Man in the Mirror (1988) - Michael Jackson (Michael Jackson) - All about the song ...

"That song was deeper than just the image of a man looking at himself in the mirror. It motivated me to look inside myself... Because in order to change things on the outside, you first have to start on the inside. So I think that Michael... he understood the meaning of the song right away..."

History of the song Man in the Mirror by Michael Jackson (album Bad)

"Man in the Mirror" is the famous single released as part of Michael Jackson's seventh studio album "Bad". Curiously enough, the gospel-inspired track was not written by the pop king at all... However, this did not prevent it from becoming a resounding hit! According to the Official Charts Company rating, this track is the most commercially successful Jackson's single on the territory of Great Britain!

The video for "Man in the Mirror" shows heart-breaking images: hunger, wars, racism... All this displays the deep meaning that was put into the song from the very first verse... The touching lyrics are a kind of appeal to the listener: Michael asks people to look inside themselves and to change for the better, because then the whole world would change for the better...

The idol of millions, Michael Jackson
The idol of millions, Michael Jackson

History of creation

The song was chosen because Jackson (and Quincy Jones himself, the producer of the album "Bad") wanted to produce a "good anthem", which, according to him, should "spread sunshine on the world". To create this "hymn" Quincy Jones invited several authors from his publishing house to the studio. The composition "Man in the Mirror" reminds us that everything in this world, first of all, begins with ourselves... A curious fact, but "Man in the Mirror" is one of the two songs from this release, written not by Michael... In the end - it brought the artist his fourth number one in the states! And the story of the hit began in 1987...

The author of "Man in the Mirror" is Sieda Garrett, an American singer and songwriter from Jones' team. In her interview, Garrett told us how she got the idea for this truly luminous song:

"A few years before that, Glenn Ballard and I were writing music for a jazz keyboard player. During our phone conversation, he said something about the man in the mirror... I wrote it down in my notebook, and soon forgot about it..."


"...Then, years later, while trying to write a song for Michael, I was flipping through my notebook when I happened to come across this phrase... At that moment Ballard was playing something on the piano. I heard the chords, and the puzzle came together... Eventually we wrote the first verse of the song, and that was the beginning of a great success!"

Very soon Garrett and Ballard gave the demo tape to Jones, who, in turn, passed it on to Michael... Much to everyone's surprise, Jackson was impressed with the guys' work, having released only his own tracks as part of his albums!

Sieda Garrett recalled:

"About three days later, Quincy called me and told me that Michael liked our song! I was shocked... It was like a dream! I couldn't believe it..."


Later, Garrett had to change just a few lines (Michael insisted on that). By the way, the girl prepared six variations for the artist, of which Jackson chose the best in his opinion...

The Andre Crouch Choir was invited to record backing vocals. Sandra Crouch, the choirmaster's sister, talked about the day:

"Michael said: "I want you to sing really, really loud! I want a gospel sound, something in the spirit of church chanting..." So we did!"

The author herself, Sieda Garrett, was the backup vocalist! Later, she and Michael crossed paths again in the studio, this time to record the joint "I Just Can't Stop Loving You".


The single "Man in the Mirror" was released on vinyl in January 1988. Proceeds from the sales of the record went to charity...

The song about "The Man in the Mirror" set a new record: it became the fourth leader of the American Hot 100 from the "Bad" album! But... a little later the record was broken by the single "Dirty Diana".

In 1989, the song earned Michael Jackson two Soul Train Music Awards statuettes at once, and in 2016, after the artist's death, the single went platinum.

Critics' Reception...

Rolling Stone journalists called "Man in the Mirror" the most "insightful and ambitious" record of Michael Jackson's career!

Michael Jackson performs in concert circa 1988. Photo: Kevin Mazur
Michael Jackson performs in concert circa 1988. Photo: Kevin Mazur

Observers at PopMatters wrote:

"This song pinpoints the many, and truly serious, ills of today's world... Yet the poignant refrain makes the listener feel like he can heal the world! This record can rightly be dubbed a hymn of kindness and humanity..."

In general, some people called this song a pearl, others called it the main decoration of "Bad", but not without those who characterized it as too "corny" and Michael himself "out of touch with reality".

Music video

The music video for the song "Man in the Mirror" is a separate kind of art, which it is inexcusable not to discuss...

According to Jackson himself, the idea for the music video came to him while he was still on tour in Hong Kong. Upon his return home, Michael contacted Donald Wilson, the director they had worked with in the early 1980s, and arranged a meeting. As Wilson himself recalled, the singer had so many ideas that he had to make a whole list. In fact, it's up to him:

"Larry (meaning the Epic CEO) told me that Michael intended to do something heartbreaking! He wanted to tell the world the story of reality, show the truth and change the future..."


"...We met him the day after Thanksgiving. We set up in the attic of his manager, Frank Dileo's house, and that attic, by golly, was already a palace! But that's not the point now... Anyway, Michael and I sat down and started making a list of things that just popped into our heads. We ended up with two or three pages of ideas! Michael wasn't the kind of guy to tell you what to do. He inspired you to do it with his support..."

After the meeting, Wilson, with a solid list of ideas, went to the archives, accumulating about two hundred hours of footage! He also completely, from beginning to end, edited the clip:

"I wanted to show people that everything in this world begins with purity and innocence... However, human indifference, cruelty and injustice create chaos, which leads to destruction..."


"I edited a clip from news reports that people had already seen but would change the channel because they were too hard or boring to watch," Wilson recalled. - I wanted to reach out to everyone, to encourage the viewer to do something! It's much more important to act than just watch from the sidelines..."

As you can judge, the director really succeeded in his task. The music video for "Man in the Mirror" shows scary footage, from homelessness to war and racism...

Sometime later Wilson and Jackson were planning to make a remake of the "Man in the Mirror" music video, but... the singer's death cut their plans short.

The fate of the single...

Subsequently, the song became an indispensable attribute of almost all Michael Jackson's live performances! Especially, many people remembered it from the thirtieth Grammy Awards ceremony... After the magical finale with "Man in the Mirror" there was a note in Rolling Stone:

"Jackson performed his one of his greatest hits in the tradition of church gospel...This performance is as grand as the moonwalk he performed on the 25th anniversary of Motown Records..."

Already after Michael's death, in 2017, composer Cieda Garrett said:

"This song was deeper than just the image of a man looking at himself in the mirror. It motivated me to look inside myself... Because in order to change things on the outside, you first have to start from the inside. So I think that Michael... he understood the meaning of the song right away...".

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