Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean music video hits historic milesone on YouTube

San Bruno, California - Billie Jean may have been about "just a girl" who was not Michael Jackson’s lover, but the music video for the song has reached a historic milestone.

Michael Jackson's music video for Billie Jean (r) was initially banned from being played on MTV, due to the network's refusal to showcase Black artists. It then broke barriers.
Michael Jackson's music video for Billie Jean (r) was initially banned from being played on MTV, due to the network's refusal to showcase Black artists. It then broke barriers.  © Collage: 123RF/gilc & IMAGO / LFI

Debuting on MTV in March 1983, the Steve Barron-directed clip — where Jackson lands on his toes and illuminates tiles on the ground — has now crossed one billion views on YouTube.

The accomplishment makes it only the third music video of the ’80s to rack up that many views, and the first ’80s clip by a solo artist to ever hit that benchmark.

Guns N’ Roses’ Sweet Child O’ Mine from 1988, and a-ha's 1984 groundbreaking video for Take On Me, are the only others to have previously achieved one billion clicks.

According to YouTube, the Billie Jean video has been averaging 600,000 daily views globally this year alone.

Billie Jean – which was inducted into the Music Video Producers Hall of Fame in 1992 – is considered one of the greatest videos of all time.

The infectious track, written by Jackson and produced by Quincy Jones, won two Grammy Awards and two American Music Awards.

Some could argue that Jackson wouldn’t have reached the levels of superstardom he enjoyed in the ’80s if MTV hadn’t resisted and then been bullied by his record company into playing Billie Jean.

MTV initially refused to play Billie Jean

The video Michael Jackson's Thriller is nearing 765 million views on YouTube.
The video Michael Jackson's Thriller is nearing 765 million views on YouTube.  © IMAGO / Hans Lucas

Because of racism and segregation in the music business, MTV wouldn’t play any videos by Black acts during its early years.

When Jackson’s record company, CBS Records, first asked MTV to play Billie Jean, the programming executives at the channel refused. They reportedly didn’t feel that Black music was "rock" enough.

Subsequently, Walter Yetnikoff, then president of CBS, told MTV that if it didn’t air Billie Jean, he’d pull all the label’s other artists off the channel, never give them any videos in the future, and would tell the media that MTV didn’t want to play Black artists' music.

MTV reluctantly caved, and put the Billie Jean video in heavy rotation only after it topped the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.

It was a move credited with generating an extra $10 million in sales for Jackson's Thriller album, which was the bestselling album of all time for decades.

Meanwhile, the video for the album’s title track Thriller is nearing 765 million views on YouTube.

Perhaps it will be the next to cross into the Billion Views club.

Cover photo: Collage: 123RF/gilc & IMAGO / LFI

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