Beat It is one of those songs where two things I like collide – in this case, Broadway and Michael Jackson.
Once upon a time, there were two rival gangs – the Jets and the Sharks. Tony, the best friend of the leader of the Jets, fell in love with Maria, the sister of the leader of the Sharks. They try to make their relationship work despite the gang rivalry. However, during a violent rumble, Maria’s brother kills Tony’s best friend. Enraged, Tony kills Maria’s brother and runs off. To avenge their leader, a member of the Sharks shoots down Tony, who was about to run off with Maria.
That’s the plot of West Side Story, a Broadway musical which was later made into a Hollywood film. It presents the cruel consequences of violence, especially among teenagers. It was also the inspiration for the award-winning music video of Michael Jackson’s 1983 hit song “Beat It.”
Composed by Michael Jackson, the song advises the listeners to “beat it” in order to avoid violent confrontations: “You better run, you better do what you can / Don’t wanna see no blood, don’t be a macho man / You wanna be tough, better do what you can / So beat it.”
It was not a secret that Michael Jackson suffered physical abuse in the hands of his father while growing up. Being a victim of abuse caused him to develop very strong convictions against violence, which is reflected in his music.
Directed by Bob Giraldi, the music video of “Beat It” catapulted Michael Jackson into superstardom and won many awards, including Favorite Pop/Rock Video and Favorite Soul Video in the American Music Awards. It was later inducted in the Music Video Producer’s Hall of Fame.
Similar to West Side Story, the music video of “Beat It” shows two rival gangs of different ethnicity. When the leaders of both gangs are about to start their one-on-one knife fight, Michael Jackson appears between them, singing “Beat it… / It doesn’t matter who’s wrong or right / Just beat it.” He is able to stop the fight from happening, and members of both gangs join him in a group dance choreographed by Michael Peters (who is one of the leaders of the gang).
Because all street fights should end with everyone dancing together.