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Feb 14

MICHAEL JACKSON – “Blood On The Dancefloor”

Popular77 comments • 4,771 views

#765, 3rd May 1997

blooddance “Blood On The Dancefloor” dates from the 1991 Dangerous sessions – and its rigid, peg-legged Teddy Riley production, full of choppy, cut-up synths, would fit with some of that record’s harsher contours – but it works as a coda to his Popular career, too. Surely “Earth Song” would have been a grander way to go out, fitting the heal-the-world fantasies of Jackson the philanthropist. But “Blood On The Dancefloor” is a truer epilogue – a narrow, claustrophobic song, the sound of Jackson slipping into what we know now as his twilight years. At this point, he’s still younger than I am writing this. But it’s not just hindsight that makes him sound worn out and ragged here.

In his glory days, a Jackson song would marry indelible tunes to mercurial performance, and dance across genres daring pop to keep up. Now what’s left is an instinct for how to structure a song – the hooks here are by no means his best but he knows when to drop them – an emotional palette shared by nobody else in pop, and a bag of vocal tics. “Blood On The Dancefloor” criss-crosses Jackson’s multiple voices to unnerving effect.

He’s using at least three different tones here. On the chorus – and its “to escape the world…” lead-in – he’s using his late-career anguished voice, the howl he unleashed to full effect at the end of “Earth Song”. At the start of the verses, he’s using his Bad-era tough-guy voice, but interspersing guttural, almost feral barks and grunts after the end of every line. And the verses devolve into a third voice – up close against your ear, words and sense breaking down into a tumble of muttered, consonants, with Jackson multi-tracking to talk over himself. It’s the cold sweat wordrush of “Smooth Criminal” taken to its incomprehensible endpoint. The effect is one of horrid, haunted, intimacy.

It’s a dramatization of a crack-up: “Blood On The Dancefloor” is an angry, fearful song – one of many, stretching back at least to its forebear “Billie Jean”, except here the ensnaring, vengeful woman is actually murdering Jackson. And it’s set as a tragedy – the King of Pop butchered, like Caesar, in the place of his greatest power. The meaning – an allegory for the accusations swirling around him – is transparent. Except, of course, the song predates them. Sometimes a paranoid fantasy is just a paranoid fantasy.

It’s an ugly, uneasy record, certainly a minor Jackson single, but Iike a lot of his later songs, I find it fascinating. Whichever of Jackson or Riley put the tiny vamps of keyboard at the ends of occasional lines deserves enormous credit – they keep the song moving, distract you from its nasty side enough to keep the song feeling like spectacle, not voyeurism. That momentum, the shrieked pre-chorus hook, and the delayed-gratification relief of the chords under the final chorus are why I enjoy “Blood On The Dancefloor” as much as I do. But the close-up whispering sections are effectively creepy – a clammy, Gollumish performance. Even here, the last time we’ll see him, Jackson is trying new ideas, pushing his performances, and making pop that sounds stiff and uncomfortable, but which could only be his.

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  1. 51
    enitharmon on 28 Feb 2014 #

    tm @ 47: Whereas I spent the early part of the night, between the initial excitement of Sunderland and the main flow of result potting reds (but not being much of a snooker/pool player seldom getting beyond the odd red). Portillo was a big moment but for us the highlight was the scarcely believable demise of our own Willie Waldegrave. And the night was summarised for me by the flashed “LAB gain Hove”.

  2. 52
    Andrew Farrell on 28 Feb 2014 #

    #40 – I could probably deny the “biggest star of their respective era” all day, unless you added “not counting Beyonce, of course”, in there – apart from anything else, her star has been eclipsed by her story by now.

  3. 53
    Tom on 28 Feb 2014 #

    #52 – I think R. is as big or bigger than ever (there are two enormous relatively recent bunnies) and it’s certainly not clear cut that she’s less big than B. I think whether you’re more in touch with teens or 20somethings may skew the answer a bit. Who I prefer (at least recently) is a lot easier to answer but a different question!

  4. 54
    Tom on 28 Feb 2014 #

    And I don’t think – especially in ‘the social media era’ – star and story are remotely separable as ideas. (Both women are FANTASTIC at using the media of their time, in the way Jackson realised and exploited the possibilities of video very quickly.)

