Begging for Your Love

Joie: You know, Willa, lately I’ve been thinking a lot about Michael’s unreleased songs. Actually, that’s something I tend to think about a lot. And that rumored vault that is said to exist somewhere with hundreds of songs in various stages of completion. Doesn’t that thought just blow your mind? To think that that could be true?

Willa: It does, and I think it is true. Joe Vogel has conducted dozens of interviews with people who worked on those songs, and apparently there’s an intriguing variety of styles and genres – not just the many different styles we’ve seen Michael Jackson work in before, but also some country, some lullabies, even an album of classical music he composed.

Joie: Well, you know they recently announced the release of a new album, Xscape. And supposedly it’s going to be all new music that we’ve never heard before. Or, I should say music that hasn’t previously been released on a proper album, since some of us have gotten pretty good over the years at snatching songs when they’re leaked online. So since the title of this new project is called Xscape, I’m guessing there’s a good chance that song will be on the album.

Willa: Yes, I’ve heard it will be on there. In fact, if you get the two-CD set there will be two versions: the one MJ created with Rodney Jerkins before he died and one that has been “contemporized” by Jerkins.

Joie: I can’t help wondering though what some of the others might be.

Willa: Me too. I’ve been looking for an official track list but haven’t found one yet, though I’ve found several unofficial ones. I imagine they’ll release the official one soon. And apparently all of the songs on Xscape will be presented twice, with the “contemporized” versions on one CD and the source material that Michael Jackson left behind on the other. I was really happy to hear that, especially after all the controversy around Michael. In fact, I wish they would release a two-CD version of Michael that included the source material for those songs. I’d love to hear that!

Joie: I’m excited to see what they do with this new release, but thinking about the upcoming album only gives me the urge to go to my playlist of unreleased music. There are so many wonderful songs on there that may or may not ever see a proper release on a real album. But there are also a few that have finally been released, just maybe not here in the US. Or they were released as part of an anthology, like The Ultimate Collection boxed set.

One such song is “Someone Put Your Hand Out.” And I don’t think we’ve ever talked about that one before, but it is a hauntingly beautiful song that I feel Michael really pours his heart out on.

Willa: Oh, I agree. This song feels intensely personal to me. In fact, I feel kind of guilty listening to it – almost like I’m reading his diary or something.

Joie: Yes, it does feel incredibly personal, doesn’t it? Like he’s baring his soul to us. The lyrics are very simple, but so very intimate, and you get the feeling that he really is begging, as he says in the chorus:

Someone put your hand out
I’m begging for your love
‘Cause all I do is hand out
A heart that needs your love

It’s as if he’s reaching out for someone, anyone, to save him. And I always find myself wondering what it is exactly that he’s wanting to be saved or rescued from. As he says in the fourth verse, “Save me now from the path that I’m on.” What does he mean by that? What does he want to be saved from?

Listening to the song in its entirety, you get the feeling that he’s referring to the loneliness. But given the way he died, it makes you wonder if perhaps he was talking about something else. Of course, I’m a firm believer that loneliness was a major factor, or cause, of his other issues.

Willa: You’re right, Joie – he does seem to be asking for someone to both love him and save him from something. It’s not exactly clear what the problem is, but it does seem to be loneliness plus something more, as you said. He talks about that a bit in the verse that follows the chorus:

I’ve lived my life the lonely
A soul that cries of shame
With handicapped emotions
Save me now from what still remains

You know, it’s not clear who the speaker is in this song. Michael Jackson often adopted a persona in his songs, so he could be speaking in the character of a fictional person. Because this song feels so very personal, it’s tempting to assume it’s Michael Jackson himself, which we probably shouldn’t do. But if he is speaking his own true feelings in this song, then this verse is really troubling to me. Did he honestly believe he had “handicapped emotions”? Did he feel a sense of “shame” because of that – because he thought he couldn’t feel or express emotions the way he should? Is he asking someone to not only love him but teach him how to love?

Joie: Wow, Willa, that’s profound – teach him how to love. That never occurred to me, but you could be right. I believe he probably did feel as though he had “handicapped emotions.”

Willa: Really? Because I’d never considered that before. I mean, there were quite a few people making hurtful comments after the 1993 allegations came out, saying that he was a regressed 12-year-old – meaning they felt he couldn’t really relate to adults because he’d never developed psychologically beyond a 12-year-old level. And I always strongly, strongly disagreed with that. I mean, just look at the psychological complexity of his work, and how emotionally rich it is. That is not the work of a 12 year old. In fact, I would say his work reveals a rare sensitivity and maturity.

