25th anniversary: the symbolism of Michael Jackson’s Dangerous album cover

in Arts

Michael Jackson’s eighth studio album, Dangerous, turns 25 today. To celebrate the 25th anniversary we uncover the album cover’s intricate symbolism and meaning. 


Dangerous was released on November 26th in 1991. It was the first album to be fully produced by Jackson, taking over a year’s production. One of the best selling albums of all time, Dangerous sold 32 million copies worldwide (with 7 Million copies sold worldwide in just the first two months of release.) Lyrical themes expressed in the album include world issues such as racism, poverty, and the welfare of children and the world. The music video for Black or White, the album’s first single, aired simultaneously in 27 countries – the largest audience for a music video in history.

Regarded as one of the most intricate album covers along with The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is Michael Jackson’s Dangerous album cover designed by American painter Mark Ryden. He was part of the Lowbrow art movement that started in Los Angeles, California in the 1970s. Interview magazine dubbed Ryden “the god-father of pop surrealism.” He draws inspiration from anything that will evoke mystery, such as old toys, anatomical models, stuffed animals, skeletons and religious ephemera found in flea markets. You can see this inspiration in the album cover. This cover inspires me because it’s my all time favourite singer’s album and I like the surrealistic element to it. The theme of the circus on the cover evokes mystery and a fear of what freaky stuff lies in this mysterious circus set.

Artist Mark Ryden went all out on the symbolism for the album cover that features such symbolism as Jackson peering from behind a circus-inspired foreground, a dog wearing a crown and robe of Napoleon on His Imperial Throne, and a bird king sitting on the left. Was the album supposed to convey the supposed circus that Michael’s life was portrayed to be by the media? Was it to visually represent that behind the curtain was a mind at work? Or perhaps there were various religious and Illuminati symbols.

[Ancient Egyptian symbolism in “Remember the Time.”]

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