Billie Jean, the music video that broke the color barrier for black artists, has now reached a new milestone. As of Thursday morning, Jackson’s groundbreaking short film directed by Steve Barron has reached 1 Billion views on YouTube.
When MTV first launched in 1981, there was no sight of videos featuring Black artists. In fact, the network never once showcased African Americans until Michael came along. Not only did Jackson’s Billie Jean became the first video by an African American artist to be played on MTV; it received the highest rotations of airplay, sparking a higher demand for the others on this list.
Of course, Walter Yetnikoff is also to thank for getting the video played on air. The president of Jackson’s record company CBS Records became enraged when MTV refused to play the video and threatened to go public with MTV's stance on racial discrimination. "I said to MTV, 'I'm pulling everything we have off the air, all our product. I'm not going to give you any more videos. And I'm going to go public, and tell them about the fact you don't want to play music by a black guy.'"
The threats from Jackson’s studio exec paid off, both for Jackson and his black counterparts. On March 10, 1983, MTV played Billie Jean for the first time and forever changed the course of its music programming in the process. The rest, as they say, was history.
In 1992, the short film was inducted into the Music Video Producers Hall of Fame and was later ranked as the 35th greatest music video in a list compiled by MTV and TV Guide at the millennium.