  5. 55
    Andrew Farrell on 28 Feb 2014 #

    …neither of which I have heard, so I will bow out.

  6. 56
    Andrew Farrell on 28 Feb 2014 #

    Although actually (crowd groans) the story eclipses the star when it escapes from them – for all R.’s social media nous, the Salient Facts about her in the larger world for a while were #2 “You remember, Ella ella ella, all that summer” and #1 “Did you see that photo?” / “She’s back with him now”.

  7. 57
    Steve Williams on 28 Feb 2014 #

    #17 The Election Night Armistice was on BBC2 on election night and I watched the whole thing, because I was a big fan of the Armistice, but to be honest it was all completely overshadowed by the proper coverage. The main stories were flashed up on screen throughout and within the first two minutes we had “LABOUR LANDSLIDE” on the screen and I was totally distracted, and later the audience laughed longer and harder at the news Portillo was out than anything the Armistice actually did. Course last time out we had C4′s Alternative Election Night, which became Ten O’Clock Live, but both of those were interesting elections and when we’d had boring elections like 2001 and 2005, we’ve not had anything like that.

    One thing about the day after the election (which I also remember as being a gloriously sunny day) is that Top of the Pops, which of course was by now on a Friday, opened with D:Ream performing Things Can Only Get Better which had been re-released for obvious reasons, which I thought seemed a bit unusual because there was an obvious political context to it and you wouldn’t generally invite on a band to perform a re-release from only a few years ago (Radio 1 certainly weren’t playing it), but presumably on 2nd May it was now considered fair game.

    As for Blood on the Dancefloor, it goes back to the idea that if you were to ask the public to name Michael Jackson’s number ones they’d get them all wrong, and this must be the least memorable. On Secret Fortune the other year the contestants were asked to rank four of his songs by chart position and put Thriller top, as I knew they would, but of course that only got to number ten, due to a combination of the video not being ready until after the release and it being the umpteenth track off the album.

    This is going wildly off the point but on a chart-stats-on-lottery-quizzes tip, the other week on Who Dares Wins they had to name as many number ones of the eighties as they could and the second they said Do They Know It’s Christmas I knew they were going to say Last Christmas because they had Christmas on the brain. And they did, and lost.

  8. 58
    Kat but logged out innit on 28 Feb 2014 #

    The momentous events of that week weren’t lost on me – after years in the wilderness, finally a ray of hope shone out and I was overwhelmed with the feeling that finally the UK was getting back on its feet again: WE FVCKING WON EUROVISION YOU GUYS

  9. 59

    BUT WITH THE WORST SONG EVAH

  10. 60
    Tommy Mack on 28 Feb 2014 #

    Enitharmon @ 51: I should clarify that I was not one of the teenage tory boys with their heads in their hands (who were anyway, exagerating their political convictions to rain on their leftie teachers’ parade). I was a surly teen and the tories were definitely the enemy. My dad (old Labour but hardly committed) woke me up, telling me that the Tories had won a surprise landslide and then laughing at my shocked and appalled reaction. It was a good day.

  11. 61
    Tommy Mack on 28 Feb 2014 #

    58/59 – was that K & The Ws (assume it’s bunnied?)

  12. 62
    Rory on 28 Feb 2014 #

    #61 Can we spoil the spoiler bunny? No, it wasn’t bunnied.

  13. 63
    Tom on 28 Feb 2014 #

    Yeah, 16 years of hurt wasn’t enough to get it to #1!

  14. 64

    BECAUSE IT WAS TERRIBLE

  15. 65
    Tommy Mack on 28 Feb 2014 #

    Oh shit, I’ve only just remembered it wasn’t Walking On Sunshine. What was it called? Shine a Light? Meh. I can’t even muster enough enthusiasm to say it was terrible.

  16. 66
    tm on 28 Feb 2014 #

    Finally listened to BOTDf: turns out I knew it all along: solid enough Dangerous-era MJ to these ears, some great touches (the bassline, some of the keyboard stabs) but it wouldn’t have been a stand out track had it been on the original album. Also it’s a pretty weak intro for MJ. 6.

