Alien Ant Farm made the video an homage to MJ.
When Micheal Jackson released "Smooth Criminal" in 1988, I was a 13-year-old named Annie. As you can imagine, the "Annie, are you okay?" jokes came fast and furious, and they haven't let up much in the three and a half decades since.
It's all good. Those jokes gave me a respite from the "Annie get your gun" and "little orphan Annie" ones, and besides, it's a great song. It wasn't Jackson's biggest hit, but it was always my favorite, and not just because it bore my name. The music video—a nine-minute, dance-heavy mini-movie set in the 1930s gangster era—made it even better.
But apparently, mentioning "Smooth Criminal" or "Annie, are you okay?" to the younger folks doesn't conjure up the zoot suits and dimly lit speakeasy images it does for me. For them, it brings up images of an alternative rock punk band playing in a … boxing ring?
In 2001, a band called Alien Ant Farm did an alternative/punk cover of "Smooth Criminal" that has repeatedly gone viral since then. In fact, it went viral in June 2022 and then again this week, when Lindz McLeod on Twitter asked if anyone would recognize the lyrics, "Annie are you okay, are you okay, Annie?" without looking them up. (Ahem.) Some people, seriously or jokingly, pointed to the Alien Ant Farm cover as the source.
The Alien Ant Farm "Smooth Criminal" video is actually an homage to Michael Jackson, though the folks that didn't grow up in the MJ era may miss many of the small details that point to him. Watch and see how many Michael Jackson references you can find:
The kid dancing while wearing a mask has a whole different feel now than it did when the video came out, for sure. Seems downright prescient, in hindsight.
The masked kid was the one part of the Alien Ant Farm video that Michael Jackson himself took issue with at first. (Michael Jackson would often wear a face mask in public, long before it became a pandemic habit.) The band shared that story in an interview with Los Angeles Times:
"When you asked if we had any reservations of how it would be received, the only person we were mindful of was Michael Jackson himself. We were kind of worried. We sent the video to MJ to get his nod of approval. And he commented back that he didn’t really dig the kid with the mask. I think MJ wore that mask because of all of his failed surgeries. We were like, 'Oh s—, maybe we should remove it.' We were already on tour. But a few weeks later, the director of the video [Marc Klasfeld] went to the same street, got a bunch of the extras together and reshot the dancing kid without the mask. We went through quite a bit of money and bulls— to make sure that we were appeasing Michael Jackson. We sent it back to him a few weeks later with the kid with no mask and he said, 'You know what? I like it better with the mask!'"
The Alien Ant Farm "Smooth Criminal" video has racked up a whopping 257 million views on YouTube alone since it was shared in 2009. People say it's a perfect representation of the early 2000s, both the sound and the visuals.
Some people have also said they prefer the Alien Ant Farm version to the original, which feels a bit blasphemous, but whatever. It's a great cover—the band did an admirable job of keeping the overall elements of the original while adding their own sound to it—but there's just nothing like Michael Jackson's original. Enjoy: