Nineteen years ago this month, Michael Jackson's final studio album ‘Invincible’ was released. It had been six years since Jackson's last full studio album ‘HIStory Past, Present and Future Book 1’ and four years since his very last offering ‘Blood On the Dance Floor/ HIStory In The Mix’ which featured five (excellent) new tracks and a number of not so excellent remixes.
Throughout his career, Jackson had explored gothic and horror themes with the likes of ‘This Place/ Heartbreak Hotel’, the infamous ‘Thriller’, ‘Ghosts’ and ‘Is It Scary’. It’s perhaps fitting then that the closing track on what turned out to be Jacksons final studio album followed a similar theme. ‘Threatened’ sees Jackson return to the gothic genre one last time, in a track that in my opinion reflects the albums digital cover art and echo’s the opening numbers ‘Unbreakable’, ‘Heartbreaker’ and ‘Invincible’.
Michael Jackson's iconic short film "Thriller"
This article has been published on Halloween, the day and season in which Jackson's iconic ‘Thriller’ often resurges on the charts and is enjoyed and celebrated by people all over the world. Another fan favourite around this time of year is ‘Ghosts’, the 40 minute short once again reaffirms that Michael Jackson was and is the king of Halloween. However, ‘Threatened’ often goes under the radar, especially by non-fans who are less familiar with Jackson's later work.
In my opinion, ‘Threatened’ was a missed opportunity, especially when you take note of Invincible's release date – October 30th. This spooky track could have become the albums second single, instead of ‘Cry’ which didn’t make much of an impact when it was released that December. However, the ‘Invincible’ album was ultimately overshadowed by Jackson's conflict with Sony, who stopped promoting the album shortly after it’s release.
Invincible Album Promotional Photoshoot (2001)
Now to the song itself, which opens with birds hawking and a sampled introduction by Rod Sterling, the narrator of ‘The Twilight Zone’. The opening narration begins “Tonight’s story is somewhat unique/ And calls for a different kind of introduction” before the aggressive beat kicks in, drowning out Sterling as he continues “A monster has arrived in the village... He knows every thought, he can feel every emotion... I forgot to introduce the monster”. Jackson personifies the ‘Monster’ as he delivers raspy vocals and creepy lyrics “When you're in bed I’m underneath”. Joseph Vogel describes the beat as “bone-crunching” and overall refers to the track as a “Sonic Frankenstein – a patchwork of disparate parts reassembled into something strange and new” in his book ‘Man In The Music The Creative Life And Work Of Michael Jackson’.
For decades Michael Jackson was dehumanized and ridiculed by the press, who painted him as a “weird” and “bizarre” character and commonly used racist terms such as “Wacko Jacko” to further imprint this idea into the minds of the general public. For years people had seen words such as “freak” beside images of Michael Jackson, and “Threatened” suggests that the public feel “threatened” by Jackson because of the image they have formed of him.
Rod Sterling delivers a rap, with multiple samples pieced together to form sentences. As Jonathan Harris points out in his retrospective of the Invincible album, this is one of the highlights of the track. ‘Threatened’ also includes a number of samples from horror movies, such as the birds hawking and doors slamming.
As the song concludes, in the final minute or so, Jackson's vocal itself begins to “glitch” out and becomes absorbed by the beat. As I mentioned earlier, this brings the album full circle. Much like Jackson's 1991 album ‘Dangerous’ where the title track concludes the album with the Teddy Riley ‘New Jack Swing’ sound of the opening tracks. ‘Threatened’ similarly echoes the albums earlier songs with its industrial/ digital sound.
Invincible Signing, Virgin Megastore New York (2001)
Unfortunately, no short film was ever produced or released for ‘Threatened’. As discussed earlier, Jackson’s record label halted promotion of the album. As a result, only two short films were released for ‘Invincible’, ‘You Rock My World’ starring Chris Tucker and Marlon Brando and ‘Cry’ which did not feature Jackson. Frank Cascio, long time friend of Jackson (who was working as his assistant during the Invincible era) suggests that Jackson wanted ‘Unbreakable’ to be the lead single and short film for the album, however, Sony pushed for ‘You Rock My World’. According to Cascio, Jackson had an ambitious plan for the Unbreakable short film “He would be on the roof of a very tall building that was under construction, held over the edge by some thugs, and they would let him go. He would go hurtling to the ground, seemingly dead, but slowly, his body parts would come together and he would turn into fire... Michael envisioned a dance break for Unbreakable that people would remember forever”. This gives us a sense of some of the ideas Michael had for future short films, this begs the question – what might a ‘Threatened’ short film have looked like?
'You Rock My World' Short Film (2001)
Jackson was the pioneer of the music video genre and is the blueprint for every artist since, his iconic short films include ‘Scream’, ‘Smooth Criminal’. ‘Beat It’ and ‘Remember The Time’. Jackson's exploration of the gothic genre continued into his short films, most notably with ‘Ghosts’ and ‘Thriller’ which pushed technological boundaries. This makes one wonder what a ‘Threatened’ short film would have looked like. Jackson waited four years for the technology to evolve in order to achieve the special effects he desired in Ghosts, now another four years on and entering the 21st century, it is interesting to speculate what direction Jackson would have gone with the visual representation of ‘Threatened’. Would the digital aspects of the song (Jackson's vocal glitching out towards the end of the track) inspire a futuristic or sci-fi theme? Would Jackson’s personification of the Monster expand into the short film? Would he have explored the public and media’s perception of him? It’s certainly an interesting topic to think about and it’s rather unfortunate that such a production never had the opportunity to happen.
'This Is It' Rehearsals (2009)
The instrumental for ‘Threatened’ was to be used for a dance break at the end of ‘Thriller’ during Jackson’s ill-fated comeback ‘This Is It’. Jackson can be seen rehearsing this number on June 24th 2009 in the Staples Center, Los Angles. As thriller concludes a classical piece is played before ‘Threatened’ begins as Jackson stands on a raised platform.
‘Threatened’ appeared on select dates during the ‘Immortal World Tour’, which was the first of two theatrical productions by Cirque du Solei which had a total of six legs and ran from October 2011 until August of 2014.
‘Threatened’ also featured on the ‘Immortal’ album (2011) as ‘Is It Scary/ Threatened’ (Immortal Version) which samples ‘Is It Scary’, ‘Somebody’s Watching Me’ and ‘Threatened’. The ‘Immortal Album’ sold 43,000 copies in its first week in the United States and debuted at Number 24 on the Billboard 200.
In 2017, the Estate of Michael Jackson released a Halloween themed compilation album which featured ‘Threatened’ along with a number of other spooky tracks (‘Leave Me Alone’ and ‘Scream’ are horror-themed, right?).
Michael Jackson's Ghosts (1996)
‘Threatened’ is personally one of my favourite offerings on ‘Invincible’, it’s catchy beat, raspy vocal performance and interesting lyrical content is engaging. It fits in nicely with Jackson’s other Gothic tracks and thus is a suitable closing statement on what unfortunately became his final studio album. As Michael Jackson fans and those who have thoroughly explored his discography will know – Invincible is an underrated and lesser-known album by the general public. This combined with ‘Threatened's’ status as an album track and with no short film or live performance (excluding TII rehearsals) to visually complement the song, it often feels forgotten. Regardless, ‘Threatened’ is certainly a good seasonal MJ song that can fit into your Halloween playlists!
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