Category Archives: Bad25

"New" MJ Song Already Causing Controversy: Shedding Some Much Needed Light On "Abortion Papers"


Leave it to Michael: Three years gone and counting, and he is still keeping us talking! The best Michael Jackson songs have never been without controversy, and now we have a new jewel to add to that crown. You see, among the many goodies on the new Bad25 disc is a little track that never made the original Bad album, but is sure gaining a lot of attention now! But is it gaining attention for the “right” reasons?

What I’m quickly discovering, if the conversations posted on various blogs, forums, and social media sites are any indication, is that everyone seems to have an opinion of what this song “means” and the message Michael is conveying. But do they really know? Most, I am firmly convinced, are mistakenly assuming this to be a personal, pro-life statement from Michael. And indeed, if one only gives a superficial listening (as we so often do with pop songs, paying attention to mostly the chorus hook and very little else) this would seem to be the case. “Those abortion papers/signed in your name against the word of God,” he sneers, in that deeper register of his voice he always employed when he wanted us to know for sure that he meant business.

There Are Far Too Many Kneejerk Reactions Either Praising Or Condemning Him For Being “Pro-Life.” But They Are Forgetting That The Artist And His Art May Not Always Be One And The Same.

So far, I’ve seen far too many fans and haters alike jumping the gun on this, either praising Michael for his wholesome pro-life views, or condeming him likewise. “Michael Jackson Was Pro-life” proudly proclaims one headline, while “Who is Michael Jackson to tell women what to do with their bodies?” sneers a commentor elsewhere.

Well, not so fast. First of all, let’s not forget that this was the same guy who, in Wanna Be Starting Something plainly said, “If you can’t feed your baby/then don’t have a baby” and “don’t think maybe/if you can’t feed your baby.” Now, isn’t it interesting that Michael-now being both universally condemned and praised as a pro-lifer, depending on which publication you read- also gets routinely bashed in some circles as being an ADVOCATE for abortion, simply because of that one lyric in Wanna Be Starting Something!

Never mind that in actuality, the line in Wanna Be Starting Something probably has more to do with advising young women to think before they gap their legs. It would seem to me that the line has more to do with preaching abstinence than advocating abortion, but you get the idea. Apparently, however, this extreme contradiction hasn’t dawned yet on some, who continue to debate if Michael’s intention with Song Groove, aka Abortion Papers was to force his own pro-life views on his audience. (Well even if he did, he certainly wouldn’t be the first nor last artist to preach a personal political or religious agenda, now would he!). Here is an article, for example, that is very typical of what I have been seeing in the last few days:

Apparently Michael Jackson recorded an anti-abortion song 

From beyond the grave, Michael Jackson has let the world know that he was against abortion. The sort-of-revelation comes courtesy of the previously unreleased song “Song Groove (Abortion Papers),” which was released this week as part of the 25th anniversary remaster of Bad.

While he may have been progressive in the ways of plastic surgery, Jackson expressed some fairly conservative viewpoints in song before, taking somewhat-moralistic stances against things like slut-shaming (“Dirty Diana”) and stalking (“Smooth Criminal”). Those Jackson taboos are now joined by this pretty raw and uncomfortable song whose message—“Those abortion papers / Signed in your name against the words of God / Those abortion papers / Think about life—is unmistakably straightforward.,85270/

As an aside, I have to laugh at all of these ignorant writers who seem shocked at the idea of Michael Jackson taking on such a deep and political subject. Apparently, these people slept through the entire HIStory era, but I digress. Anyway, Michael himself had a lot of doubts about how the song would be perceived, which was one reason why the song remained in the vault for a quarter of a century. Joe Vogel, as he always so excellently does, has revealed some interesting behind-the-scenes glimpses into the creative process behind this track. This was an excerpt from his article “Abortion, Fame, and Bad: Listening To Michael Jackson’s Unreleased Demos”:

Unreleased Michael Jackson Song “Abortion Papers” Surfaces 

Jackson isn’t the first recording artist to explore the controversial subject of abortion in song. It has also surfaced in the work of Neil Young, Madonna, Sinead O’Connor, and Lauryn Hill, among others.

