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(Un)covered: Smooth Criminal

“Smooth Criminal”
Songwriter: Michael Jackson
Original Release Date: August 31, 1987

Next week is the 27th anniversary of Michael Jackson’s Bad, one of the best selling albums in the world, and I’ve decided to celebrate with a long-time favorite “Smooth Criminal.” Michael Jackson has made such an impact in the pop world that it would be hard to avoid one of his cover songs.


Lyrically, “Smooth Criminal” shouldn’t be such a popular song. Its dark themes of crime and violent imagery make it seem like it wouldn’t be such a successful single in Michael Jackson’s repertoire. But, it has a really catchy melody. It’s near impossible to get that definitive hook “Annie, are you OK?” out of your head. The upbeat feel of the song keeps the lyrics from feeling too dark, and a video that focuses on dancing certainly helps, too.

The music video for the song seems like a mini-movie with such a high level of quality and production. It features high-end costumes depicting 1930s era mobsters, intense choreography for ten minutes, and even a bit of a plot. The video is an excerpt from Jackson’s movie Moonwalker, which strings together many of his songs and videos into a full length film. Jackson acts and dances in the movie, and performs his  iconic 45-degree lean, which seems to involve defying gravity. What you may not have known about that particular dance move is that Jackson and his team actually invented a kind of shoe that allowed him to become a human protractor. You might be able to see the shoe clips on the floor in the video if you look for them! It’s obvious that Jackson went to great lengths to go above and beyond the standard of entertainment, and he became very successful because of it.

The sharp, infectious melody, chunky rhythm, steely guitar solo are all the makings of a classic 80s pop hit. Okay, so the lyrics are ominous–it’s pretty blatant that Annie’s been murdered, but by god it’s a catchy song. Plus, Jackson dances so flawlessly it looks easy, and who can resist? There’s a reason this guy was deemed the King of Pop, and I’m not about to disagree.


Alien Ant Farm shot into popularity with their cover of “Smooth Criminal”, featured on the band’s first studio album ANThology. The song was the #2 video of 2001 on MTV, and was nominated for a grammy for Best Live Rock Performancein 2002. Alien Ant Farm took on the smooth pop melody and made into a sharp and edgy rock song that won over the world (it has over four times the views on Youtube!). In their video, the band pay homage to the timeless Michael Jackson by featuring his iconic dance moves, the ever present white glove, and of course, the original video’s famous 45-degree lean. However while MJ’s video was an entire production, Alien Ant Farm made their cover a little more down to Earth. The band is seen playing at a party with a huge crowd dancing and supporting the music.

What’s so addicting about this cover? To start with, it’s my favorite kind–pop transformed into pure rock. Alien Ant Farm take “Smooth Criminal” to the other side of the musical spectrum by lacing it with heavy guitar and a forceful chorus that vastly contrasts Jackson’s velvety whisper. It amps up the beat with its fierce staccato rhythm, but doesn’t lose that original addicting melody.

The Michael Jackson song is pretty much un-toppable. The theatrical pop sway of the song will always have a hold over my heart, especially since I grew up listening to a lot of MJ. But, I have to give Alien Ant Farm credit for their cover because it definitely caught my attention and permanently made its way onto my iPod. I hope it finds its way to yours, too!

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