So I never accepted the idea that he had “handicapped emotions,” and I would never have dreamed he might feel that way about himself. Though again, he may be speaking in character when he says this, and not speaking as himself.

But you know, it does seem to me that almost everyone he met felt this longing to be validated by him – or more than that, to be fulfilled by him. It’s like they wanted him to fill up any empty places they felt in their lives. Everywhere he went there were all these grasping hands, not just wanting his money but wanting him. And he couldn’t fulfill all their desires – he couldn’t parcel himself out to millions of different people. And I wonder if that’s part of it – if he felt inadequate somehow because he wasn’t able to meet the emotional demands being placed on him by everyone he met.

Joie: Perhaps he felt like he was unable to express a true emotion unless it was written in a song. That’s sort of crazy to think about, isn’t it?

Willa: It is, but it makes sense. In fact, he kind of suggests that in these lyrics:

I’ll be your story hero
A serenading rhyme
I’m just needing that someone
Save me now from the path I’m on

It’s almost like he’s saying that when he engages in romance, he’s just playing a role – a role he’s performed on stage for years: “I’ll be your story hero / A serenading rhyme.” And he’s asking for someone to save him from simply acting that role and allow him to actually feel it.

You know, there’s a kind of distancing that happens when you sublimate your experiences into art. I’ve heard photographers talk about that quite a bit. If you’re a photographer and find yourself plunged in a profound cultural moment, what should you do? Should you distance yourself emotionally, look at it with a photographer’s eye, and document it? Or should you put the camera down and experience it? I can see how Michael Jackson might have encountered that dilemma also, since so much of his work comes from his own experiences – like this song, for example. It feels intensely personal, as you said earlier.

Joie: I think I see what you mean, Willa. You’re wondering if perhaps he ever asked himself that question – should I “document” this deeply personal life experience, or should I just experience and process it and keep it to myself?

Willa: Yes, that’s what I mean.

Joie: That’s an interesting question.

Willa: It is. You know, Lord Byron, the Romantic poet, was thrown into the dungeon of Chillon Castle in Switzerland for having an affair with a man from a lower social class than himself – and the class difference was an important part of why he was imprisoned. The lower classes were seen as less sophisticated and more innocent than the upper classes, so having a homosexual relationship with a lower-class man was very disturbing back then – kind of like corrupting a minor is seen today.

Anyway, I’m sure it was pretty uncomfortable being imprisoned in a dungeon, but Byron drew on his experiences for a poem, “The Prisoner of Chillon,” and I get the feeling he thought it was rather romantic for a poet to be imprisoned in a dungeon. Very Gothic. He even carved his name into one of the pillars in the dungeon to memorialize his stay. I visited there one time and saw it. So instead of seeing his imprisonment simply as a hardship, I think he saw it as good background material for his poetry.

So I’ve kind of wandered around a bit, but what I’m trying to say is that using your life experiences as source material for your art can actually change how you relate to those experiences, I think.

Joie: I agree, and I think probably most artists draw on their own personal life experiences more often than we know.

But getting back to the song, you know, not much is known about it in terms of the inspiration for it or the writing of it, except that it was originally written for the Bad album, and then reworked for the Dangerous album. It failed to make it onto either one, but it was eventually released in the UK/Europe in May of 1992 as a Pepsi exclusive cassette single to promote the Dangerous Tour. They were included in a promotional package along with a poster, a giant sticker, and a press file about the tour. It was also released in Japan as a CD single.

Years later it would finally see a proper US release when it was included on The Ultimate Collection boxed set in 2004. And according to Chris Cadman and Craig Halstead’s book, Michael Jackson: For the Record, it was sampled by Ludacris on the track “One More Drink” from his Theater of the Mind album.

Willa: That’s interesting, Joie. I knew it was on the shortlist for Dangerous and then was left off, but didn’t know it was originally written for Bad. So he was still fairly young when he wrote it … I wonder if his feelings changed as he got older?

You know, one thing that strikes me about this song is that the intro is spoken in a deep voice – quiet but deep, much lower than we’re used to hearing his voice – but then the rest is sung in a high voice, what many people would call falsetto. That’s very unusual. Typically, he’ll include high parts as accents, or to evoke a specific emotion at a certain point in the narrative. I’m thinking specifically of that high interlude in “Smooth Criminal” – the “I don’t know … I don’t know … I don’t know why” part that I love so much. But here, the entire song is sung in his higher range. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of another song where he does that.

