"Smooth Criminal"
Smooth Criminal
Single by Michael Jackson
from the album Bad
Released October 21, 1988
Format 7" single, 12" single, CD single, cassette single
Genre Electro funk
Length 4:17
Label Epic
Writer(s) Michael Jackson
Producer(s) Quincy Jones
Michael Jackson (co-producer)

"Smooth Criminal" is the seventh single from American recording artist Michael Jackson's 1987 Bad album. The song contains a fast-paced beat intertwined with Jackson's lyrics about a woman named Annie, who has been violently attacked in her apartment by a "smooth" assailant. First broadcast on television as a video in early October, it was released as a single on October 21, 1988, and peaked at number seven on the Billboard Hot 100. It was re-released on April 10, 2006, as a part of the Visionary: The Video Singles box set. The re-released Visionary single charted at number 19 in the UK. The song is one of Jackson's signature songs, and has appeared on numerous greatest hits albums, including Number Ones, The Essential Michael Jackson, Michael Jackson: The Ultimate Collection, King of Pop, This Is It, and Immortal.

The song serves as the theme song to Jackson's 1988 film Moonwalker, and plays as the background soundtrack in a section of the video game Michael Jackson's Moonwalker.

Background and compositionEdit

"Smooth Criminal" is a song written by Jackson and co-produced with Quincy Jones. Two early versions of the song were written in 1985 and the original demo was recorded in 1986. The first song was called "Chicago 1945" which evolved into "Al Capone" (which was later released on the 25th anniversary edition of the album). This version did not make the album and was re-worked and re-written as "Smooth Criminal".

This song is played in the key of A minor. Jackson's vocal spans from G3 to E5. It has a moderate tempo of 118 beats per minute.The refrain of the song contains the phrase "Annie, are you OK?" This is a phrase used in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training courses, and Michael Jackson is known to have taken a CPR course. Resusci Anne, otherwise known as "Annie" in English-speaking countries, is the name of a mannequin commonly used in CPR training. As part of the course, trainees are taught to say "Annie, are you OK?" to the dummy in order to check that the patient is conscious and responsive.

Critical responseEdit

Jason Elias of AllMusic called the song one of Jackson's best: "Despite the content "Smooth Criminal" is a gorgeous and exhilarating record." The New York Times' Jon Pareles wrote: "in Smooth Criminal, the singer finds a bloodstained carpet and an unconscious body, and asks, obsessively, Annie are you O.K.? when, clearly, she's not." Rolling Stone's Davitt Sigerson wrote: "Smooth Criminal" may be the result of retiring too soon after a Brian de Palma picture."

Music videoEdit

Jackson originally wanted to make the music video in the western genre, but he later decided after watching The Third Man with director Colin Chilvers to change it to a 1930s gangster style. Film was shot between mid-February and April 1987.

Jeffrey Daniel of the soul music group Shalamar co-choreographed the "Smooth Criminal" video with Jackson and Vincent Paterson, who was a back-up dancer in "Beat It" and "Thriller". It was directed by special effects coordinator Colin Chilvers. The dance sequence of the video in the 1930s style lounge (and Michael's white suit and fedora) pays tribute to the Fred Astaire musical comedy film The Band Wagon. Currently there are four different versions of the video for "Smooth Criminal", as well as an additional vignette created for the 2009 This Is It concert series:

  • Original Moonwalker version - This is the version included in the Moonwalker film. While technically the whole "Smooth Criminal" segment is about 40 minutes long, the actual "Smooth Criminal" song section is only about ten minutes. It is generally the most complete version of the video and includes the unedited middle section of interpretive dance with the dancers but does not include the last six seconds where a flapper fans herself after the door is shut behind Michael. In comparison to the original song this version has two lines in the second stanza added: "Everytime I try to find him he's leaving no clues left behind him. And they have no way of knowing of the suspect, or what to expect."
  • Moonwalker edit - This version is included on History on Film, Volume II as well as Michael Jackson's Vision and it is basically an edited version of the ten-minute song section from the "Smooth Criminal" segment in the film Moonwalker. It is essentially the same, however it has some minor changes including: different opening music and no dialogue, the middle section with the dancers chanting has been truncated (some of the chanting has been shortened) and ends similarly to the original where Michael exits the club but with the addition of the lead flapper fanning herself.
  • Album version - This is the version of the video that is on Michael Jackson's official website, as well as his YouTube channel. It also appears during the end credits for Moonwalker and Number Ones and was included on the Visionary single and the bonus Target exclusive DVD of Bad 25. The video is a montage of clips from the original Moonwalker version, that have either been sped up, or slowed down, and glossed with an added blur effect, as well as some alternate angles. The video is four minutes and seventeen seconds long. Throughout the video, the regular version of the song is played.
  • Single version - This unreleased version is edited to be in sync with the single mix taken from the "Smooth Criminal" single released October 24, 1988. It excludes the added lyric and interlude. This video is four minutes and three seconds long. It is considered an MTV Base video.
  • This Is It vignette - 2009 video, shot in black and white and intended to be shown during the London O2 concert series. It runs three minutes and forty-two seconds and features Jackson in a reprisal of his Moonwalker character, digitally inserted in the 1946 film noir Gilda which includes the song "Put the Blame on Mame" along with a few shots/scenes of his film Moonwalker.

