“Butterflies” by Michael Jackson (2001)

Invincible, the last studio album Michael Jackson made in his lifetime, is pretty fuckin’ messy. But “messy” doesn’t necessarily mean bad, and there were 6 or so gems buried in the album. “Butterflies” was one of those gems, and could’ve been a blockbuster…had it been properly promoted.

Mike was looking for ways to update his sound, after all, it was the 21st century, and “Butterflies” takes neo-soul for a spin. The song was lushly produced by Philly’s Vidal Davis and Andre Harris and co-written by Marsha Ambrosius, who’d later find fame as ½ of Floetry, a master vocal arranger (JT’s “Cry Me A River”) and a Grammy-nominated solo career. While “Butterflies” isn’t as offbeat as your average Badu or D’Angelo song, it does find MJ giving peak Musiq Soulchild. He lowers his voice a step for most of the song before lifting into a killer falsetto in the second verse. He also proves himself a pro at singing behind the beat in typical Philly neo-soul fashion. You’re gonna do some high-quality neck snappin’ to this joint.

Two things nag at me about this song: First off; as great a singer as Michael was, did his fastball get digitally altered here? I remember sending my friend Mike Schiller a mix CD and him commenting on how his vocal sounded electronically manipulated. Did I hear it? I didn’t not hear it. Is that outside the realm of possibility? No. Was Michael unable to sing? I think the clips of him singing acapella during This Is It debunk that theory. Did Michael sound much different than he had in his youth? Yes. Age deepened his voice or rid him of the desire to sing in such high voice all the time. And if we’re keeping it 100, his rhinoplasties also fucked with his singing voice. Listen to the way Michael sings hard consonants on Invincible. He sounds pinched or stuffed up most of the time. But fuck it. Michael Jackson is still Michael Jackson. Digitally manipulated voice or not, jacked up nose or not, “Butterflies” goes hard as fuck.

And it should’ve been a huge hit. As an album track, “Butterflies” almost hit the top 10 on the pop charts and spent over a month at #2 on the R&B list. It wasn’t commercially released as a single, despite a fine remix featuring Eve that was serviced to radio. It also never got a video treatment. Had those things happened, it certainly would’ve given MJ another chart topper. It also very likely would have revitalized Invincible. Instead…well, we know what happened next. And that’s a shame. Current employment status prevents me from going too deep on what I think happened (parts of which I can attest to as factual), but…I don’t know if that infamous public rant by MJ against Tommy Mottola was too far off base.

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