In “Abortion Papers,” Jackson approaches the matter carefully (and ambiguously): rather than presenting a dogmatic political perspective, he personalizes it through the story of a conflicted girl raised in a deeply religious home and her Bible-admonishing father. In his notes for the track, Jackson wrote, “I have to do it in a way so I don’t offend girls who have gotten abortions or bring back guilt trips so it has to be done carefully…. I have to really think about it.”

Jackson narrates the track with a strong, passionate vocal. Ironically, the main drawback of the track is its catchiness. It feels a bit strange wanting to dance and sing along to a song about abortion, but that’s exactly what the addictive groove inspires.

Kudos to Jackson for attempting to tackle a sensitive issue in a thoughtful manner, though it appears even he wasn’t quite sure about how it would play to listeners.

Well, exactly what is the story being told in Song Groove, or aka Abortion Papers? Here are the lyrics-at least, the pertinent lyrics important to our purpose (I think we can safely leave out all the “hee hees” and other various inflections in the last verse or so without missing anything):

Sister don’t read, she’ll never know

What about love? Living a Christian soul

What do we get, she runs away

What about love? What about all I pray

Don’t know the worst, she knows a atheist

What about God? Living is all I see What do you get, things she would say

What about love? That’s all I pray
Those abortion papers Signed in your name against the words of God

Those abortion papers Think about life, I’d like to have my child
Sister confused, she went alone

What about love? What about all I saw?

Biding a life, reading the words Singing a song, citing a Bible verse

Father’s confused, mother despair

Brother’s in curse What about all I’ve seen?

You know the lie, you keep it low What about heart?

That’s all I’ve known
Those abortion papers Signed in your name against the words of God

Those abortion papers Think about life, I’d like to have my child
Those abortion papers (Hoo!)

Signed in your name against the words of God

Those abortion papers Think about life, I’d like to have my child
Look at my words, what do they say?

Look at my heart, burning is all heartbreak  What do you get? What do you say? What about love? Feel my sin

Those abortion papers Signed in your name against the words of God Those abortion papers Think about life, I’d like to have my child

Those abortion papers (Hoo!) Think about life, I’d like to have my child
Who have the grateful? Where will she go? What will she do to see the world?

Sister don’t know, where would she go What about life?

What about all I saw? What would you do?

Don’t get so confuse Love all the things It’s just the things I do
Those abortion papers Signed in your name against the words of God

Those abortion papers

Think about life, I’d like to have my child

Well, here is another telling passage from the Vogel article that may reveal an actual glimpse into the truth of this song. The bolded passages are my emphasis:

Matt Forger: “This was a song that we initially missed during archiving. It was titled ‘Song Groove’ on the box so we overlooked it. Once we figured out what it was we started to put the pieces together. It was recorded by Brian Maloof and Gary O., a couple of engineers who worked with Michael for a brief time. When we heard it we knew it could be controversial, especially with what’s been going on politically. But when you listen to the song there’s a story being told. Michael really reflected on what the approach should be. He wasn’t sure how to narrate it. There were different variations with vocals—he didn’t want it to be judgmental. He was very clear about that. But he wanted to present a real, complicated situation.”

In Dirty Diana, Michael “Becomes” The Story Onstage-And Thus The Persona. “Story.” “Narration.” How Much Are These Words Key To Our Understanding Of Michael’s Art?

Ah-ha! Notice the keywords boldfaced above. “Story.” “Narration.” These are all the key elements to really understanding where Michael was coming from. You see, whether it is admirers jumping the gun and praising him for being pro-life, or bashers jumping the gun and criticizing him for the same reason, or for being a hypocrite, they are all missing the most basic element of art-the role of the artist, and the artist’s ability to create personas and fictional narratives.