I was reading an interesting article not too long ago that might help explain this – why he uses his high voice so extensively here. It’s “The Nonsensical Truth of the Falsetto Voice: Listening to Sigur Rós” by Edward D. Miller, and he makes a number of intriguing claims. For example, he says “soul/funk singers such as Marvin Gaye, Al Green, and Curtis Mayfield sang in falsetto and expressed emotions of love, longing, sexual desire, and political discontent.” He goes on to say that male soul and R&B singers, as well “virile” rock singers like Mick Jagger and Robert Plant, tend to use falsetto, specifically, when they want to express a sense of “longing” or “a dramatic tenderness” or “moments of great passion.”

If that’s true, it makes sense that in a song where the main character expresses intense “longing” for someone to love, Michael Jackson would sing in falsetto.

Joie: Hmm. That’s interesting, isn’t it?

Willa: It is. It also makes me wonder about the contrast between his unusually low spoken voice in the intro and his high singing voice throughout the rest of the song. I wonder if, at some level, it suggests a contrast between his inner life and outer life.

What I mean is that in the intro we hear his everyday world – his spoken life – and he speaks with a normal voice and seems content. (And sounds unbelievably hot, I might add … Yow.) But then we enter his inner world – his singing life – and there’s this high urgent voice expressing unfulfilled desire, a longing to love and be loved. So maybe this contrast between his low spoken voice and his high singing voice represents a disparity between how he feels inside and how he appears to others. As he sings in the opening lines, “I live this life pretending / I can bear this hurt deep inside.”

Joie: That actually makes a lot of sense, Willa. Especially since by many accounts from those closest to him, his natural, everyday speaking voice was at least an octave or two lower than the world seemed to think it was.

Willa: That’s interesting, Joie, especially since many critics – male critics, especially – mocked him for his public speaking voice. Miller kind of suggests a reason for that also. In his article, he claims there is nothing “false” about the falsetto. He believes the notion that it is not an authentic male voice arises from cultural ideas about gender identity, not anything biological about male vocal cords. As he says in his article,

when the male is using this range, he is confusing gender distinctions. He is entering into tonalities usually designated for women and mimicking a range attributed to women. But the falsettist is not authentically female. It is a form of drag: a vocal masquerade. In this way, the falsetto voice challenges the authenticity of gender-assigned voices. When voices are so strictly assigned to particular bodies, the falsetto becomes transgendered – it moves between binaries of male and female.

I thought this might help explain some of the discomfort male critics, especially, seemed to feel toward Michael Jackson – that it wasn’t just his appearance that crossed boundaries, but his voice as well.

But then Miller undercuts this with a very odd footnote:

One is duty bound from the get-go to acknowledge Michael Jackson. He uses his falsetto range expertly in often a hiccupping fashion, and yes he does appear to be quite bizarre – of course for complicated reasons, mainstream media searches for ways to display his racial/sexual weirdness and to ensure that his status is as monstrous as his role in the video Thriller.

I don’t quite know how to interpret this. It’s Miller’s only footnote, and his only mention of Michael Jackson, and it seems really out of place here – especially in an academic article. It’s almost like Miller is criticizing those who are uncomfortable with falsetto voices, claiming they are falling victim to a cultural bias, but then he adds this footnote that suggests he himself feels a degree of discomfort with Michael Jackson, whom he acknowledges “uses his falsetto range expertly.” I don’t quite know what to make of it, though I think his comment about the media is pretty insightful – especially since this article was published in 2003, before Michael Jackson died and public attitudes about him began to soften and change.

Joie: Well, that is strange. But when reading the first quote here, the only thing that comes to my mind is why is it such a big deal? Why is it odd or “confusing gender distinctions” for a male singer to take full advantage of his entire vocal range? Why does it have to be a case of “entering tonalities usually designated for women”? Especially since so many male singers use the falsetto so often. You would think it would no longer be looked at as “mimicking a range attributed to women,” but simply as part of the natural male vocal range. You know, sometimes I honestly believe that some people think about things too much. Do you know what I mean?

Willa: Ha! That’s funny, Joie. You’re right, academics do tend to think about things a lot, and maybe read too much into things sometimes. But except for that unfortunate footnote, I think Miller is really onto something when he talks about the gendering of voices – and he means that in an expansive way, encompassing all the things we’re taught about what it means to be masculine or be feminine. As he says,

In most cultural understandings of the voice, high notes signify passion and evoke drama and excitement for the listener. The falsetto voice does not mimic the female one, but it grants an expressivity to male singers, allowing them to articulate and communicate a frenzy of precise emotions to the auditor. If this is confusing to gender normatives, it is because the male is taught restraint. Thus he must move beyond his “real” voice to his “false” one to express real emotion.

