In 1987, music superstar Michael Jackson released Bad, one of his most popular albums, with over 30 million copies sold. (In history, only 29 albums have hit that milestone — and Jacko is the artist behind three of them.) The album featured eight songs, five of which which reached the Billboard Hot 100 — “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You,” “Bad,” “The Way You Make Me Feel,” “Man in the Mirror,” and “Dirty Diana.” Amazingly, one of his most recognizable songs, “Smooth Criminal,” peaked at #7 — yet appropriately has been included in a few of his greatest hits albums subsequently.
In the live performances of “Smooth Criminal,” Jacko managed to break the laws of physics, as seen above. He and his fellow dancers would lean forward at a 45 degree angle to the ground and manage, somehow, to not fall on his face. In the video, he used harnesses and wires — trickery which was unavailable for a stage performance. So how’d he do it?
To steal a line from Spike Lee and Nike, it’s gotta be the shoes.
Jackson and team created a special shoe designed to create this gravity-defying illusion. And it’s patented. The patent’s loquacious abstract describes “[a] system for allowing a shoe wearer to lean forwardly beyond his center of gravity by virtue of wearing a specially designed pair of shoes which will engage with a hitch member movably projectable through a stage surface. The shoes have a specially designed heel slot which can be detachably engaged with the hitch member by simply sliding the shoe wearer’s foot forward, thereby engaging with the hitch member.” In other words, the dancer could slide his heel into the stage, locking himself into the floor. Combine this with ski boot-like ankle support and a lot of practice, and Jacko turned into the smooth criminal violating the laws of gravity, live on stage.
The patent was probably not requested in order to allow Jackson’s group to license the product, as these magical shoes were never sold. Rather, it’s likely that Jackson simply wanted to prevent others from performing the trick. But the good news? The patent expired in 2005 for failure to pay government-mandated maintenance fees.
From the Archives: Tiny Sculptures You Can Write With: Another story of an amazing creation — sculptures made from the tips of pencils.
Related: Want a replica pair of Michael Jackson’s shoes? The anti-gravity ones aren’t available; you’ll have to settle for these.