Meaning & Facts Of “Smooth Criminal” By Michael Jackson

Smooth Criminal was the seventh Top 10 song from Michael Jackson’s Bad album, but it wasn’t until years later it got the full recognition it deserved. Though the lyrics touch on some dark subject matter, the track was received well thanks to the uptempo beat, strong pulsating beat, and his flawless vocal performance. But what exactly is the song about and is there any truth to the story?

So What Is The Song Really About?

Michael Jackson - Smooth Criminal (Official Video)

Smooth Criminal isn’t a track that throws metaphors about and ends up leaving the listener to figure out the meaning on their own. Frankly, it’s a mostly self-explanatory song that tells the story of a woman named Annie. And the best way to hear the story is to just take a look at the lyrics

The track opens with a fast tempo, and while it might not match the heavy subject matter, it perfectly mirrors the story as it plays out from both the perspective of the woman and those rushing to try to save her. 

The first verse describes the attack in more detail than one would expect from a pop song in 1988. The attacker crashes through the window, leaving behind a bit of blood while the terrified Annie runs away and is eventually struck down in her room. 

The refrain of the track asks over and over if she is okay, though why this happens is another matter altogether.

Jackson took the inspiration for the name Annie from the model dolls used to teach CPR called Resusci Anne. One of the things people who take CPR classes are taught is to ask the person if they’re okay to verify whether or not they happen to be unconscious. During training, they must ask “Annie, are you okay?” quite a bit, leading to the inspiration for the chorus of Smooth Criminal.

The second verse breaks in from the perspective of first responders discovering Annie after the attack. The responders piece together what has happened and move to try to save her, though they likely are unsuccessful. 

This song is entirely fictional and hasn’t ever been stated to be about an actual event. That being said, it’s an amazing portrayal of the events in the track in almost every aspect.

The tempo of the lyrical delivery matches the heartbeat-style beat to create a frantic emotion. This works for both Annie running away from the attacking criminal and the responders who show up on the scene and try to save her. The King of Pop’s high notes are pitch-perfect for a terrified person who just arrived on the scene.

Repeating “Annie, are you okay?” over and over also gets across the panic the responders must have felt when they arrived and saw what had happened. It’s almost like the shock of the crime has forced the attending medics to default to their basic training for CPR and just keep asking if she is okay, even though they never get a response. 

Next: The best Michael Jackson songs (our full list)

The History Accompanying “Smooth Criminal”

Constru-centro, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Smooth Criminal didn’t come about by accident, and it definitely wasn’t Jackson’s first stab at music with more of an edge. The song itself is the completed and polished version of another one of his tracks meant for the Bad album in Al Capone. This song didn’t make the cut until later rereleases of the album but served as the beta version of the full Smooth Criminal.

Al Capone loosely references the Chicago gangster and set the stage for Jackson to come up with his own lyrical narrative in Smooth Criminal.

The original music video for Smooth Criminal was released on MTV in 1988 and was a little over nine minutes in length. It would go on to win three different awards for Best Music Video from the Brit Awards, People’s Choice Awards, and Critic’s Choice Awards. 

The music video was also the first time Jackson performed the “anti-gravity lean.” Basically, the dancers keep their feet flat on the ground while leaning forward at a 45-degree angle at the ankles. It’s a physically impossible move that puts their center of gravity too far forward to allow them to keep standing. 

In the music video, the move was achieved via the use of cables and harnesses. By 1993 though, the move was being performed live in concert by Jackson. To achieve it on stage, he and his team had to wear shoes with hooks that could lock into pegs on the stage. It allowed them to perform the move without falling, but it still requires an incredible amount of core strength to pull off. 

Smooth Criminal would go on to be named the sixth-best Michael Jackson song by Rolling Stone magazine, the best track from his Bad album by Newsweek, and the second-best song on the album by Entertainment Weekly. 

The track would peak on the Billboard Hot 100 at the number seven spot and hit the number two spot on the Billboard Hot Black Singles chart. 

“Smooth Criminal” Covers and Inspirations

Alien Ant Farm - Smooth Criminal (Official Music Video)

With any popular song, you can expect some other bands or singers to cover it. Smooth Criminal is no exception with both Alien Ant Farm and 2CELLOS doing their own versions of it.

2CELLOS - Smooth Criminal [OFFICIAL VIDEO]

The cast of Glee also performed a version of Smooth Criminal on the 11th episode of season three. Santana and Sebastian perform the track like a duel while she is trying to get a confession out of him over what he put in a slushie that was thrown at Blaine. The duo 2CELLOS is actually playing the music for this one, though their own cover of the song is the one we showed above.

The anthology film Moonwalker included a short film called Smooth Criminal that made up a central portion of the film. It included additional lyrics that weren’t included in the song on the Bad album and an extended musical section. 

The track was also used as the background music for round two of the Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker arcade game. Clips from the music video are used for some of his dance attack animations in the game, and he appears at the end of the game in his signature white hat and clothing from the Smooth Criminal music video. 

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