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25 Years Of 'You Are Not Alone’

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On the 15th of August 1995, the second single from Michael Jacksons' ninth studio album ‘HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book 1’ (1995) was released. The majestic R&B ballad ‘You Are Not Alone’ was written by American singer-songwriter Robert S. Kelly. The songs corresponding short film which featured Jackson and his then-wife, Lisa Marie Presley, was well received. You Are Not Alone was subsequently nominated for a Grammy and an American Music Award for ‘Best Vocal Performance’. ‘You Are Not Alone’, which will be referred to as ‘YANA’ for the duration of this article, was performed during Jacksons ‘HIStory’ world tour, during which Jackson invites a female fan, usually sobbing with delight on to the stage.

This article will examine the creation and writing of the song, the above-mentioned short film, live performances, its' reception at the time, and how it is viewed today by the public and broader fan community.

The Conception

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Michael was looking for new sounds, and R. Kelly was after having success in the charts with his debut album ’12-Play’ (1993), compelling Jackson to contact him. In 1994, R. Kelly sent Jackson two demos to consider, and Jackson loved both. The other, called ‘Life’, became a number a hit for K-Ci & Jojo. Kelly sang the songs in a key similar to Jackson, hoping to give him a sense of how they might sound.

Kelly’s inspiration for writing the song came from the passing of his mother, who died of cancer in 1993. Jackson flew to Chicago to lay down his vocal in CRC Studios. The pair spent three weeks together working on the song. Kelly reflected on meeting Michael in 2012:

Finally, Mike walked over to me. He looked in my eyes, opened his arms, and gave me the hug of my life, whispering to me in his lighter-than-air, soft, high voice. “The world’s gonna be singing this song.”

I blurted out something silly like, “Congratulations on everything you’ve done, Mike. Congratulations on being Michael Jackson.”
The lyrics of YANA, which deal with isolation and longing, would have no doubt resonated with Jackson. He turned to long time collaborator, Steve Porcaro of Toto, to help with the production. Jackson wanted the song to have more of an arc and decided to modulate to a higher key and add a choir towards the end of the song. The humming of the Andraé Crouch Choir, the final adlibs and the 12-second note hold were all Jacksons' contributions. Jackson felt that he should have received co-writing credits, but when Kelly disagreed, he decided not to push any further.

[“It’s in these moments a composition became a Michael Jackson song. He understood the need for peaks and troughs making his pieces akin to a journey: It must reach a destination, but what happens on the way there?” - Pez Jax ‘The Story Of HIStory’


The 'Short-Film'

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The YANA short film was directed by Wayne Isham, who also directed the ‘Whatzupwithu’ video from 1993, featuring Jackson and Eddie Murphy. The Pantages Theatre in Hollywood and the Vine in Los Angeles were chosen as the filming locations. Michael appears on stage under a single spotlight, with the spectacular empty theatre providing an impressive backdrop.

The scenes of Michael and Lisa Marie were based on Maxfield Parrish’s 1922 Daybreak. According to director Wayne Isham, the very last scene of Michael and Lisa Marie was filmed without the couple's knowledge. The couple (a term not so fondly used by the media at large) 'canoodle', undressed against a composite backdrop imposed behind them, these scenes showed Michael in a state of intimacy with his wife. The public was highly suspicious of their marriage, with some in the media suggesting that the marriage was of convenience to Michael, who had just come out of a period of incredibly damaging press after false allegations of child abuse. For much of his adult life, Jackson’s sexuality had been put into question, due to his eccentricities and high-pitched voice. This short film, however, showed him in a heterosexual relationship.

The short film was received to mostly positive reception; however, it wasn’t spared criticism, with the scenes between Michael and Lisa Marie causing a huge talking point. The short film made its premiere as part of the MTV Special ‘Michael Jackson Changes ‘HIStory’




The Live Performances

Jackson first performed YANA at the 1995 ‘Soul Train Music Awards’, then at the 1995 ‘BET Awards’ and also at the 1995 ‘MTV Video Music Awards’. The song was also included in the setlist of the ‘HIStory’ World Tour, with Michael taking the stage alone similar to the short film. During the second verse, a female attendee joins Michael on stage. It is unfortunate that Michael rarely ever sung the song live, as when it was switched live Michael sounded spectacular, such as at the MTV Music Awards.