I was really intrigued by this. If I’m interpreting this correctly, that high voice that Michael Jackson uses so beautifully to evoke intense emotions may be seen as feminine not only because it’s so high but precisely because it’s so emotional, and because we as a culture are uncomfortable with emotional men. As Miller says, “the male is taught restraint.”

This puts male singers in a bind since one of the primary goals of singing is to express emotion. But to do that, they have to enter the realm of the feminine – what we falsely call feminine – both vocally and emotionally.

And that reminds me again of the line from “Someone Put Your Hand Out” about “handicapped emotions.” How ironic that Michael Jackson may have felt a sense of “shame” because he thought he wasn’t emotional enough, or fully capable of emotions, when perhaps he was actually perceived – and criticized – for being too emotional. Or that he may have thought he couldn’t express his emotions fully enough, when few people could express their emotions half as well as he did.

Joie: That is interesting. But it’s sort of like when you hear artists – and Michael was one of them – who say that they are extremely introverted, especially in one-on-one situations, and yet they feel perfectly comfortable getting on stage in front of millions. He expressed a wealth of emotions so freely and so well when it was in song or on stage or on a video. But this extremely personal song is telling us that he feels his emotions are “handicapped.” It’s an interesting paradox.

Willa: It is and, Joie, I think you’ve put your finger on something really important. It’s like he says in Moonwalk: “The things I share with millions of people aren’t the sort of things you share with one.”

Joie: You know, Willa … you might think I’m crazy for what I’m about to say here, but this song reminds me quite a bit of another deeply personal Michael Jackson song – “Stranger In Moscow.” They have a very similar feel to them, and they evoke a similar emotion in me. I mean, think about the chorus from each song:

Someone put your hand out
I’m begging for your love
‘Cause all I do is hand out
A heart that needs your love

and then,

How does it feel (How does it feel)
How does it feel
How does it feel
When you’re alone
And you’re cold inside

To me, both of these songs are about the same thing. They both suggest that he almost felt trapped by this crushing sense of “aloneness,” if that makes any sense. They’re both so forlorn, do you know what I mean?

Willa: Wow, Joie, that’s interesting because these songs seem very different to me. Hmmm … I’m going to have to think about that … I see what you mean that they’re both about isolation and loneliness, but why do they feel so different to me?

I wonder if it gets back to that idea of public and private that we were talking about earlier. To me, “Someone Put Your Hand Out” is talking about his private life, and how he would like to have someone share his inner life with him. But to me, “Stranger in Moscow” is about something a little different – about his “swift and sudden fall from grace” and what it feels like to be a social outcast.

But that’s not quite right, because “Stranger in Moscow” then asks us to imagine “how does it feel” to be in that situation, to be a social pariah. As you quoted from the chorus, “How does it feel / When you’re alone / And you’re cold inside?” So he’s merging the public and private and asking us to imagine what his private life was like after his public life fell to ruins. So yeah, Joie, I think I see what you’re saying. That’s really interesting. I don’t think I would have put those two together on my own.

Joie: I don’t know that I ever would have either if I hadn’t been thinking about how the song made me feel, but it’s an interesting comparison, I think. And it brings to mind your earlier question when you said that you wonder if his feelings changed as he got older. I know there were different and pretty serious circumstances going on at the time he wrote “Stranger In Moscow,” but just from the feeling of the two songs I would say the answer to that question was no.

Willa: Well, you’re right, Joie – his circumstances changed a lot. I mean, if he felt isolated in the 1980s when he wrote “Someone Put Your Hand Out,” imagine how he felt in the 1990s after the scandal broke. So I’m sure that in some ways his feelings of loneliness actually intensified.

But you know, in other ways the scandals seemed to make him a lot stronger, even more determined and sure of himself. So I wonder if he would still talk about the “shame” of “handicapped emotions” toward the end of his life? Judging from his work I don’t think so, but it’s hard to say. And it’s hard to know if he was even talking about himself in “Someone Put Your Hand Out,” or speaking in character. And it’s hard to know how much might have been attributable to the specific circumstances he was in.

Joie: That’s very true. But whatever motivated him to write this incredibly beautiful, intensely personal song, I’m grateful that he chose to share it with the world because it’s always been one of my favorites.


