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Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” video hits historic milestone

Paul Drinkwater/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

You could argue that Michael Jackson wouldn’t have reached the levels of superstardom he enjoyed in the ’80s if MTV hadn’t been bullied by Michael’s record company into playing his video for “Billie Jean.”  Now, the iconic clip has just hit a huge milestone on YouTube.

The video, first played on MTV in March of 1983, has officially crossed one billion views on YouTube, making it only the third music video of the ’80s to rack up that many viewers, and the first ’80s clip by solo artist to hit that benchmark.  The other two are Guns N’ Roses‘ “Sweet Child O’Mine,” from 1988, and a-ha‘s groundbreaking video for “Take On Me,” from 1984.

According to YouTube, the “Billie Jean” video has been averaging 600,000 daily views globally this year.

When Michael’s record company, CBS Records, first asked MTV to play “Billie Jean,” the channel refused, because it didn’t feel that Black music was “rock” enough. Subsequently, Walter Yetnikoff, the president of CBS, told MTV that if it didn’t air “Billie Jean,” he’d pull all the label’s other artists off the channel, never give them any videos in the future, and would tell the press that MTV didn’t want to play music by a Black artist.

MTV caved and put the “Billie Jean” video in heavy rotation, a move that’s credited with generating an extra 10 million in sales for “Billie Jean”‘s parent album, Thriller. Today, of course, “Billie Jean” is considered one of the greatest videos of all time.

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