Yet as any writer, literary scholar, English major, teacher, or student fresh out of Composition 102 can tell you, it is one of the most basic fundamental principles of analyzing poems, stories-or lyrics, as the case may be. The idea that the voice and persona of a creative work should never, under any circumstances, be confused with that of the artist or author of the piece is simply a given in the world of critical and scholarly analysis. This is exactly the reason why one of the first things I teach my own students is how to make that all-important distinction between author/artist and narrator/speaker.  Although we can sometimes assume that the author and persona/speaker in a creative work are one and the same (such as William Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey or John Lennon’s Just Like Starting Over) the fact is, we can never take for granted that it is, nor are we given any automatic rights or license as readers/listeners to assume such.

Always begin from the assumption that the narrator/speaker is not the author, but a “character” created by the author.

It seems easier said than done to assume that most reasonably intelligent and educated people would understand this very basic fundamental principle of art. Yet it was the exact, same overlooking of this principle that led, for example, to many of the kneejerk reactions against They Don’t Care About Us.

This reminds me of the student I once had who came to me declaring that she was swearing off Langston Hughes for good. “I just can’t read him anymore,” she said. Knowing this student had really liked all of Langston Hughes’s work up to that point, I was curious as to why this sudden turnabout, and asked her. “He condones suicide,” she said. “I can’t feel the same about him anymore.”

I asked to see the poem she was referring to. It was the following poem entitled Suicide Note:

The calm, Cool face of the river

Asked me for a kiss.-Langston Hughes

It’s probably, without doubt, one of the shortest pieces Hughes ever wrote. It is simply the last minute thoughts of a man (or woman, perhaps, for the poem doesn’t really specify) who is standing above a river, contemplating the jump; the sweet release that he/she imagines death to be. Clearly Hughes was not writing the poem about himself, nor was he expressing his own views about suicide. In the first place, preaching a moral position really is not the artist’s place. Art-that is, good art-exists merely to give us a glimpse of a truth about life, or about ourselves. In Suicide Note, Hughes is adopting the persona of a suicidal individual to give us a brief glimpse into the fleeting thoughts of a person about to end his/her life. The poem itself is neither “pro” nor ‘anti” suicide. Rather, like life itself, it simply is.

It Clearly Isn’t Just “Hers.” “I’d like to have MY child,” the song’s narrator states.

So where does that leave us in analyzing Abortion Papers? I believe that, in a fashion very similar to Langston Hughes’s Suicide Note, it may be possible that Michael as ARTIST is neither pro nor con here, but rather has become an invisible entity hidden behind the song’s persona. My first impression was that he was telling the story via the persona of the pregnant young woman, and I believed this was a simple case of narration in which he was simply putting himself into the head of this conflicted woman. But on closer listening, and closer inspection of the lyrics, it seems he may, in fact, be taking it from another angle, as the baby’s father. In this context, the song’s lyrics “Think about life/I’d like to have my child” certainly make more sense. The song’s narrator is making it very clear that there is some personal connection here. This isn’t just the girl’s baby, it is “my child,” too.

That alone should be enough to let us know that this is a purely fictionalized tale, unless you believe some of the “baby daddy” stories floating around. When I interviewed Theresa Gonsalves in 2010, she told me how Michael came to her with the idea for Billie Jean after having listened sympathetically to her story of being abandoned by the father of her son Todd. Depending on how much credence one wants to give Thereas’s story (I believe she was being sincere) then Michael’s creative impetus for writing Billie Jean was to simply take her story and re-write it from the perspective of the male who has abandoned the pregnant girl (because “the kid is not my son” he insists, thereby absolving himself of guilt).

Creating fictional personas and allowing their voices to tell the tale certainly wasn’t anything new to Michael by the time he wrote Abortion Papers. Or in other words, if you are too quick to assume Michael was a pro-lifer just because of a song lyric, then you must also assume he was a deadbeat boyfriend who refused to take responsibility for his own actions in Billie Jean, and a rehabilitated thug in Beat It. Why not just assume he really was a gangster in Smooth Criminal, or an alien in Scream?