About Dancing with the Elephant contributors

Joie Collins is a founding member of the Michael Jackson Fan Club (MJFC). She has written extensively for MJFC, helping to create the original website back in 1999 and overseeing both the News and History sections of the website. Over the years she conducted numerous interviews on behalf of MJFC and also directed correspondence for the club. She also had the great fortune to be a guest at Neverland. She has been a Michael Jackson fan since she was three years old. Lisha McDuff is a classically trained professional musician who for 30 years made her living as a flutist, performing in orchestras and for major theatrical touring productions. Her passion for popular musicology led her to temporarily leave the orchestra pit and in June 2013 she received a Master’s degree in Popular Music Studies from the University of Liverpool. She’s continuing her studies at McMaster University, where she is working on a major research project about Michael Jackson, with Susan Fast as her director. Willa Stillwater is the author of M Poetica: Michael Jackson's Art of Connection and Defiance and "Rereading Michael Jackson," an article that summarizes some of the central ideas of M Poetica. She has a Ph.D. in English literature, and her doctoral research focused on the ways in which cultural narratives (such as racism) are made real for us by being "written" on our bodies. She sees this concept as an important element of Michael Jackson's work, part of what he called social conditioning. She has been a Michael Jackson fan since she was nine years old.

Posted on April 24, 2014, in Michael Jackson and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. Beautiful song–thanks for this intriguing discussion!

  2. Great post! You were commenting on the lyric “from the path I’m on” but I’m hearing a different lyric (in bold).

    I’ll be your story hero
    A serenading rhyme
    I’m just needing that someone
    Save me now OR I’M OUT OF MY MIND

    I also wanted to say that I fully believe a lot of male dislike/hate of MJ is due to his “feminized” speaking and singing (at times) voice. I can’t count the times someone has told me a mean-spirited MJ joke in an affected high voice. He still gets a ton of flack for it.

    Add the high voice to spending a lot of time with children, building an amusement park and zoo in his back yard, wearing makeup and dressing in sparkles and bangles, not smoking, drinking, swearing or sleeping around and suddenly you have a laundry list of outside-the-norm behavior for the more judgmental of us humans to pounce on.

    By nature of being different you’re apart from the norm. Isolated from the crowd. No question Someone Put Your Hand Out as well as Stranger In Moscow reflect some of MJ’s profound loneliness and emotional isolation.

    • Hi yensid98. I think you’re right. I was just listening to the video link stephenson posted (thanks, stephenson!) with your lyrics in front of me, and I heard it that way also.

      It is common for people to imitate Michael Jackson using a very high voice – even people who obviously admire him, like Spike Lee or Chris Tucker or Eddie Murphy or Sean Combs. Here’s Sean Combs telling a Michael Jackson story on Letterman:

      But to be honest, his voice never sounded that high to me. It sounded soft – he spoke in a quieter voice than people generally do before an audience – and it certainly wasn’t basso profondo, but it wasn’t that high, either. I think it’s one of those things that was exaggerated for comic effect, like political cartoonists giving Obama large ears. His ears really aren’t any bigger than average, I don’t think, but that’s become one of the ways cartoonists designate him.

      Here are Michael Jackson and Eddie Murphy at the 1989 American Music Awards. They both have very expressive voices and use a range of pitches and volumes, and there are times when Eddie Murphy’s voice is actually much higher than Michael Jackson’s, like when he says, “Wait, what am I doing?” And then Michael Jackson follows that with a fairly deep voice, much lower then Eddie Murphy’s:

      • I think using this high speaking voice was something very remarkable – but only for a short time. He spoke with this voice mainly until Thriller era, during public appearances. And it was a thing, that sticked to him, even when he changed his speaking voice later on – and is a common thing until today, to immitate him. (in good and bad ways) I always think, that if you hear him past the thriller era, he does not use this voice anymore – his voice is always gentle, but not very high. Michael even talked about that voice-thing with Boteach.

        There he said: “I did something that was bad. I’m a natural tenor, but I forced my voice to go higher, because I never wanted to grow up. I always wanted to sound like a kid. And When I won my Grammy Award for Thriller, if you listen to me speak, I sound like a kid. And that’s when all the jokes and the teasing began and people imitating me. Then I got to the point where I decided, no, I’m just going to talk like me, I couldn’t sing in the key I used to sing in, so I sing lower now. I just wanted to be a kid.”

        I always thought, that could have been part of that – he grow out of being that sweet child star (and he once talked about that people didn’t recognize him as a teenager, because they were still looking for that kid…) and maybe he just tried to keep some of that typical attributes, that children have, like a higher voice than adults.

        • Hi all4michael. Thanks so much for sharing that quote – it’s so interesting to hear Michael Jackson himself talk about his “high” voice, and public perceptions of that. I know there was a lot of concern at one time that he would lose his popular appeal when his voice changed. He was a child star, and very few child stars successfully make the transition to teenage and adult star. I wonder if that was one reason “I just wanted to be a kid,” as he says.

