“I have a wife and two children who love me, I am the victim of police brutality”
This week’s From The Vault comes courtesy of Michael Jackson and his plaintive ‘They Don’t Care About Us’, a more than apt selection considering the social climate that has been reigning for the past week in the US.
The third single from the ’HIStory’ LP, the track was produced entirely by Jackson and remains to this day one of his most controversial cuts.
Earlier efforts such as ‘Heal The World’ and ‘We Are The World’ saw the entertainer adopt a universalist point of view. ‘About Us,’ however, was markedly more aggressive in its subject matter. It’s central narrative saw Jackson’s complain that he was fed up with the way the collective “us” was being treated.
Quickly, accusations of racism – particularly antisemitism – were raised which the superstar fervently denied.
A huge hit in Europe, the song was only a moderate hit in the US because of radio’s reluctance to play the track. No doubt due to the truth serum at the heart of the cut.
Still, it peaked inside the Top 10 of every European country it was released in, including Top 5 placings in France, Sweden and the UK.
To keep up with the public awareness theme of the track, MJ chose to work with Spike Lee to bring the song to life and oh did he succeed.
Two videos were shot, both making social commentaries in their own way.
The first presented Mike in a Brazilian favela; but instead of putting the emphasis on the dangerous and ruthless aspects of that environment, the artist chose to paint a colorful, upbeat and optimistic picture of the neighborhood.
The second was shot in a prison and made much more obvious allusions to the way people of color are (mis)treated in America – with footage of the KKK and police brutality among other poignant images.
Sam Cooke famously crooned that change was “gon’ come.” Sadly, despite positive strides in the right direction, there’s a lot more ground to tread.
At a time where the #BlackLivesMatter movement is at the center of every discussion the world over, it’s interesting to observe how relevant the lyrics of this song are 20 years on.
Our wish is that more artists will follow Jackson’s lead and be able to “conscious” content within a banging beat.