They Don’t Make ‘em Like This Anymore: Michael Jackson’s Pepsi Generation Cut Of “Billie Jean”

After watching Michael Jackson’s Pepsi Generation version of “Billie Jean” from 1984, you’d have to conclude they sure don’t make ads like this anymore. Pepsi revamped their marketing in 1984 with The Choice of a New Generation campaign. Jackson was at the peak of his fame at this point, fresh from the release of his 34 times Platinum album Thriller. Pepsi tapped “Beat It” director Bob Giraldi to work his magic on the ad, while Jackson re-recorded “Billie Jean” with new lyrics for it.

The ad features a young boy dressed like Jackson, performing the star’s signature dance moves with his friends on the street. He then bumps into the real Michael Jackson with the Jackson 5, and the two groups dance together in the street. The boy dressed like Jackson is Alfonso Ribeiro, and starting in 1990, he would star as Carlton Banks on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. As Banks, Ribeiro would famously imitate Jackson’s dances on the show in several classic scenes.

The Pepsi Generation ad campaign made history, as Pepsi signed Jackson with a record-breaking $5 million endorsement deal in November 1983. The Guinness Book of World Records called it “the biggest commercial sponsorship deal” between an artist and a corporation. The big investment must have paid off for Pepsi, as they later renewed the deal for $10 million during Jackson’s Bad album cycle.

Bob Giraldi said Jackson was very hands-on during the Pepsi promotion. The director said, “Michael was very much involved in the execution of everything, from the choreography to the location scouting. He really knew what worked.” Giraldi would team up with the Jackson 5 again for another Pepsi ad that features the group performing live.

Jackson’s Pepsi deal was not without incident, as during the filming of one of the commercials in 1984, the singer’s hair caught fire due to an exploding pyrotechnic. Jackson did not initially realize his hair was on fire and continued dancing until a friend ran up, took him to the ground, and put it out. Jackson’s long-term makeup artist Karen Faye said, “I never saw anything like that in my life. This was someone I knew and he was on fire. All his hair was gone and there was smoke coming out of his head.”

Despite the severe injury, Jackson continued his deal with Pepsi. The company offered the star $1.5 million in compensation. Jackson chose to donate the money to the Brotman Medical Centre in Culver City, California, which is where he was treated for the burn. Enjoy more from the legendary Michael Jackson by following him on his YouTube or view his stunning photos on his Instagram page.

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