The Reception

YANA was the second single to be released from ‘HIStory’, following ‘Scream’ which had come out the previous May. The song made ‘HIStory’ (horrible pun, I know) after becoming the first song in the 37 years of the Billboard Hot 100 to debut at number 1. The lush R&B ballad also made the top spot in twelve other countries including the UK, France, Ireland, Poland, New Zealand and Japan. The single was certified platinum by the RIAA on the 13th of October 1995, just over two months after it’s release. YANA was nominated for ‘Song of the Year’ at the 1996 Grammy Awards, losing out to ‘Kiss From A Rose’ by Seal. The song appeared on Billboards ‘Best Selling Records of 1995’ with 1 million units sold. YANA remains one of Jackson's best selling singles, and it is also his 13th number one song.

YANA received positive reviews from music critics, Jon Pareles of The New York Times compared it to ‘Hero’ by Mariah Carey and said that it “sounds like a sure-fire hit”. R&B critic and journalist Nelson George described the song as “lovely” and “supple” while James Hunter of rolling stone said, “the excellent current single ‘Scream’ or the first-rate R&B ballad ‘You Are Not Alone’ manage to link the incidents of Jackson’s recent past to universal concepts, like injustice or isolation.”


‘You Are Not Alone’ - Where does it stand today?

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Twenty-Five years since its commercial release as a single, YANA has become a beloved staple in Michael Jackson's catalogue. However, for some, it is now tainted due to its connection with R. Kelly. However, there has been some dispute about whether or not Kelly even wrote the song himself. In 2007, a court in Belgium ruled that the song was plagiarized from a song written by Belgian twins in 1993. The court transferred the rights of the song to the composer brothers, Eddy and Danny Van Passel. However, the judgement is only applicable in Belgium, where YANA airplay has been banned as a result. Kelly denied being aware of the song, titled ‘If We Can Start All Over’, the demo of which was circulating in the American Music Industry in 1993. The Van Passels argued that Kelly had copied the melody from there track, in 2003 a ruling had rejected the claim, citing that it was more likely a coincidence rather than plagiarism. This ruling was appealed, and the court acknowledged there was no difference between the two melodies.

In the documentary, ‘Surviving R Kelly’ - It was claimed that Kelly penned the song about an inappropriate and somewhat dodgy relationship that he had with an underage girl. However, according to the documentary - R. Kelly met with the female at the back end of 1995, while the song was written by Kelly and then recorded by Jackson in 1994.

In 2006, 'Visionary', a box set celebrating Jackson's greatest video hits, led to a slight resurgence of YANA in the European charts. In Ireland, it peaked at 20, and in Spain, it reached the top spot. In 2009, finalists on the British reality show 'X Factor' released a cover of the song as a charity single, which reached the top spot in the UK Charts. The single was in aid of 'Great Ormond Street Hospital' and sold 400,000 units, therefore achieving a gold single certification.



Despite the songwriter, questions over the songs inspiration and a lengthy court battle, 'You Are Not Alone' has remained a favourite. It was Michael's last ever number-one single in the United States, and the last to receive widespread coverage in the press domestically. It broke records and reminded the world of Michael Jackson's greatness, as the public and media focused more on his private life rather than his incredible art. Coupled with 'Scream' which had been released the previous May, the 'HIStory' albums incredible early sales and a marketing campaign that peaked with a statue of Jackson being floated down the River Thames in London, Michael Jackson had shown the critics and the doubters that he was not going anywhere. Jackson easily could have retired in the mid-1990s, leaving behind a legacy and career that would remain untouched. However, he would not be defeated. He rose above the lies, scandal and one-sided press to make 'HIStory'!

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