How Alien Ant Farm Was Able to Cover Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal”
The music industry has dramatically shifted since its origins that can be traced back to about 40,000 years ago. In the current age of sampling tracks, avid music heads have shifted to become further aware of industry jargon and practices. Now, when a new song is released, fans question, “How was this sample cleared?” or “What is the legal information behind this cover?” One of the most iconic song covers of all time is Alien Ant Farm’s Smooth Criminal from Michael Jackson. But, how did the track come about and how was it able to happen?
Michael Jackson’s Iconic Smooth Criminal
Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal was released back in 1988. The song peaked at number seven on the Billboard Hot 100 and was published under Epic Records. As one of Michael’s signature records, it was full of memorable moments.
The iconic ivory-white suit and fedora, coupled with a Carolina blue silk shirt beneath. And of course, the gravity-defying lean that made the entire world wonder how such a move was executed. So much so, that technique was filed under United States Patent Law by Jackson and two collaborators in 1993, although the patent expired in 2005.
Alien Ant Farm’s Cover Version
Fast forward to the year 2001, where Nu Metal band Alien Ant Farm released their version of Smooth Criminal on their sophomore album “Anthology.” Their version came about unexpectedly. As fans of Jackson, they would perform covers of his music at their shows. Crowds began to embrace the cover and music A&R Ron Handler signed them intending to release their take of the record.
Their variant topped out at #23 on the Billboard Hot 100 and featured an iconic music video. In the video, homage was paid to Jackson in several different ways. They re-created the iconic lean and featured MJ’s dance moves as well as his iconic pet monkey whom he was often spotted with.
Obviously, the band achieved massive success due to the record. Currently to date, the song has over 185 million views on Youtube. Out of their 5 albums, Anthology was the only one to find RIAA certification success. While the record went platinum, unfortunately, it was the band’s only “claim to fame.”
Publishing and Royalties
So, how was Alien Ant Farm able to achieve so much success by covering an already iconic song? If music fans scoured the internet for thousands of hours, they’d find a lot of folklore surrounding the song. Did Michael Jackson ever hear the Alien Ant Farm version of the record? If he did, did he enjoy it? And, were their plans of collaboration before Jackson’s untimely death in 2009?
We will never have the exact answers to those questions. But, what we do have access to is the publishing information of the record. Michael Jackson is listed as the sole songwriter on the record. Jackson is also credited as a solo songwriter on their version.
Smooth Criminal Publishing
To pull this off, either Alien Ant Farm or their previous label Dreamworks had to contact Jackson or Epic Records, get their approval, and pay a fee to use the cover.
We’ll never know the amount of money that Alien Ant Farm had to dish out just to create the cover. And, we’ll never know how they profited from the release financially.
But, we do know at least this; the band was able to tie themselves to Michael Jackson forever. And financially or not, they were able to benefit from his mastery.