          • I often wonder if the comments that adults made about his changing voice when he was a kid had an impact on his decisions. Like in that interview (5:53) when he was asked about what he would do when his voice changes and if he would still be able to sing. I don’t know how often this was discussed as a sort of problem or as a thing to worry about in some way with him (or in his presence) but maybe adults kind of talked him into that. Or at least they’ve called his attention to sort of play with that issue… You know what I mean?

          • Hi Julie. Thanks for sharing that video – it was really interesting! You’re right – the interviewer really presses the question of “What’s going to happen when your voice changes?” and “Have you made some secret backlog of records that you can issue during the time that your voice is changing?”

            If the adults around him were talking about his voice changing as a major concern, it seems that would have to have an effect, doesn’t it? He doesn’t seem too concerned in this interview. He shrugs and gives a beautiful smile and says, “It’ll just change.” He also says “Yeah!” he’ll keep singing. But at some level it had to make him aware of the fact that others were worried about it. That’s a good point.

    • I think you’re buying into the ‘tabloid’ version of Michael Jackson. He didn’t spend that much time with children. He was a perfectionist who spent most of his time working hard on his music. He wore makeup to cover his vitiligo in performance situations. There are plenty of photos of him at home and even in This Is It where he wears no makeup. He definitely did not dress in “sparkles and bangles” – he usually wore black trousers and a tailored shirt. Mike Tyson speaks in a higher voice than Michael ever did. It feels like you’re trying to convince us that he actually was as “bizarre” as his detractors say.

  3. I’m so glad your discussing this song. I love it. It not only expresses his loneliness, but I think the loneliness many feel, arising from wanting to find that one someone on the planet who really gets you, who really understands you and appreciates you — which must have been almost impossible for someone like Michael Jackson. I really think he expresses that almost despairing longing so perfectly in this song. Wanting what is unattainable. And knowing it is unattainable, but still wanting it. And singing from that place of longing.

    As to the discussion of a falsetto voice, until reading this blog, I had never thought of a falsetto voice as something only men had. I have a falsetto, and I remember a choir director telling me not to use it, but to use my real voice, which is alto. I have to use my falsetto to sing soprano. And a male falsetto is not like a woman’s voice, if she is using her chest voice. Even if the notes are the same, there’s a difference in the quality of the voice. Of course, both ranges are real, it’s just that many people, outside of pop music, prefer the chest voice, not the head voice. When I sing falsetto, I can feel my vocal chords shifting gears. And, i have to sing falsetto to sing along with Michael.

    I liked your comment, Joie, when you asked “why is it such a big deal? Why is it odd or “confusing gender distinctions” for a male singer to take full advantage of his entire vocal range? Why does it have to be a case of “entering tonalities usually designated for women”? Especially since so many male singers use the falsetto so often. You would think it would no longer be looked at as “mimicking a range attributed to women,” but simply as part of the natural male vocal range. You know, sometimes I honestly believe that some people think about things too much.”

    Completely agree.

    But, aside from the gender stuff, I think the discussion of the emotional content of the falsetto is really interesting. Like trying to figure out the emotional content of color. Emotion can be expressed in so many ways, and Michael knew every one of them. But, no doubt about it, the male falsetto, especially as sung by Michael Jackson, packs a wallop.

    I think he is singing out of his own experience, so I think he is talking about his own emotional handicaps, not referring to his ability to express emotion through his art, but in person, since he was shy. And sometimes it is a lot easier to say “I love you” to thousands of people than to say it to one person.

    • That’s a good point, Eleanor – all of us, men and women, have a “head” voice and a “chest” voice. In fact, most people have a break in their voices where they shift from one to the other. I know I do. (Seth Riggs said that was one thing different about Michael Jackson – he could cover a range of four octaves without falsetto, and without a break in his voice.)

      Yet when a woman shifts to her “head” voice, it’s not called falsetto. That term is only for men singing with high voices, and as Miller points out in his article, it seems to have less to do with the actual voice and more to do with the body it originates from. As Miller says, “the falsetto voice challenges the authenticity of gender-assigned voices.” It’s also interesting that there’s no comparable term for women singing with low voices. For example, Stevie Nicks sometimes sings with a very low alto, but there’s no term implying a trans-gendering of voices when women sing low.

