MJ Studies Today LXXII

Abstract: November 26, 2021, marked the thirtieth anniversary of the release of Michael Jackson’s Dangerous, an album he hoped would be listened to and talked about long after he was gone. In this month’s MJ Studies Today column, Kerry Hennigan looks at some of the published scholarly discussion on Dangerous that provides valuable insight and analysis on Jackson’s “coming of age” masterpiece.

Column by Kerry Hennigan, editor of the monthly newsletter, A Candle for Michael, administrator of the widely-subscribed Facebook group “Michael Jackson’s Short Film ‘Ghosts’” and MJ blogger. Student of Ancient History, Archaeology and Anthropology.


Hennigan, Kerry. “MJ Studies Today LXXII: Michael Jackson takes control: reading Dangerous at 30.” (14-12-2021). The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 8, No. 2 (2021). https://michaeljacksonstudies.org/mj-studies-today-lxxii/

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Michael Jackson takes control: reading Dangerous at 30.  By Kerry Hennigan

Photo compilation © Kerry Hennigan

Released on 26 November 1991 after much anticipation and considerable media hype, the Dangerous album signalled Michael Jackson’s maturity as an artist. Having complete creative control of his work meant the King of Pop could serve up a kaleidoscope of material of his own choosing. Everything from “Heal the World” to “Why you wanna trip on me,” the outright sexy “In the Closet” the playful “Remember the Time” and the moody “Who Is It.” Then he took us to church with “Will you be there” and rocked a sultry storm with “Give in to me.” Not yet having exhausted our emotions, he reminded us of lost loved ones with “Gone too soon.”

Jackson spoke of wanting Dangerous to live. He told Ebony magazine in 1992: “I would like to see children and teenagers and parents and all races all over the world, hundreds and hundreds of years from now, still pulling out songs from that album and dissecting it.”[1] Leaving aside the caustic critics, so many of whom, by the time of Dangerous’ release, were looking for reasons to dismiss or ridicule Jackson, there is excellent scholarship on the subject worth reading (or re-reading) with the passage of the album’s thirtieth anniversary.

Susan Fast’s 2014 publication “Dangerous” was the hundredth title to be published in the 33-1/3 series of books on popular music from Bloomsbury. Fast describes Dangerous as Michael Jackson’s “coming of age” album, being his first as an adult artist without the guidance of producer Quincy Jones. “I think Michael just wanted to take charge of his own life, and that’s it,” according to recording engineer Bruce Swedien [in Greenburg].[2] However, as Fast notes, “few understood or were willing to accept the depth and breadth of Jackson’s vision.”[3] We still see the lasting legacy of this mindset in the words of critics who can’t see beyond the Jackson/Jones collaboration when discussing the former’s work in positive terms. Even the last album of that collaboration, Bad, on which Jackson wrote the majority of the material, suffers in comparison to its two predecessors. [4]

Fast’s examination of Dangerous is essential reading for those who want to gain a deeper appreciation of an album that was so important to its creator, and which can be seen as an indicator of a particular time in pop culture history as well as Jackson’s evolution as an artist and a deep-thinking individual. Her separate article “Michael Jackson: Posthuman” considers the artist through the lens of “posthumanism,” which argues for “the dismantling of the hierarchy that puts humans – largely because of our ability to ‘reason’ – above other forms of life and technology.” Such ideas were central to Jackson’s life and art, Fast claims, finding it “somewhat surprising that so few have considered him through this lens; instead, many have simply labelled him as weird or eccentric.”[5]

In “The Dangerous Philosophies of Michael Jackson” Elizabeth Amisu considers Dangerous from the perspective of Jackson’s expression of identity in his work. She writes: “Dangerous is an album fuelled by the all-important question for Michael Jackson in his early thirties: ‘Who have I become?’”[6] It is a question that remains hotly debated between fans and critics even after thirty years. Elsewhere Amisu notes that despite a lot of critical commentaries suggesting Jackson’s artistic and economic decline, “Dangerous would outsell Bad by millions of copies, showing that in 1992 he was becoming, despite the fractured personas, more popular, not less.”[7] If the Bad world tour had established Jackson as a global icon rather than just an American one, then Dangerous: the album, short films, and world tour confirmed it wasn’t going to be a short-lived phenomenon.

Joseph Vogel puts Dangerous in its historical context in his book “Man in the Music: The Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson.” In the years immediately preceding the album’s release, there were significant world events, i.e. the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Tiananmen Square massacre, the Exxon Valdez disaster and deforestation of parts of the Amazon rainforest. These were followed in the new decade by the first Gulf War, the beating of Rodney King and the escalation of the AIDS crisis. As Vogel notes, “it is remarkable how much Jackson absorbed the cultural shifts and events of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s in his work.”[8]

Zack O’Malley Greenburg’s coverage of Dangerous in “Michael Jackson, Inc” includes an amusing anecdote from Dangerous collaborator Teddy Riley of how the young producer first met Jackson, who snuck up on Riley and “scared the heck out of me!” Greenburg also explains how the departure of some of Jackson’s long-lasting, trusted advisors on legal, financial and business matters had unfortunate repercussions for the pop icon. He writes that “the working relationships between the remaining employees of Michael Jackson, Inc. and its founder were faltering.”[9]

Despite what was happening in the boardrooms, the era of Dangerous saw Michael back out in front of his public, not only with another massive international tour but in ways he had never experienced before, reaching the largest television audiences possible – via an HBO telecast of his concert, an Oprah Winfrey interview and a halftime Super Bowl show seen by a global audience of “perhaps 1 billion.”[10] There could have been more winning moves by the King of Pop, Greenburg reveals, including Jackson’s longed-for film career, if not for the greed of a man named Evan Chandler.

