The Truth Behind Michael Jackson’s ‘Remember The Time’

Released as the second single from ‘Dangerous’, ‘Remember the Time’ was often cited as Michael Jackson’s return to his R&B roots, and compared to his 1980 single, ‘Rock with You’. Written and composed by Teddy Riley, Michael Jackson and Bernard Belle, the breezy track was an attempt to connect Riley’s New Jack Swing sound with Jackson’s more earthy romantic side.

Riley recalled that Jackson’s vocal delivery on this song “really blew me away.” He added: “I came to the project with this track. That was the sound I was thinking of for this album. Basically, it was the sound I wanted on Dangerous, and he loved it — loved it from the beginning.”

The song’s lyrics recount the pining for an ex-lover, remembering having fallen in love, with Jackson asking his romantic interest (over and over) to remember the special times they had together. Jackson never revealed who the song was written about, but brother Jermaine has stated; “…that song was, as Michael told me, written with Diana Ross in mind; the one great love that, as far as he was concerned, escaped him.”

However, in the music video for the track, supermodel Iman would play the object of Michael’s desire, and while Jackson had leading ladies in previous videos, including ‘Thriller’ and ‘The Way You Make Me Feel,’ this was the first time he shared a kiss on screen.

The video for ‘Remember the Time’ was filmed in January 1992 at the Universal Studios Hollywood backlot. Directed by John Singleton and choreographed by Fatima Robinson, Singleton was the hottest young director in Hollywood after the critical and commercial success of his 1991 film, ‘Boyz N The Hood’. However, the director stated that he would only take on the project if Jackson agreed to an all-black cast and production.

A bold concept, but one Jackson was delighted with. Set in ancient Egypt, a time and place in history many have attempted to whitewash and erase the blackness of its inhabitants, the video presents black nobility with Eddie Murphy as an Egyptian Pharaoh and Iman his queen. Magic Johnson also makes an appearance in the video not long after his private struggles had just become public. Director Singleton remembered during an interview with Rolling Stone: “Magic Johnson was going through his thing where he’d just revealed he had HIV. Michael said, ‘We have to put Magic in this video.’ I’ll always remember that.”

Michael Jackson first appears as a hooded wizard who enters the Egyptian palace and attempts to entertain the Pharaoh’s bored Queen. Instead of juggling or eating fire, Jackson walks up the steps to her throne and sings, asking if she “remembers the time” they were together. The Pharaoh hardly appreciates this move and summons his guards. Jackson runs away to another room and begins an elaborate, Egyptian-style choreography with the Pharaoh’s servants. In the video, Jackson is dressed in a costume made of gold satin. He wears golden chain mail, a white skirt with a dangling sash, black pants and black boots.

After a synchronised dance sequence, the soldiers corner the stranger. With nowhere to run, advanced special effects were used in the video as he disappears into a swirl of enchanted sand and blows away. Ending the elaborate production, costing $2 million to produce and becoming one of Jackson’s longest videos at over nine minutes long. The final video premiered on ABC, NBC, Fox and BET on February 2, 1992. After the video premiered on MTV, the channel aired the rockumentary called ‘More Dangerous Than Ever’ which included glimpses of the making of the video.

The track was met with positive reviews, often linking the song to Jackson’s earlier work. Chris Lacy from Albumism noted that “the warmth and nostalgia of the song harkens back to Jackson’s Motown roots”. A reviewer from Cashbox noted, “This smooth dance ballad sounds like it could have come from the Off The Wall album, downplaying his signature whoops and shrieks in favor a decidedly soulful and affecting vocal performance.” Alan Light, a writer for Rolling Stone, stated that he felt it was the “most light-hearted musical track on the album” and described the song’s lyrics as telling of a “blissful romance only to ask, ‘So why did it end?’”.

Although the track received a fair amount of positive feedback, ‘Remember the Time’ never lit up the Billboard hot 100 like Riley and Jackson had hoped, peaking at no. 3. A disappointing result for the album’s second single, hot on the heels after the controversy of ‘Black or White’ and while the record was still riding high in the album charts. More cynical critics pointed out the video’s lack lustre acting, characterised the middle-of-the-road tune as “boring”, and the video, as Mark Caro wrote in the Chicago Tribune, “in other words, this music film is, sorry Michael, just a video”.