The video won Best Music Video at the 1989 Brit Awards and the Critic's Choice awarded Jackson the "Best Video" award and the People's Choice Awards for "Favorite Music Video" for that same year.

The style of clothing as well as mannerisms Jackson portrayed were reused in the numerous adaptations of the video game Michael Jackson's Moonwalker. The song itself serves as the background music for the "Club 30s" stage, the nightclub seen in the music video, that appears in the game.

Anti-gravity leanEdit

In the music video, Michael Jackson and the dancers immediately around him perform a seemingly impossible forward lean. To accomplish this maneuver, a hitching mechanism which Jackson co-patented was built into the floor of the stage and the performers' shoes, thereby allowing performers to lean without needing to keep their centers of mass directly over their feet. The system consists of pegs that rise from the stage at the appropriate moment and special shoes with ankle supports and cutouts in the heels which can slide over the pegs and be temporarily attached to the stage.

In the patent, it is stated that the illusion in the music video was achieved by means of harnesses and cables which had to be connected to and disconnected from the floor by stagehands, a claim that is inconsistent with the footage itself in which shiny objects resembling pegs later used in live performances appear from underneath the dancers' shoes as the illusion is concluded.

Live performancesEdit

The song was performed live in all of Jackson's tours, the Bad, Dangerous and HIStory tours.

Bad Tour: During the second leg of Jackson's 1988–89 Bad World Tour, directed and choreographed by Jackson and Vincent Paterson. The performance featured a dance routine modeled after the scene from Moonwalker. This version of the song is available on the DVD Live at Wembley July 16, 1988. In this version, he wears the signature white suit coat with blue armband and pocket square and the white fedora over his normal outfit. Normally lip-synced, sometimes was sung live, such as in New York on March 5, 1988. The "Hotel" intro was performed, similar to the opening of This Place Hotel in the 1987 leg of the Bad Tour, containing a spoken introduction and Jackson's silhouette dancing behind a lit curtain.

Dangerous World Tour: By the time the 1992 Dangerous World Tour came around, this performance became a regular on Jackson tours, including his HIStory World Tour. This time, the jacket and hat were put on top of the gold leotard. Also, the lean was started during this tour, because in the Bad Tour, the lean was a drop to the floor, but Jackson stopped himself before hitting it. This performance can be seen on the Bucharest Dangerous Tour performance which is included as a DVD in The Ultimate Collection box set.

Part of the song was also briefly used in the middle of the live version of the song "Dangerous" since Jackson's performance at the 1995 MTV Video Music Awards.

History World Tour: During the 1996-1997 History World Tour, the costume was the coat, hat and a blue shirt and a white tie over the gold pants. The "Hotel" opening was scrapped for a similar opening with no spoken line, instead showcasing the background dancers and a keyboard interlude by Brad Buxer.

Film adaptationEdit

Further information: Moonwalker

The song was adapted into a short film directed by Colin Chilvers which was the centerpiece of the 1988 film Moonwalker starring Michael Jackson and Joe Pesci in the lead roles.


