Polo G’s “Bad Man” (Smooth Criminal) Is the Michael Jackson Remake You Didn’t Know You Needed

I must admit, when I heard Polo G had re-worked Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” into a song of his own, my expectations were low. This had nothing to do with Polo G, whose music I tend to like, but rather the original track, a classic in every way imaginable.

“Smooth Criminal” is 80s pop music on steroids, with its hard drum beat, big synthesizer swells, and MJ’s iconic falsetto — “Annie are you okay, are you okay Annie?”

But the most notable element of “Smooth Criminal,” the part which I think everyone knows, is the bass line. There are so many ways that, if you flip it wrong, that bass line can come off sounding cheesy. Produced by Travis Sayles & Khaled Rohaim, “Bad Man” flips the bass melody, adding what sounds — to me at least — like an extra note, and speeding up the drum track so it sounds more like something from 2 Live Crew than the Jacksons.

Then the lyrics: predictably, tough talk (“Mama told me, “I don’t care if you scared/ Go in for the kill, if they try, you better fight back”), more posturing than MJ’s song, which was less about himself than someone else, the legendary “Annie” (code for Resusci Anne, the doll that emergency workers learn to perform CPR on, asking “Annie, are you okay?”).

But music is one of those things, when it works you just can’t explain why. There’s a certain energy that gets captured, and it can happen in two minutes, like the Polo G song, or it can happen for nine minutes, like Michael’s original video, one of nine short films he made for Moonwalker, the 1988 companion film that went along with Bad.

Watching Michael’s video today, you have to marvel at the ingenuity, theatricality and ambition! Now, it is not uncommon for musician’s to make short films to accompany their albums, but to do it with MJ’s degree of scale is rare.

Still, there is a redeeming quality to Polo G’s video, an understated and albeit more simplified exploration of the same concept, through a slightly different, more affiliated lens (pay attention to the lyrics and the part in the video that gets blurred out).

Look, is “Bad Man” a song that will change the world? No. But few artists seem interested in that these days anyway. You take what you can get. And for that matter, there’s always MJ.

If you liked this article, please consider pre-ordering my first book: “Most Dope: The Extraordinary Life of Mac Miller,” in stores January 18th, 2022.

Wrote for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Vice, Fader, Vibe, XXL, MTV News, many other places.