In 1991, it appears that Michael Jackson issued a warning on his DANGEROUS album cover about a dark and „dangerous“ industry behind the colorful façade of entertainment: DANGEROUS had Jackson placed this warning on his album cover.
Michael made exploitation, corruption, drug abuse and even death behind the colorful façade of the entertainment industry one of his main topics as soon as he had the opportunity to do so. Jackson warned against the very industry that had ultimately took his life in 2009.
picture: Michael Jackson’s DANGEROUS album cover 1991, SONY Music Entertainment. Painter of the artwork named „King of Pop“ (acrylic on wood 82” x 74”) is Mark Ryden. The original of the painting is exhibited in the Paul Kasmin Gallery, 293 Tenth Ave., New York, NY 10001 source
A warning from Michael Jackson in 1988: KEEP OUT. NO TRESPASSING. And a warning from Michael Jackson in 1991: DANGEROUS
In 1988 in his film MOONWALKER, Michael Jackson was hunted by a ruthless authority named „Mister BIG“. Drugs and money played a great role in this sinister environment hidden behind a seemingly carefree artificial world. In the course of film’s history, the hunt after Jackson ended for him in a dead end. Jackson was stuck in an arena where countless anonymous figures focused their attention on him. The spotlights were turned on him and the „performance“ of Michael Jackson began.
picture: Michael Jackson, who was driven into an arena. The spotlight is pointed at him. Will his performance begin? MOONWALKER 1988.
But before that, in the film MOONWALKER, Michael Jackson had crossed a line. Some sort of border that marked the crossover into this dark industry. Michael Jackson’s 1988 warning in his movie MOONWALKER stated: Keep Out. No Trespassing. Jackson repeated the same warning on his album cover in 1991: DANGEROUS.
And somehow Michael Jackson’s journey through the sinister industry behind the façade of entertainment in MOONWALKER in 1988 also seems to be mirrored on the DANGEROUS cover in 1991:
„KEEP OUT!“ and the industry „Michael Jackson“
In his 1988 short film LEAVE ME ALONE, Michael Jackson showed his audience what an enormous industry operates around him and his persona as the „King of Pop.“
picture: The industry „Michael Jackson“ in LEAVE ME ALONE, 1988 source
Did Michael Jackson also call the „holy“ HOLLYWOOD as dangerous?
Hollywood is also called the „dream factory“. A factory that produces dreams for the paying viewers and for some people it symbolizes also „happiness and wealth“. The dream of being a star in this artificial world was also declared as „holy“ for some. Michael Jackson sang a song about it, which was published posthumously under the title HOLLYWOOD TONIGHT. Jackson did not release the song himself but probably worked on it since the mid or late 1990s. The song is Jackson’s warning about Hollywood’s dangers and tells the story of a young girl, a runaway, who dreams of fame in the glittering world. Hollywood is the ultimate, religious goal for her. But what the young girl actually finds is the reality of prostitution and crime. The age of this young girl laments Michael Jackson painfully in the song:
„She’s only 15!“Michael Jackson in HOLLYWOOD TONIGHT.
The musical piece itself had Jackson open with a kind of a church choir. Hollywood, it seems, was with this symbolism declared a kind of „holy“ place of pilgrimage.
After the „church choir“ from the beginning of the song fades away and Michael Jackson’s story is told, one can hear at the end of the song the marching girls who are on their way to Hollywood.
„Lipstick in hand …“.Michael Jackson in HOLLYWOOD TONIGHT.
Michael Jackson’s main character in the song is hoping for a career in Hollywood and prostitutes herself for it. Nothing in this narrative is an invitation to spend one’s life in this entertainment. Everything in Michael Jackson’s story warns about the dangers that await those who want to set out into this fictitious world. Michael Jackson ends the song with a whistling, marching chorus reminiscent of the soldiers from the „River Kwai March.“ And so the number of girls marching towards Hollywood seems to have grown to the size of an army. In Michael Jackson’s narrative, are they marching to a certain doom like all the other soldiers?
Hollywood is DANGEROUS. After Michael Jackson’s death in 2009, his estate released without Jackson’s creative input a music video for his song HOLLYWODD TONIGHT. And thus, Jackson’s former warning turns into a video with the cheesy story of a young woman who sets off for Hollywood and immediately swims in good spirits on the wave of success. (Or dreams of it). The posthumous version of HOLLYWOOD TONIGHT is an invitation, while Jackson’s original song is a warning. Even Michael Jackson’s accusatory shout in the song, „She’s only 15!“, is deleted without replacement upon its release by his estate in 2010. Changing Michael Jackson’s HOLLYWOOD TONIGHT like that and turning it into the opposite becomes somehow Jackson’s message in itself. 1 Jackson did not formulate an invitation in the song but a warning. Jackson warned of the dirty industry behind the colorful illusory world and of exploitive Mr. BIG’s behind the scenes. After three decades of living in the show business Jackson’s advice was:
„Not to trust everybody. Not to trust everybody in the industry. There’re a lot of sharks. „Michael Jackson, around 2000. 2„
Not everyone survives Hollywood. Child stars who were managed by their own parents survive even less often. It seems to be the hell. See Michael Jackson’s DANGEROUS album cover from 1991.
picture: The child stars McCauly Culkin and Michael Jackson on Jackson’s DANGEROUS Cover from 1991. Manager of the children was respectively their own father. source
The DANGEROUS industry on the album cover by Michael Jackson: Skulls can be detected by those who want to look more closely
On Michael Jackson’s DANGEROUS album cover from 1991, a complicated machinery works behind the colorful facade of this „Dream factory“. A system that runs at full speed. Jackson presented the system as dirty and sinister. Only those who take a closer look can recognize skulls in the structure of the industry.
picture: A skull in the DANGEROUS industry of Michael Jackson. Painted by Mark Ryden. source
1988: „KEEP OUT! NO TRESPASSING!“ 1991: „DANGEROUS!“
The sign „DANGEROUS“ on Jackson’s album cover is reminiscent of a sign from another amusement park: „DISNEYLAND“. But Jackson’s sign reads DANGEROUS. That means nothing more than „KEEP OUT! NO TRESPASSING!“. That’s a warning.
