Why ‘HIStory’ Was Michael Jackson’s Most Controversial, Savvy, And Personal Album

In 1995, Michael Jackson was the biggest celebrity in the world, but not in the same way he was in 1985, or 1975. Mainly, because of this:

Michael had always been engaged in battles with the press, but when the accusation emerged that he had sexually abused a child, public perception shifted from him being eccentric to something far more sinister. The 1990s also brought the scrutiny of the 24-hour news cycle, intensifying the scrutiny of a megastar like Jackson tenfold.

Combining this with his codependency on painkillers, the Michael Jackson that most knew and loved almost became a memory. Knowing that his next album could make or break his entire career and livelihood, he decided to create the biggest album he possibly could. These are the origins of his ninth studio album, HIStory, released 20 years ago this week.

The first, and perhaps smartest, move he made was deciding to make HIStory a double album: The first disc a greatest hits collection from his 20 year-career, the second composed of new material. This shrewd decision is what would put butts in the seats to listen to the defiant, fiery missives aimed at all he felt attacked or abandoned him.

Right out of the gate, Michael made a huge splash with the most expensive video of all-time to this day in “Scream.” The duet with his sister Janet Jackson seemed to be a screed against injustice, but the truth is that it was the soft introduction to this album, a huge kissoff to the press, the police, and his new assumed identity as public victim.

HIStory is filled with these combative songs, like “D.S.,” in which he calls out the Santa Barbara District Attorney nearly by name (he changes it from Tom Sneddon to Dom Sheldon, not exactly a riddle); “Money,” which indirectly targets the parents who he settled out of court with for millions of dollars, calling calls them liars; and “Tabloid Junkie,” aimed at the press.