dagger

^shipments figures based on certification alone
double-daggersales+streaming figures based on certification alone

Track listing[edit]

Alien Ant Farm version[edit]

"Smooth Criminal"
Alien ant farm smooth criminal.png
Single by Alien Ant Farm
from the album Anthology
Released July 24, 2001 (2001-07-24)
Format CD single
Recorded 2000
Length 3:29
Label DreamWorks
Songwriter(s) Michael Jackson
Producer(s) Jay Baumgardner
Alien Ant Farm singles chronology
"Smooth Criminal"
"Movies (re-release)"

In 2001, Alien Ant Farm released a cover version of "Smooth Criminal" as their debut single from their album Anthology. According to the band members, they would play a few riffs of the Jackson song while warming up before gigs and audience members would request them to play the entire song. This positive feedback encouraged them to record their own rendition of "Smooth Criminal" and include it on Anthology. It became a number one hit on Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks chart and was also a number one in Australia. The music video was directed by Marc Klasfeld, and features multiple references to Michael Jackson music videos, including the "Smooth Criminal" video itself. The song was featured in the 2001 film American Pie 2 and the TV spot for Horrible Bosses 2. This version was featured in several video games including Karaoke Revolution, Guitar Hero On Tour: Decades and as downloadable content for the Rock Band series.

The album Greatest Hits (1999) includes a hidden track named "Slick Thief", which is an early version of "Smooth Criminal".


Weekly charts[edit]

Chart (2001) Peak
Australia (ARIA)[46] 1
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[47] 6
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[48] 3
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Wallonia)[49] 4
Denmark (Tracklisten)[50] 3
Finland (Suomen virallinen lista)[51] 2
France (SNEP)[52] 27
Germany (Official German Charts)[53] 5
Ireland (IRMA)[25] 2
Italy (FIMI)[54] 11
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[55] 4
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[56] 4
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[57] 4
Norway (VG-lista)[58] 7
Scotland (Official Charts Company)[59] 3
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[60] 5
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[61] 4
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[62] 3
UK Rock and Metal (Official Charts Company)[63] 1
US Billboard Hot 100[64] 23
US Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks (Billboard)[64] 18
US Modern Rock Tracks(Billboard)[64] 1
US Top 40 Mainstream(Billboard)[64] 12
US Top 40 Tracks(Billboard)[64] 24

Year-end charts[edit]

Chart (2001) Position
Australia (ARIA)[65] 8
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[66] 61
Belgium (Ultratop Flanders)[67] 24
Belgium (Ultratop Wallonia)[68] 55
Germany (Official German Charts)[69] 43
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[70] 42
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[71] 48
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[72] 39
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[73] 32
Chart (2002) Position
Australia (ARIA)[74] 60

Decade-end charts[edit]

Chart (2000–2009) Position
Australia (ARIA)[75] 48


Region Certification Certified units/Sales
Australia (ARIA)[76] 2× Platinum 140,000^
Germany (BVMI)[77] Gold 250,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[78] Gold 400,000double-dagger

^shipments figures based on certification alone
double-daggersales+streaming figures based on certification alone

Glee version[edit]

In January 2012, Naya Rivera (as her character Santana Lopez) and Grant Gustin (as Sebastian Smythe) performed "Smooth Criminal" as a duet in the season three episode "Michael" of the American musical television show Glee, backed by musical duo 2Cellos. The song was filmed in a similar environment as the 2Cellos music video, in a room surrounded by empty chairs as the two musicians play. This cover debuted and peaked at number 26 at Billboard Hot 100, number 10 at Billboard Digital Songs, and number 28 at Billboard Canadian Hot 100 chart at the week of February 18, 2012.[79]


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External links[edit]