Man in the Mirror
by Michael Jackson
What is the message of "Man in the Mirror"? The song focuses on the efforts of an individual to improve himself and change the world. Self-reflection, inner agony and personal improvement are hardly original themes for a poem, but pop music in the 1980s—like pop music today—tended to focus more heavily on, well, love and sex (and heartbreak, too). "Man in the Mirror," poppy but probing, is a notable departure from these themes.
The primary social issue touched on in the song is homelessness. In response to his knowledge that kids are starving and living in the streets, the singer vows to change his own life (that's what "starting with the man in the mirror" is all about). But like many good poems and songs, the lyrics to "Man in the Mirror" do not limit themselves narrowly to the historical context in which they emerged. The continued popularity of "Man in the Mirror" highlights the continued importance of the questions it raises: What is the individual's responsibility to society? Can we change the world by changing ourselves? What is the power of one person to create change? Whether it is homelessness, poverty, AIDS, nuclear weaponry, or war, songwriters Siedah Garrett and Glen Ballard penned a lyric to inspire listeners to do something about human suffering for longer than a passing moment.