  17. 67
    Kat but logged out innit on 28 Feb 2014 #

    Agreed that ‘Love Shine A Light’ was weak sauce but I didn’t care. Even my terrible indie-snobbishness couldn’t stop me watching Eurovision and rooting for whoever. I think I’ve only missed ONE since I was first old enough to stay up for the voting and that was 2004 – Ruslana and her Wild Dances.

  18. 68
    Lazarus on 28 Feb 2014 #

    #57 re: General public being able to identify MJ’s UK number 1s, I reckon if you asked a sample of reasonably pop-savvy 20-50 year olds 90% would get Billie Jean, 70% Black or White and Earth Song, 50% One Day in your Life, 35% I Just Can’t Stop Loving You and maybe 20% this. Deservedly. You can barely hear him on the verse, which I’ve forgotten before we’re through the chorus, and I’ve forgotten the chorus within three minutes of the song finishing … 4.

  19. 69
    Lazarus on 28 Feb 2014 #

    Too late to edit – I’m going with 75% You Are Not Alone – memorable video and not that long ago (as long as we’re not asking people who never listen to anything but Radio 4, of course …)

  20. 70
    Speedwell54 on 1 Mar 2014 #

    Re 57 & 68. I agree that “Blood On The Dance Floor” is his least memorable No1and I think a few would struggle to bring Earth Song to the table chiefly due to the title not being mentioned. (If it had been called “What about us ?” or “Aaaaahhhhhh”, there might be a few more takers.)

    Forgive my pedantry here, but on THIS post and subsequent comments about THIS song, thus far, no one can get the ‘bloody’ title right. It’s “Dance Floor” not Dancefloor or BOTDF not BOTD or BOTDf. Rant over.

  21. 71
    Doctor Casino on 2 Mar 2014 #

    This is a fine enough track, but very much an ‘album cut’ – sure I’ve heard it before, just as sure I won’t remember it much tomorrow. Grab-bag of tics, yes, but at this point really feels like autopilot and suffers from the lag between its home album and its release, which makes it feel like he’s venturing back into very well-trodden territory: this is the clatter of “Jam” trying to reach the intensity of “Who Is It?” without delivering the payoffs of either. 4 or 5 – I bet it does sound pretty good on the dancefloor.

  22. 72
    ciaran on 2 Mar 2014 #

    Not a bad effort but BOTD sounds very much like 5-10 years out of time.

    I enjoyed it at the time but it wasn’t played all that much on the radio.Surprised Tom liked it as much. Surprisingly pleasant now. 6

  23. 73
    Weej on 3 Mar 2014 #

    Isn’t this the oddest number one in a while? It sounds like a remix of the sixth single off an album, not a comeback, but that’s what a fanbase hit is all about, I suppose. MJ sounds like the oldest new jack swinger in town, stuck seven years behind, which in the 90s R&B world is an age. It’s a shame this is our final chance to talk about him, but Earth Song should really have been his swansong.

  24. 74
    Martin F. on 4 Mar 2014 #

    Since it’s related to the recent part of the discussion thread, the BBC’s attempt to cap the subsequent stretch of hurt at 17 years was premiered tonight:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-wFUPCkmlOo

    Quite the name for a no-name, although I suppose we’re talking about a competition that counts Lena Meyer-Landrut and Emmelie de Forest among its recent winners.

  25. 75
    Tom on 4 Mar 2014 #

    Oh dear.

  26. 76
    Chelovek na lune on 4 Mar 2014 #

    Not sure the “power to the people” bit will go down well in , especially, Azerbaijan. Certainly not the worst entry we’ve ever put up.

  27. 77
    Rahma on 15 Mar 2014 #

    Well I was born in 1996… I grew up in the era when Michael Jackson was in a a less flattering light than before….. He was in the headlines for lawsuit after lawsuit not to mention the bogus allegations.. But I loved him lool. He Is very popular in my age group. So I disagree with you ALL. MJ has a fanbase filled with people of all ages.. In death he is bigger than Beyonce, Rihanna, Madonna Justin Timberlake and I could go on. Give the KING some credit ya’ll let him rest. I was 13 when he died and it shocked me and I was amazed that a someone could could have that effect.. I mean the whole world froze when he died… Leave him be. History to me is his best album its is like a musical diary..it wouldn’t appeal to people but nvm

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