The film begins with three homeless children—Sean, Katie and Zeke (Sean Lennon, Kellie Parker and Brandon Quintin Adams)—sneaking through a big city to see their friend Michael walk out of his store in a black suit covered over with his white jacket. As Michael stands in front of the door, he gazes at the night sky before he is attacked by mobsters with machine guns. The film then backtracks to show Michael and the children playing in a meadow in happier times. Their dog Skipper runs away, and as Michael and Katie look for him, they uncover the lair of Mr. Big (Joe Pesci). Mr. Big—whose real name is Frankie LiDeo, which is an anagram of Frank DiLeo—is a drug-dealing mobster with a disciplined private army at his command. He wants to get the entire population of Earth addicted to drugs, starting with children. He likes to eat nuts and leaves nutshells wherever he goes. He is obsessed with spiders, as displayed by their abundance at the entrance to his lair and his operation named "bugs and drugs". Further, all his henchmen sport a spider crest on their uniforms. Katie screams when she sees a spider on her hand, and Mr. Big discovers them spying on his operation.

The story returns to the shooting in front of Michael's store. Unknown to the mobsters, Michael has a lucky star, and using it, he escaped the gunfire. Upon realizing that Michael has escaped again, Mr. Big orders his henchmen to track him down with dogs. Michael is eventually cornered in an alley, where he uses his lucky star again to turn into a sportscar (the 1970 Lancia Stratos prototype) that mows down several of Mr. Big's henchmen. Michael is pursued through the city streets until he loses the henchmen. Meanwhile, the children scout out Club 30's, where Michael had told them to meet him, and find only an abandoned and haunted nightclub. As Michael arrives, Katie sees a silhouette of him turning back from a car into himself, this time in a white and blue suit. The door of the club opens with a gust of wind, and Michael walks in to find it filled with zoot suiters and swing dancers. The children gather outside a window of the club and watch Michael dance to "Smooth Criminal."

The song used in the film is much longer than the album release, with several lyrics that clarify the story. There is also an interlude wherein Jackson joins the other dancers in a modern interpretive dance. At the climax of the song, Mr. Big lays siege to the club and kidnaps Katie. Michael follows them back to Big's lair and ends up surrounded by his henchmen. Mr. Big appears and taunts Michael by threatening to inject Katie with highly addictive narcotics. Katie breaks free for a moment, but Mr. Big grabs her again and starts kicking Michael. As Mr. Big stands over Michael and orders his henchmen to kill him and Katie, Michael looks up and sees his lucky star. He transforms into a giant robot and kills all of Mr. Big's soldiers, then turns into a spaceship. Mr. Big gets into a large hillside-mounted energy cannon, firing on the spaceship as it flies into a nearby ravine. The children are his next target, but the spaceship returns from the ravine just in time to fire a beam into the cannon with Mr. Big inside, destroying it and killing him. The children watch the ship fly into the night sky with a shower of light.

The children return to the city, believing that Michael is gone forever. As the boys talk about Michael, Katie walks away crying and clutching a paper star. As she sits in a corner wishing for him to come back, the paper star flies out of her hand and Michael walks out of the night fog. He takes them to Club 30's, where they find that the club has turned into the backstage area of a concert. Michael's stage crew return the children's missing dog and then escort Michael onto the stage where he performs "Come Together".


  • Written, composed, clap, solo and background vocals by Michael Jackson
  • Produced by Quincy Jones
  • Co-produced by Michael Jackson
  • Bill Bottrell, John Robinson, Bruce Swedien: Drums
  • David Williams: Guitar
  • Kim Hutchcroft, Larry Williams: Saxophones
  • Gary Grant, Jerry Hey: Trumpets
  • Kevin Maloney: Muted Steinway piano
  • Christopher Currell: Synclavier
    • Certain synclavier effects by Denny Jaeger and Michael Rubini
  • John Barnes, Michael Boddicker: Synthesizers
  • Chief of police announcement by Bruce Swedien
  • Michael Jackson's heartbeat recording by Dr. Eric Chevlen; digitally processed in the Synclavier
  • Rhythm arrangement by Michael Jackson and John Barnes
  • Vocal arrangement by Michael Jackson
  • Horn arrangement by Jerry Hey
  • Video directed by Colin Chilvers

Chart performanceEdit

Chart (1988–1989) Peak
Ireland (IRMA) 4
Spain (AFYVE) 1
UK (Official Charts Company) 8
US Billboard Hot 100 7
US Billboard Hot Dance Club Play 10
US Billboard Hot Dance Music/Maxi-Singles Sales 13
US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles 2
Chart (2006) Peak
Ireland (IRMA) 14
UK (The Official Charts Company) 19
Chart (2009) Peak
Eurochart Hot 100 Singles 20
French Digital Singles Chart 10
Hot Canadian Digital Singles 22
UK (Official Charts Company) 13
UK Download Chart 13
US Billboard Hot Digital Songs 12

