Who was the "man in the mirror"? Michael Jackson, who spent almost his entire life in the public eye, said he hated mirrors, and hated looking in them. But "Man in the Mirror" was released before Jackson's gradual downward spiral, driven by bad press and declining mental and physical health. The song bears a bold social message and presents Jackson in an idealized light, far from his "Wacko Jacko" image of the 1990s and 2000s. "Man in the Mirror" is all about the MJ of his hey-day—sensitive, brilliant, socially conscious, and backed by nothing less than a gospel choir.
Sadly, in the years after the release of Bad, Jackson was increasingly known more for his controversial and contradictory public image than for his brilliant pop music. There is definitely some poetry to the fact that "Man in the Mirror," recorded at the peak of Jackson's career, is a song about an individual struggling to reconcile himself to society, self-image, and personal responsibility (although, notably, the words were written by a woman). Seen in the context of the rest of Jackson's life, what might have been a simple, sincere song about self-improvement becomes a web of complicated questions about the relationships of individuals to society and pop stars to their public images.
About the Song
Michael Jackson (solo & background vocals); Ollie E. Brown (clap); Dann Huff (guitar); Greg Phillinganes (keyboards); Glen Ballard, Randy Kerber (synthesizers); Siedah Garrett (background vocals); The Winans: Carvin, Marvin, Michael and Ronald Winans (background vocals); Andrae Crouch and The Andrae Crouch Choir: Sandra Crouch, Maxi Anderson, Rose Banks, Geary Faggett, Vonciele Faggett, Andrew Gouche, Linda Green, Francine Howard, Jean Johnson, Perry Morgan, Alfie Silas (background vocals); rhythm arrangement by Glen Ballard and Quincy Jones; synthesizer arrangement by Glen Ballard, Quincy Jones and Jerry Hey; vocal arrangement by Andrae Crouch
Explore the ways this song connects with the world and with other topics on Shmoop
"Man in the Mirror," written by Siedah Garrett and Glen Ballard, is a compelling song about the idea that social change starts with the individual. If there was any ambiguity about the social commentary element to the song, Jackson obliterated it with the 1988 music video. In a departure from the style of the famous videos produced for Thriller, the "Man in the Mirror" video is a historical montage portraying high-profile figures, events, and world hotspots. Michael Jackson doesn't appear in the video at all. Instead we see everyone from then-president Ronald Reagan, to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, to Civil Rights movement heroes Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks. As the video intersperses images of free love demonstrations in the 1960s, protests against the Vietnam War, KKK rallies, the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, nuclear explosions, and American planes bombing Vietnam, we also catch glimpses of Desmond Tutu, Mahatma Gandhi, Hitler, Mother Teresa, John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Basically, if you are interested in anything important that happened anytime between about 1938 and 1988, "Man in the Mirror" sees the connection. MJ clearly wanted to reach a wide audience with his message about "making that change."
On the Charts
"Man in the Mirror" topped the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks in early 1988. The song it knocked out of the top spot was Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up" (of latter-day rickrolling fame).
After Jackson's death in 2009, "Man in the Mirror" hit number 1 in the UK R&B Charts, and peaked at number 2 on the U.S. Hot Billboard Digital chart.
The song was nominated for a Best Record Grammy Award in 1989, losing out top honors to Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry, Be Happy."
Bad had the highest number of singles (5) to hit #1 in the Billboard 100 from a single album, beating out even Jackson's previous hit record, Thriller.
Bad was the best-selling album of 1988 worldwide.
Michael Jackson performed before 4.4 million people, the largest tour audience ever at that time, during his 16-month Bad tour. The tour broke a Guinness World Record for best-attended concert series when Jackson played for a combined total of 504,000 people over seven straight sold-out shows at London's Wembley Stadium.