      • Hi Willa —

        Got this from wikipedia ( —

        Both women and men are physically capable of phonating in the falsetto register. Prior to research done by scientists in the 1950s and 1960s, it was widely believed that only men were able to produce falsetto. One possible explanation for this failure to recognize the female falsetto sooner is that when men phonate in the falsetto register there is a much more pronounced change in timbre and dynamic level between the modal and falsetto registers than there is in female voices. This is due in part to the difference in the length and mass of the vocal folds and to the difference in frequency ranges.[10] However, motion picture and video studies of laryngeal action prove that women can and do produce falsetto, and electromyographic studies by several leading speech pathologists and vocal pedagogists provide further confirmation.[9]
        While scientific evidence has proven that women have a falsetto register, the issue of ‘female falsetto’ has been met with controversy among teachers of singing.[6] This controversy does not exist within the sciences and arguments against the existence of female falsetto do not align with current physiological evidence. Some pioneers in vocal pedagogy, like Margaret Green and William Vennard, were quick to adopt current scientific research in the 1950s, and pursued capturing the biological process of female falsetto on film. They went further to incorporate their research into their pedagogical method of teaching female singers.[10] Others refused to accept the idea, and opposition to the concept of female falsetto has continued among some teachers of singing long after scientific evidence had proven the existence of female falsetto.[6] Celebrated opera singer and voice teacher Richard Miller pointed out in his 1997 publication, National Schools of Singing: English, French, German, and Italian, that while the German school of voice teachers had largely embraced the idea of a female falsetto into pedagogical practice, there is division within the French and English schools, and a complete rejection of the idea of female falsetto in the Italian school of singing.[11] In his 2004 book, Solutions for Singers: Tools For Performers and Teachers, Miller said, “It is illogical to speak of a female falsetto, because the female is incapable of producing a timbre in the upper range that is radically different from its ‘mezza voce’ or ‘voce piena in testa’ qualities”.[12]
        However, other writers of singing have warned about the dangers of failing to recognize that women have a falsetto register. McKinney, who expressed alarm that many books on the art of singing completely ignore or gloss over the issue of female falsetto or insist that women do not have falsetto, argues that many young female singers substitute falsetto for the upper portion of the modal voice.[6] He believes that this failure to recognize the female falsetto voice has led to the misidentification of young contraltos and mezzo-sopranos as sopranos, as it is easier for these lower voice types to sing in the soprano tessitura using their falsetto register.[6]

      • Willa said — “For example, Stevie Nicks sometimes sings with a very low alto, but there’s no term implying a trans-gendering of voices when women sing low.”

        I would argue that that is because falsetto does not mean false to one’s gender, but just a voice range above the “normal” voice range. A woman’s low voice is not her falsetto. I think the term falsetto has led to a great deal of misunderstanding. And, additionally, no one has an ax to grind with Stevie Nicks, and no one is trying to do Stevie Nicks in. And, think about it, when a woman’s voice is low, throaty, etc., it is often described as sexy. Go figure.

        The very glamorous Peruvian singer Yma Sumac had an incredible vocal range (

        She became an international success based on her extreme vocal range, which was said to be “well over four octaves”[2] and was sometimes claimed to span even five octaves at her peak.[3][4] Yma Sumac recorded an extraordinarily wide vocal range of slightly over four octaves from B2 to C♯7 (approximately 123 to 2270 Hz).[5] She was able to sing notes in the low baritone register as well as notes above the range of an ordinary soprano. Both low and high extremes can be heard in the song Chuncho (The Forest Creatures) (1953). She was also apparently able to sing in an eerie “double voice”.[6]

        Yet, I never heard anyone suggesting that her ability to sing low notes somehow made her identity as a woman suspect.

        I wish people would just reject the notion outright that singing falsetto makes a man false to his sex/gender, and move on. It’s ridiculous. Michael was a man. His voice was masculine. Why accept the uninformed cultural projection that implies that men who can sing high notes are somehow less masculine? Why not see his vocal ability as part of Michael Jackson’s extraordinary number of physical gifts?

        Attacks on Michael Jackson aim to discredit him in every way: he says he’s a man, but he’s not a man, he sings in a high voice, he wears make up, he can’t father children, he’s a sexual deviant, and on and on. They seek to discredit him because he wanted to change the world and believed that he could and the world didn’t want to be changed, but feared his power, as they should have. So, if they discredit him, they discredit his message. But, ultimately, it won’t wash.

        Michael sang in a high voice because he could and he used it the way many male singers to to convey particular emotions. Michael wore make-up because he didn’t have a choice, and once he started using it, he discovered how much fun it was to be able to alter his appearance more or less at will, and to use his appearance to further his art. And, I think Michael spoke in a high voice in some situations to parody parodies of him. To see to what extremes people would go in making something out of nothing. Michael’s speaking voice was, as you say, soft, but then most of the Jacksons, male and female, speak softly.

