Michael Jackson – “Man in the Mirror” Lyrics Meaning

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Written By Brendan Briggs

Brendan is a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and producer. In 2022, he released his first album "Dive" under the name "Arctotherium".

“Man in the Mirror” is about looking at your own faults and correcting them for the good of the world. Although the track is associated with activism, its true focus is on making the little changes in our daily lives that add up to make the world a better place. It’s a song about humility, compassion, and hope.

Songwriters Siedah Garrett and Glen Ballard are the sources of the piece, although Michael Jackson’s input did result in some alterations and reworking. Their task at the time was simply to produce another MJ smash hit, but they managed to touch on something extraordinarily significant in the process.

In this article, we’ll perform an analysis of these inspiring lyrics in order to decipher their true meaning. We’ll also take a look at the songwriting story and the human themes that make this song so timeless. Without further ado, let’s begin!

“Man in the Mirror” Lyrics Meaning

These lyrics are so impactful because they describe realities we can all experience. The song starts with Jackson’s energetic promises to “make a change,” which color the rest of the song. The real story, however, starts with the opening verse.

First, the lyrics put us in Jackson’s shoes, walking down a street in a cold wind. As people all over the world often do, he sees kids “with not enough to eat” in the street. Jackson confronts his own callousness, “pretending not to see their need.” Instead of letting himself stay comfortable, Jackson insists he will not show himself leniency.

The next section is extremely poetic. Jackson describes various pieces of rubbish and then compares them to a man’s “soul.” The point here is not to call the soul worthless. Instead, it’s actually to point out how it’s being treated without due respect. Just like the garbage on the street, this human being has “nowhere to go.”

After these touching lines, the song breaks into a chorus. Jackson promises to start with “the man in the mirror,” which clearly means himself. After starting with himself (avoiding hypocrisy), Jackson turns to his audience and preaches the same message. If you want to improve the world, “make a change” within.

The second verse takes us back to Jackson’s self-criticism. He admits to a “selfish kind of love” that allows for his “pretending” that the needs of the poor do not exist. He then revisits the scene of the human soul lost in the “pattern of the wind” before kicking off another chorus.

During the third repetition of the chorus, a pair of new lines is added. These lines add a sense of urgency, telling us to change ourselves while we’ve “got the time.” How should we make this change? Through compassion. If we close our hearts, we close our minds.

From this point on, the song’s lyrics are largely repetitive. Jackson continues insisting that all people start with themselves, confront the “man in the mirror,” and “stop him yourself” if needed.

To sum up, the message of this track is about developing a compassionate spirit toward the world and a disciplined perspective toward yourself. Deep down, human beings know we could all be more, and this song taps into that feeling.

The Story Behind “Man in the Mirror”

This song was born while Michael Jackson was on top of the music world by a wide variety of metrics. As a result, his act had access to some of the top creative resources in the world at the time. This included the talents of the two songwriters who gave us this track, Siedah Garrett and Glen Ballard.

Much like the message of the song, the story behind its creation is really quite simple. Michael Jackson’s producer, Quincy Jones, invited a group of songwriters to his home to write for Jackson. Siedah Garret would later recall Jones’ insistence on getting “hits.”

Garret and Ballard worked together to complete the draft, with Garret being the primary lyricist. When Quincy Jones heard it, he knew it was gold right off the bat.

Although Jackson did not write the song, he reportedly influenced both the lyrics and structure when it was delivered to him. Of course, his iconic vocal performance added a little bit of magic to a very solid foundation, and the rest is history.

But how did the King of Pop really feel about the track? Apparently, he was blown away. In fact, “Man in the Mirror” is the only song on Bad to have its lyrics quoted in the album. By all accounts, the theme and message resonated with him.

“Man in the Mirror” was Jackson’s tenth #1 hit on the Billboard Top 100. It also succeeded critically, being nominated for a Grammy in 1989. This certified triple-platinum piece of art continues to inhabit the hearts of many fans today, even after Jackson’s passing.

The next time you press play on this touching song, let these little bits of background knowledge make it even more special!