Track listingEdit

  • 7" single:
  1. "Smooth Criminal" (single mix) – 4:10
  2. "Smooth Criminal" (instrumental) – 4:10
  • 12" maxi and CD-maxi:
  1. "Smooth Criminal" (extended dance mix) – 7:46
  2. "Smooth Criminal" (extended dance mix radio edit) – 5:20
  3. "Smooth Criminal" ("Annie" mix) – 5:35
  4. "Smooth Criminal" (dance mix – dub version) – 4:45
  5. "Smooth Criminal" (a cappella) – 4:12
  • Visionary single:

CD side:

  1. "Smooth Criminal" – 4:10
  2. "Smooth Criminal" (extended dance mix) – 7:45

DVD side:

  1. "Smooth Criminal" (music video)
  • 3" CD single:
  1. "Smooth Criminal" (extended dance mix) – 7:46
  2. "Smooth Criminal" ("Annie" mix) – 5:35
  3. "Smooth Criminal" (dance mix – dub version) – 4:45
  • CD promo:
  1. "Smooth Criminal" (single mix) – 4:12
  2. "Smooth Criminal" (extended dance mix) – 7:46
  3. "Smooth Criminal" (extended dance mix radio edit) – 5:20
  4. "Smooth Criminal" ("Annie" mix)  (different from other releases) – 5:35
  5. "Smooth Criminal" (dance mix – dub version) – 4:45
  6. "Smooth Criminal" (a cappella) – 4:12

Alien Ant Farm coverEdit

"Smooth Criminal"
Alien ant farm smooth criminal
Single by Alien Ant Farm
from the album Anthology
Released July 24, 2001
Format CD single
Recorded 2001
Genre Funk metal, nu metal
Length 3:29
Label DreamWorks
Writer(s) Michael Jackson
Producer(s) Jay Baumgardner

In 2001, Alien Ant Farm released a cover of "Smooth Criminal" as their debut single from their album Anthology. According to the band members, they would play a few riffs of the Jackson song while warming up before gigs and audience members would request them to play the entire song. This positive feedback encouraged them to record their own rendition of "Smooth Criminal" and include it on Anthology. It became a number one hit on Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks chart and was also a number one in Australia. The music video was directed by Marc Klasfeld. The song was also featured in the 2001 film American Pie 2.

The album Greatest Hits (1999) includes a hidden track named "Slick Thief", which is in fact an early version of "Smooth Criminal". This version was featured in several video games including Karaoke Revolution, Guitar Hero On Tour: Decades and as downloadable content for the Rock Band series. It was also featured in the TV spot for Horrible Bosses 2.


Chart (2001) Peak
Ireland (IRMA) 2
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 23
U.S. Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks 18
U.S. Billboard Modern Rock Tracks 1
U.S. Billboard Top 40 Mainstream 12
U.S. Billboard Top 40 Tracks 24

Cover and parody versionsEdit

  • In 1989 german comedian Otto Waalkes parodied part of the song and performance in his movie "Otto - Der Außerfriesische"
  • In 2002, the band ApologetiX recorded a parody of "Smooth Criminal" called "Smooth Grandmama" for their album Grace Period. The song's instrumentation is a parody of the Alien Ant Farm version.
  • In 2009, Wizard rock band The 8th Horcrux recorded a parody, entitled "Ginny, Are You OK?", referencing Ginny Weasley and the plot of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. It also is based on the Alien Ant Farm version.
  • In January 2011, musical duo 2Cellos (consisting of Luka Šulić and Stjepan Hauser) recorded a cover of "Smooth Criminal" played solely on cello, which became a hit on YouTube and was later included on their debut album.
  • In January 2012, Naya Rivera (as her character Santana Lopez) and Grant Gustin (as Sebastian Smythe) sung "Smooth Criminal" as a duet on the television show Glee, backed by musical duo 2Cellos. The song was filmed in a similar environment as the 2Cellos music video, in a room surrounded by empty chairs as the two musicians play. This cover debuted and peaked at number 26 at Billboard Hot 100, number 10 at Billboard Digital Songs, and number 28 at Billboard Canadian Hot 100 chart at the week of February 18, 2012.
  • In 2014, electronic music producer, Haywyre, gave his re-interpretation of the song, while still staying respectively true to Michael Jackson and his sound.

Appearances in other mediaEdit

External linksEdit