  4. There is a nice discussion of the lyrics to “someone put your hand out” here

  5. “You know, it’s not clear who the speaker is in this song. Michael Jackson often adopted a persona in his songs, so he could be speaking in the character of a fictional person. Because this song feels so very personal, it’s tempting to assume it’s Michael Jackson himself, which we probably shouldn’t do. But if he is speaking his own true feelings in this song, then this verse is really troubling to me. Did he honestly believe he had “handicapped emotions”? Did he feel a sense of “shame” because of that – because he thought he couldn’t feel or express emotions the way he should? Is he asking someone to not only love him but teach him how to love?”

    I always felt like we are the ones with handicapped emotions in his opinion compared with his own empathy for others, for other people who needed help, for other creatures and even our planet. All of that caused him to move, to actually do something about it while we as a society stay in a state of unconsciousness. I mean, since I was a child I’ve learned that we would need to have about 3 earths to be able to live on the way we do because of the resources needed to go on like that. And since I was a child I do know, thanks to the information society I was born into, that our way of living is only possible by ravaging, destroying and exploiting our planet, exploiting the people in foreign countries as cheap workers, torturing millions of animals for their meat, their fur, for medical experiments, cosmetics and so on. All that caused Michael Jackson to really cry – on a regular basis! He never really got used to all these things that we tend to become used to by seeing it every day on the television or the internet or in the newspaper – and got conditioned to react like: “Oh yeah, that’s really sad, but…*shrug*” All of that horror doesn’t reach our hearts or emotions so that as a reaction we would stand up against it and change our way of living, which would be the right and kind of natural reaction and so the most of us wouldn’t stand up for Michael Jackson either… And I guess we should feel ashamed about these handicapped emotions and Michael really did try to teach us how to really love (not only in a sexual way which excludes so many people and other things from love, like children, old people, animals, nature, the earth,…).

    “To me, “Someone Put Your Hand Out” is talking about his private life, and how he would like to have someone share his inner life with him. But to me, “Stranger in Moscow” is about something a little different – about his “swift and sudden fall from grace” and what it feels like to be a social outcast. “

    I was wondering if that isn’t closely linked together… He felt so differently about the problems of our world. He saw all these things and they bothered him so much he couldn’t sleep at night. And I think part of why this bothered him so much was because it seemed to bother nobody else. He seemed to be the only one to care about certain things. In fact other people even used to mock him about his empathy! In our private live we are allowed to feel with others (while watching movies or listening to songs or reading beautiful stories – actually you can earn a lot of money with emotional products, people really seem to have a urgent necessity!) but in our public live we’re forced to block all of that out to not disturb the “normal” way of living even though we all know it’s destructive, finally self-destructive as we don’t have any new planet or something and nobody really likes it that way… I always interpreted his “merging [of] the public and the private” should raise our awareness that we’re separating it and what that means for us and for our world; mostly for children who are the future, so they will have the biggest problems because of us, so we are the ones to abuse children to satisfy our needs, not Michael Jackson and as a child I understood that very well! I can imagine he longed for someone to understand him in a way that would mean to do something about it WITH him, to help him change the world or change people’s consciousness. But in fact he couldn’t find that someone in society cause he seemed to not fit in there and couldn’t fit to an extend where society even grew angry with him – cause he wouldn’t even try! How could he??! Kids are that way, too! They’re rebellious cause they instinctively feel that we’re doing wrong (and so they do cry a lot!) but we’re teaching them to become handicapped and twisted and with time we knock the nonsense out of them… And of course this is “just” a powerful cultural construct, too. And culture always seemes to be timeless, natural and unchangeable cause it’s purpose is to gain stability and security, something people can trust in, but in truth it’s changed and altered constantly – by ourselves! I love Charles Eisensteins concept of a new form of social system he calls the gift society:

    • Hi Julie —

      I agree with everything you say. And, thanks for saying it.

      And, thanks for the video. I really liked it. If we all could feel gratitude every day for the gifts nature gives us, what a difference it would make.

  6. New MJ single (solo version) Love Never Felt So Good

  7. some strange manifestation earlier of the single solo version, which wasn’t the real one–so here’s the real one (from Vevo)

    • Thanks Stephenson. Here’s an excerpt of the original demo for “Love Never Felt So Good” – the one that leaked several years ago. I looked and couldn’t find the full demo. It’s a shame because it’s wonderful. I hope they include it on the second Xscape CD.

      • Sounds great! Thanks, Willa.

      • Willa, my understanding is that they’ll be including this wonderful demo in the Deluxe edition. So we’ll get three versions: the “duet” with Justin Timberlake; the solo version (produced by John McClain), and this demo with piano accompaniment (which I’m afraid remains my favorite of the lot).

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