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Michael Jackson - Thriller

Picture of Thriller album art by Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson - Thriller

Success: the alluring illusion of power, of control; of love and acceptance. Dance: a series of muscle contractions creating the illusion of continuous motion. Film: the illusion of images used to tell a story and create worlds with mirrors. On Thriller, Michael Jackson wears all three with panache, making a testament to the emperor having no clothes being irrelevant, or, in this case, the king.

Thriller is the best-selling album in history. But it’s impossible to talk about the music itself in isolation. Who doesn’t remember the iconic music videos? The moonwalks and crotch grabs? The rhinestone glove? The commerce surrounding this album contributes endlessly to its enduring appeal.

Picture of Michael Jackson with zombies

Michael Jackson

That’s not a knock on the album itself; this is a lean, mean, hit machine. Per capita, this album may contain the least filler of any pop album in recent history, and its middle alone is career defining. “Thriller,” “Beat It,” and “Billie Jean” are so indelible that you can almost see that sparkling glove and pelvic thrust as you listen, anticipating the moonwalk and Jackson biting his lower lip seductively as he tries to convince that one girl that she should sidle close, lest the zombies attack.

The production and ambience add to the seduction: the liquid bass lines ride the pound of the drum machine with a spinal, funk-influenced back end but never overshadow Jackson’s affected and intense voice. Thriller so drips in charisma, you are cool by association. You want to be Michael Jackson.

A powerful, tragic illusion.

This is a deeply troubled album. Jackson’s lyrics are about the terrifying price of fame. Despite being a crowd favorite, “Billie Jean” is one of the darkest songs you’ll ever hear—being accused of fathering a child and put on trial by the court of public opinion—while “Beat it” talks about resisting the urge to violence. But the glamour of it all makes you forget all about the hollowness at the center and keeps you from ever questioning whether the king is, in fact, wearing any clothes.

Thriller so drips in charisma, you are cool by association.

I love this album; I still remember the hours I spent practicing the moonwalk, forcing the awkward positioning of my feet to defy gravity on the hardwood floor of my house. Whenever I listen to this record, I let the spirit of those infectious beats possess me, make me cool. Yet, I’m filled with a distant despair, knowing that Jackson’s voice was actually deep, and that he suffered so much, despite having everything anyone could want.

I guess that’s what happens when you try to grab an illusion.

Until I thrill you more than any ghoul could ever dare try.