Study Guide

Man in the Mirror

Man in the Mirror Introduction

In a Nutshell

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 heyday: 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

ArtistJackson, Michael
Year1987
LabelEpic Records
Writer(s)Glen Ballard, Siedah Garrett
Producer(s)Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson
Musician(s)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
Learn to playSheet Music
AlbumBad

Music Video

Influences on Jackson, Michael

Bee Gees
James Brown
Ray Charles
Paul McCartney
Stevie Wonder
The Supremes
Tina Turner

Influenced by Jackson, Michael

Bobby Brown
Ne-Yo
'NSYNC
Justin Timberlake
Pharrell Williams

Man in the Mirror Resources

Books

Jel D. Lewis Jones, Michael Jackson, the King of Pop: An Anthology (2005)
Although it contains little original information, this book contains transcripts of a number of interviews with MJ in his later years.

Life Commemorative: Michael Jackson (2009)
Life is famous for its beautiful photojournalism, and MJ is famous for his wild image. A winning combination.

Albums

Thriller (1982)
Even though Michael Jackson was already a star, Thriller elevated him to incredible new heights, with all of its seven singles becoming hit songs. This re-release features some of today's stars—Kanye West, Akon, and Fergie—remixing some of the hits to keep things fresh.

Bad (1987)
Jackson had a huge undertaking when he attempted to best Thriller with his next studio album, but Bad does just that, with its record five number one singles.

The Essential Michael Jackson (2005)
This compilation is an excellent introduction to Michael's music; though it does not contain some of the best deep cuts or even all of his hits, it makes up for it with its breadth.

Images

Bad Album Cover
This is the original MJ.

Jackson in the Bad Era
Again, the man everybody loved, before the days when only almost-everybody loved him.

Movies & TV

Moonwalker (1988)
This video is really a series of short films about Michael Jackson including a live version of "Man in the Mirror."

Living with Michael Jackson (2003)
This is the video documentary by British journalist Martin Bashir which led to the additional devastation of MJ's already depleted reputation.

This Is It (2009)
A documentary tribute to the singer filmed during the rehearsals for his planned world tour in 2009. See MJ practice "Man in the Mirror" in the final weeks of his life.

Websites

Official Michael Jackson Site
Though it's clear that the executors of MJ's estate are hesitant to say too much, this is a good resource for products and news updates.

Siedah Garrett's Website
Hear writer Siedah Garrett sing in the original demo of "Man in the Mirror."

Video & Audio

"Man in the Mirror" Music Video
MTV screens the original video; there is also a live version of the video in the 1988 film Moonwalker.