In referencing the public reaction to the debut of the “Black or White” short film, Adrian Grant provides a metaphor for those who, for their own reasons, were waiting for Jackson to fall on his face in front of the entire world. “Unfortunately for Michael, when you reach his level of stardom, there is not much you can do. You are up there alone setting a precedent, making history – a living legend. Many people hate to look up and so they must try to bring [you] down.”[11]

Reading about Jackson’s Dangerous album can only ever be secondary to actually listening to it. After all, this was the artist’s motivation for creating it – so we could join in with him and “Jam” for a better world. This album was also the catalyst for some of his most memorable short films (i.e. music videos) to promote the singles off the album. The Dangerous short films collection has been the subject of its own considerable academic analysis, and deservedly so. However, that’s a topic for another column.

Many fans will exclaim dismay at the lack of any significant official Dangerous thirtieth-anniversary releases from the Jackson Estate (aside from some coloured vinyl re-issues in limited markets). Any sense of disappointment I personally feel, however, is with respect to the passing of a friend who expounded on the special nature of Dangerous to me not long after we first met. Amy had been a small child when Dangerous was originally released; it was to become the first album she owned. It remained her favourite for as long as I knew her, which was not nearly long enough. Amy passed away at age 34 in October 2021, having kept her rapid decline in health hidden from all but her immediate family.

It seems shocking to me that someone once so vibrant, vivacious, and fun-loving, and who loved Michael Jackson, did not live to enjoy the thirtieth anniversary of her favourite MJ album. Like Michael himself, she has tragically, “Gone too soon.”


[1]Interview “Michael Speaks.” Ebony magazine, May 1992:40. [Also quoted in Vogel 2019:199 per reference below]

[2] Greenburg, Zack O’Malley. Michael Jackson, Inc. The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of a Billion Dollar Empire. Atria Books, 2014:153 https://www.amazon.com/Michael-Jackson-Inc-Rebirth-Billion-Dollar/dp/1476706379/

[3] Fast, Susan. Dangerous. 33-1/3 https://www.amazon.com.au/Michael-Jacksons-Dangerous-Susan-Fast/dp/1623566312

[4] Hennigan, Kerry. On Michael Jackson’s “Dangerous” – the book by Susan Fast and the evolution of the artist after “Thriller.” 4 Aug 2018. https://kerryhennigan.wordpress.com/2018/08/04/on-michael-jacksons-dangerous-the-book-by-susan-fast-and-the-evolution-of-the-artist-after-thriller/

[5] Fast, Susan. “Michael Jackson: Posthuman.” The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/michael-jackson-posthuman-33351 26 Nov 2014.

[6] Amisu, Elizabeth. The Dangerous Philosophies of Michael Jackson. His music, his persona, and his artistic afterlife. Praeger, 2016:41-42. https://www.amazon.com/Dangerous-Philosophies-Michael-Jackson-Afterlife/dp/144083864X/ref=sr_1_1

[7] Ibid: 80.

[8] Vogel, Joseph. Man in the Music. The Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson. Vintage Books, 2019:202. https://www.amazon.com/Man-Music-Joseph-Vogel/dp/0525566570/ref=sr_1_1

[9] Greenburg. 2014:157

[10] Ibid:158

[11] Grant, Adrian. Michael Jackson Live and Dangerous. Omnibus Press, 1992:11. https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00NBKVYZQ/

Additional reading and viewing:

Fast, Susan. “Susan Fast: Michael Jackson’s Dangerous Album – Kapitel ‘Soul’-‘Seele’.” The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 1, no. 4 (2015). https://michaeljacksonstudies.org/susan-fast-michael-jacksons-dangerous-album-kapitel-soul-seele/. Originally published in Fast, Susan. Dangerous. London: Bloomsbury, 2014.

Vogel, Joseph. “Black and White: how Dangerous kicked off Michael Jackson’s race paradox.” The Guardian. 17 March 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/music/2018/mar/17/black-and-white-how-dangerous-kicked-off-michael-jacksons-race-paradox

Amisu, Elizabeth. STUDYING MJ’s ‘DANGEROUS’: 4 Reasons to Read ‘Dangerous Philosophies’. The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies video on YouTube. https://youtu.be/kuNApgaA9WY

Bianchi, Giulia. “Michael Jackson’s ‘Dangerous’ Turns 30 | Anniversary Retrospective.” Published on Albumism 23 Nov 2021. https://www.albumism.com/features/michael-jackson-dangerous-turns-30-anniversary-retrospective

Lacy, Chris. “Michael Jackson’s ‘Dangerous’ Turns 30: Engaging Pop Culture Without Losing the Gospel.” Published on Medium, 21 Nov 2021. https://thevioletreality.com/michael-jacksons-dangerous-turns-30-engaging-pop-culture-without-losing-the-gospel-3306fdc0fcce

Illustration: “Dangerous30” photo compilation by Kerry Hennigan. No infringement of original photographic copyright is intended in this not-for-profit, educational exercise.