What's most disturbing about this track is its thoughtlessness, its utter absence of feeling (the chorus of "Annie, are you okay?" is a naïve postscript after the horror scene the verses describe). The song isn't harmless camp, like the creepshow "Thriller" (which was written by Rod Temperton); it lacks even the cartoonish compassion of a run-of-the-mill heavy-metal sex-and-violence epic. Jackson is a true child of the video age – the emotional kick is everything. With "Smooth Criminal," he creates his own version of his pal Steven Spielberg's anything-for-a-thrill Indiana Jones movies. Spielberg and Jackson share a childlike imagination, a sense of wonder, that at its finest conjures E.T. and "Human Nature" but has its flip side in the brainlessly ghoulish and morbid.
Spielberg and Jackson also share a manipulativeness, an overriding awareness of an audience out there wating for its emotional strings to be pulled, a preoccupation with turning out "good entertainment." Jackson's image and popularity feed on magical moves like his gravity-defying moonwalk, or the way he lights up the sidewalk with his every step in the clip for "Billie Jean," or turns the black-and-white "Bad" video into color with a whiplash toss of his head and a snap of his fingers. In his videos, Jackson does indeed seem more than human. In the emotionally bankrupt fantasies on Bad, he seems much, much less.
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