Of course, I understand why many are quick to attribute this song to Michael’s own, personal values. Although Michael never publicly stated his personal views on abortion, it doesn’t take much convincing to believe that, as someone raised in the Jehovah’s Witness church, his personal views would have been pro-life. Just as he never publicly stated his feelings about homosexuality, but many of his closest friends have vouched that he personally felt it was a sin as per the religious views he had been taught, it’s easier to believe than not that his own views would have been decidedly pro-life. And also knowing how passionately he felt about children, and the rights of children, it would certainly make sense to me that he would have been pro-life. . At the very least, I believe this would have been true in his younger years. However, let’s not forget that Michael was also very adamant that children should not be brought into a world where they can not be properly loved or cared for. Also, as he matured I believe he became much more liberal in some of his views, especially in regards to women. I have always been honest in saying that I believe Michael and I would have clashed over some of his views regarding women, especially since he seemed to have a very ingrained whore/madonna complex. I personally believe this was most likely a result of his strict religious upbringing, compounded by the hypocrisy he witnessed very early in life with his father and brothers and their “conquests.” Although as a general rule I try to steer clear of of overly psychoanalyzing Michael, I believe he most likely did develop a sense, very early on, that all women must either be “saints” like Mother, or whores like the groupies he saw in the strip clubs and every night on the road. While he seemed to have an unusually sensitive respect for women, he also tended (so it seems) to narrowly categorize them. Many fans have long pointed out this dichotomy in his songs. Women are almost universally either idealized/romanticized (Liberian Girl; I Just Can’t Stop Loving You) or demonized (Dirty Diana; Billie Jean, etc). Of course, there are exceptions. In a few songs, such as Break Of Dawn, he actually seems to present a perfectly balanced, adult relationship in which the female is neither a romantic ideal nor a Bathsheba clone, but an equal. But for the most part, these would be the rare exceptions rather than the norm.

In MJ’s World-That Is, The World Of His Art-Women Are Almost Always Either Idealized Beings, Or Trampy Vixens. Yet His Songwriting Often Revealed A Surprising Depth Of Connection With The Moral Dilemmas That Women Face

In all of these songs, Michael is presenting for the most part fictional personas, yet the constant thematic motif’ of women as either romanticized ideals or whores is certainly too prevalent to be completely brushed off as coincidental. Clearly, either something very conscious or-perhaps-very subconscious was at stake.

Yet let’s not forget that Michael was also a very sensitive and powerful storyteller, and that presenting songs which portray female characters-often in very sad or tragic circumstances- was one of his underrated gifts.  In Little Susie, one of the most underrated tracks from HIStory, he very darkly and poignantly weaves the story of a little girl who is murdered. In both Slave To The Rythm and Hollywood Nights (two other unreleased songs that only came to light since his passing) he paints  moving tales of young women trying desperately to hang onto their dreams despite all odds against them. In Hollywood Nights, it is clear that child prostitution is one of the very real evils that this young woman must contend with (a subject also alluded to in Do You Know Where Your Children Are?).

In Abortion Papers, this is clearly a young woman who has been raised in a very fundamental, religious environment; hence, the confusion and guilt she must face over her decision. Whether it is peer pressure, or the demands of her boyfriend (whom I believe is the narrator/persona of the song, represented by Michael) or the demands of her parents, it is not going to be an easy path for this young woman, regardless of her ultimate decision.

I never had an abortion, and by the grace of God, was never put into the position of having to make that choice. But I can say that I know for the millions of women who have been there, that it’s not a decision one makes lightly or without consequence. I don’t care how liberal you are; how much of a pro-choice advocate you are. If you ever abort a child, it’s a decision that will haunt you for the rest of your life. And that is not being judgemental. That is simply being honest and telling it like it is. Well, unless you are one cold-hearted b___, we’ll just leave it at that. I guess there are some like that, but I would register to guess that they are in a very small minority.

Michael was clearly attuned to the moral dilemma that many, many young women are facing every day. It was true in 1987; it is even more true today. Abortion is not an easy answer. It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation, either way.

Abortion Papers isn’t about judgement. It isn’t even about being pro-choice or pro-life.

Like all good art, it is simply about reality.