On of Wesley Snipes big breaks in his early career was a role in Michael Jackson’s video for “Bad” directed by Martin Scorsese. Outside of Wildcats and Major League, this might be his most recognizable role from his early days. It’s certainly a project that carried some heavy hitters along with it, but he almost wasn’t a part of it. As Conan points out, we don’t really know what to actually believe here, but Snipes says that Prince was originally supposed to play his character in the extended video for “Bad.” Part of that is true, but the details around it are a bit more complicated.
A meeting between Prince and Michael Jackson, arguably during the height of their powers over the music world, would’ve been something. But, the problem with this and with the story from Snipes is that Jackson and Prince had quite the rivalry during the ’80s — something that our own Steven Hyden talks about in his book Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me: What Pop Music Rivalries Reveal About the Meaning of Life — keeping it all quiet and boiling behind the scenes reportedly, with Prince even bailing on a planned contribution to “We Are The World.” Will.I.Am shared a tale about inviting Michael Jackson to a Prince show in Las Vegas back in 2006, recounting it in MJ: The Genius Of Michael Jackson according to Esquire:
There was a point during the show where Prince was playing bass and he came out into the audience with this giant bass—he knew where Michael was sitting—and he walked right up to Michael and started playing bass in Michael’s face. Like aggressive slap bass. The next morning, Will went over to Michael’s house for breakfast, and they’re talking about Prince and the show. And then Michael goes, ‘Will, why do you think Prince was playing bass in my face?’ Michael was outraged. And then started going on. ‘Prince has always been a meanie. He’s just a big meanie. He’s always been not nice to me. Everybody says Prince is this great legendary Renaissance man and I’m just a song-and-dance man, but I wrote “Billie Jean” and I wrote “We Are the World” and I’m a songwriter too.’
Jackson also apparently mocked Prince during an on-stage meeting alongside James Brown in 1983, with the “Billie Jean” singer saying Prince “made a fool of himself” after falling into the crowd after grabbing onto a fake lamp post on stage according to Consequence of Sound. And the stories seem to go on from there, with heated ping pong match-ups, digs in behind-the-scenes interviews, and even a few jabs in their music over the years.
In reference to “Bad” and Snipes story from Conan, it was Prince who apparently turned down the chance to appear in the video. And the way he did it is apparently up in the air. One report from Prince’s biographer has the artist re-recording “Bad” and sending it back to Jackson as a comment on who was really bad between the two, but according to Quincy Jones, the song was originally planned as a duet between the two megastars.
Prince himself commented on the song and video during an interview with Chris Rock, denying any existence of a rivalry and explaining that one line soured him on the plan:
“The first line of that song is ‘Your butt is mine.’ Now, who is going to sing that to whom? Cause [he] sure ain’t singing that to me, and I sure ain’t singing it to [him].”
Jones adds that Prince told Jackson during the meeting that “you don’t need me on this, it’s going to be a number one anyway,” which ended up being right. There’s clearly a rivalry under the surface, but it’s likely both exactly what people expect and nowhere near as heated as people are hoping. We’ll never truly know now because both are sadly gone, while Snipes is out taking credit for things on late night talk shows.