When Michael Jackson took us viewers to the same place in 1988, it wasn’t a painting. It was a movie. In 1988 in his movie MOONWALKER, Jackson ignored the warning not to step into the industry behind the scenes. An artist’s interference in the behind-the-scenes business of entertainment was forbidden territory. Not just in MOONWALKER. No trespassing! „KEEP OUT! NO TRESPASSING!“ it said in 1988. „DANGEROUS“ it says on the album cover and it seems it has the same meaning.
„The painting depicts Jackson looking out from behind a mask over the entrance to an amusement park.“Mark Ryden, the DANGEROUS painter. 3
The artist Michael Jackson and the DANGEROUS industry in MOONWALKER
Like DANGEROUS, MOONWALKER from 1988 is superficially colorful entertainment and at the same time superstar Michael Jackson’s autobiographical tragedy in several acts.
MOONWALKER starts with Jackson’s current career in the late 1980s, looking back at his success as a child star and his mega-successes as an adult. As for the future, MOONWALKER shows Jackson’s influence on future generations: when children imitate the King of Pop in the BADDER segment.
In the SPEED DEMON act, Jackson shows what dealing with fans means when the police must intervene and Jackson flees from his followers into the desert.
In the act LEAVE ME ALONE, Jackson presents us also what dealing with the media means in the entertainment park MICHAEL JACKSON.
In the act SMOOTH CRIMINAL, Jackson tells us about violent crimes and a powerless police apparatus, and this time he presents us with organized crime using the example of Chicago’s underground scene of the 1930s.
Jackson connects all acts of MOONWALKER with a background story of child abduction, mafia, drug trafficking, brutality and reminds us of great entertainers of the past like Fred Astaire for example.
In the beginning was… the field of dreams. A Garden of Eden
In 1988 the movie MOONWALKER, just like the 1991 painting DANGEROUS, opens with the bright light of paradise and shows a playful, joyful mood around Michael Jackson, who is in each case dressed in red. A Field of Dreams. A garden of Eden:
Michael Jackson 1988. Crossing the line in MOONWALKER
In MOONWALKER, the field of dreams in paradise turns into a nightmare as Michael Jackson crosses the border into the bottomless depths of a dark world. That border is marked by a river.
picture left to right: The end of paradise – „KEEP OUT! NO TRESPASSING!“ – the border is marked by a river at the entrance „to hell“ in MOONWALKER, 1988 source
Michael Jackson 1991. Crossing the line in DANGEROUS
A border that meanders like a river also appear to mark the barrier between paradise and hell on DANGEROUS. The border between the Kingdom of the sun and the Kingdom of darkness. From day to night. From life to death? From ENTRARE to EXITUS.
picture: Michael Jacksons DANGEROUS album cover 1991. Painter Mark Ryden. source
picture: Under the vibrant King on DANGEROUS, the word „ENTRARE“ is carved in stone. Entrare is a beginning. A birth? „EXITUS“ is written under the lifeless queen. Exitus is the end. The end of life? Death?
More interpretation about that theme „light and darkness“ in Michael Jackson’s art in this article:
Backstage: Michael Jacksons DANGEROUS Industry in MOONWALKER
In MOONWALKER, Jackson took us at hand and guided us from the sunny paradise with artificial flowers behind the gloomy scenes of this amusement park. In 1991, he takes us along the same path through the industrial darkness of DANGEROUS.
In the movie MOONWALKER from 1988, those „Mr. BIG’s“ of this entertainment world systematically manipulates behind the scenes in the hidden industry. With „Bucks and Drugs.“ Some sort of Mafia or organized crimes. Michael Jackson described the entertainment industry as a „system“ in 2003:
„… Don’t let the system come between us.“Michael Jackson to his own manager in 2003. 4
In 1988 manager figures like Mr. BIG hound Jackson through the story of MOONWALKER. At the end, they drive him into the spotlight in a crowded arena. An army of faceless spectators awaits the star’s performance in the arena of MOONWALKER. On stage, Michael Jackson transforms into a kind of superhero. On stage he wears a kind of protective shield and is not touchable, not attackable.
But the actual anticipated concert is cancelled. Despite all the pressures from the managing Mr. BIG’s, who even do not stop at beatings, Michael Jackson refuses to perform under those conditions and flies away from the arena into the darkness.
Michael Jackson „has left the building“.
- HOLLYWOOD TONIGHT. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zjGtTUfPcI4
- Jackson, Michael, Ratner, Brett, interview, 1999/2000, „Not to trust everybody. Not to trust everybody in the industry. There’re a lot of sharks. And record companies steal. They cheat. You have to audit them. And it’s time for artists to take a stand against them, because they totally take advantage of [artists]. Totally. They forget that it’s the artists who make the company, not the company who makes the artists. Without the talent, the company would be nothing but just hardware.“ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UvKwAXSVRU8
- Ryden, Mark, „Michael Jackson On The Wall“ Catalog for the exhibition, London, 2018.06., Thames & Hudson, page 57, npgshop.org.uk/products/michael-jackson-on-the-wall-hardcover-catalogue
- Wiesner, Dieter, Michael Jackson – Die wahre Geschichte, 2011: „…Don’t let the system come between us.“, Wilhelm Heyne Verlag, München, Seite 325