When I was a kid, there were definitely people that cast aspersions on Michael Jackson’s sexuality. In the late ‘70s and ‘80s, the “Michael is gay” rumors were prevalent, to the point that a rumor floated (and was published) that MJ had actually undergone a sex change operation. Allegedly, the sex change was so that he could marry Clifton Davis (who wrote the J5’s “Never Can Say Goodbye” and is probably best known as Reverend Ruben Gregory from the ‘80s sitcom Amen). Many of these people thought that the lyrics of “Human Nature” were a tacit acknowledgement of Michael’s alleged homosexuality. And if you read/listen to the lyrics in a certain way (especially “I like livin’ this way/I like lovin’ this way”), I can see how people came to this decision.
However, as far as we know, Michael Jackson was a heterosexual male, and even if “Human Nature” was written from the perspective of a young man exploring his sexuality (although one of the actual writers of the song says that wasn’t the case), there’s nothing that says that a vocalist’s interpretation of a song’s lyrics have to match up perfectly with the lyricists’s intention when writing it. “Human Nature” is passionately, intelligently and beautifully sung. The melody is beautiful enough that Quincy Jones and Michael felt compelled to hold Thriller’s release up until lyrics were completed and the song was recorded.
“Human Nature” was the fifth single release from Thriller, and broke Michael’s own record for most top 10 singles from one album in the fall of 1983, when it rose to #7 on the Billboard Hot 100. It stalled below the Top 20 on the R&B list, mainly because it had already been played to death as an album track. However, it’s gone on to arguably have the longest shelf-life post Thriller, due to samples (most notably on SWV’s “Right Here” remix and NaS’s “It Ain’t Hard To Tell”) and some stunningly beautiful covers–the best of which (in my opinion) comes from singer/songwriter David Mead.