Iconic in life and death, Michael Jackson’s discography has left a lasting impact on music history. His impact on pop culture is undeniable, and he is referred to as the King of Pop for good reason. However, in 1983, his reputation grew to accommodate an unofficial title—King of Halloween. When he released the universally acclaimed music video for “Thriller,” he forever changed the landscape for music videos in the industry. Forty years later, the song and music video are still widely referenced in modern media.
The Beginning Of “Thriller”
VARIOUS, VARIOUS – JUNE 25: Michael Jackson performs in concert circa 1986. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)
On November 2, 1982, Michael Jackson released his sixth solo studio album, Thriller. Jackson dropped seven singles from the project, including hit songs “Beat It,” “Billie Jean,” and “Human Nature.” The last single released was the eponymous track “Thriller.” However, the song was originally not intended to be released as a single, as Epic Records viewed it as a novelty. Additionally, the label was already satisfied with the successes of “Beat It” and “Billie Jean.” That is, of course, until album sales began to drop months after the album’s November 1982 release. Something had to be done, and in a spooky turn of events, “Thriller” came to the rescue.
Setting Up For Greatness
After deciding to make “Thriller” a single, Jackson had to recruit the right team to bring his vision to life through a music video. Consequently, he recruited the help of veteran director John Landis. Speaking with The A.V. Club, Landis revealed that Jackson was fascinated by his film, American Werewolf in London, which greatly inspired his conceptual portrayal of a werewolf. Landis not only directed the video for “Thriller,” but he also co-wrote it.
The duo conceived it to be a short film instead of just another regular music video. Oscar-winning makeup artist Rick Baker handled the makeup for Jackson’s iconic transformations in the video. Ola Ray, a model, starred beside Jackson in the video and portrayed his girlfriend. Overall, the music video for “Thriller” was a massive production, and at the time, cost between $500k to $900k to make.
Michael Jackson’s Thriller Is Released
The 14-minute short film for “Thriller” had a limited theatrical release in late November 1983. In the last week of November, Michael Jackson’s Thriller opened for Disney’s Fantasia at a cinema in L.A. This was done so the feature would be eligible for the Oscars. After weeks of impatiently waiting to witness the spectacle of a video, fans finally got to see it in December. The short film had its worldwide debut on MTV on December 2, 1983, at midnight.
The music video for “Thriller” was an instant hit and impacted the entire world. Upon its release, sales for the Thriller album doubled. Ultimately, the short film significantly contributed in making Jackson’s sixth body of work the best-selling album in history. However, the pop star initially had reservations about releasing the video due to Michael Jackson’s background as a Jehovah’s Witness. The themes of the video clashed with his beliefs, and he allegedly had cold feet about releasing the movie. Nonetheless, he forged ahead with his plans. In his memoir, Moonwalk, Jackson revealed that he wanted to “be a pioneer in this relatively new medium and make the best short music movies we could make.”
Michael Jackson’s Thriller & Impacting Halloween
Although not originally a Halloween release, “Thriller” soon became heavily associated with the holiday. It has also seen a resurgence on the charts during the Halloween season. The horror themes of the music video fit right in with the eerie atmosphere Halloween is supposed to evoke. Every year since its release 40 years ago, “Thriller” has been heavily referenced during the spooky season.
Fans and celebrities constantly pay tribute to Jackson and his iconic short film. Halloween and the music industry have not remained the same since. Michael Jackson’s Thriller remains one of the greatest music videos of all time. With Halloween right around the corner, we are reminded, once again, of the game-changing video the short film is.