Michael Jackson released the single Dirty Diana in 1988. The track came from his seventh studio album, Bad, and was a smash hit for the American singer, reaching number one in the Billboard Hot 100 and selling more than 1.5 million units. The lyrics to the song have a particular narrative to them, including a line which croons: “Diana walked up to me / She said, ‘I’m all yours tonight’ / And then I ran to the phone / Sayin’, ‘Baby I’m alright’ / I said, ‘But unlock the door ‘Cause I forgot the key’ / She said, ‘He’s not coming back Because he’s sleeping with me.'”
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The lyrics tell of a woman coercing a rock star into bed almost against his will.
The song’s title and lyrics call on a woman named Diana – two of which were in Michael’s life.
The first was Diana, Princess of Wales. The Royal was a close friend and fan of the Thriller singer and spent a lot of time talking with him on the phone.
During an interview with Barbara Walters, Michael denied the song was about Princess Diana.
Michael said in 1997: “I wrote a song called Dirty Diana. It was not about Princess Diana.”
The star was aware of the comparison to Princess Diana, however, and later took it out of a live show he knew she would be attending.
Michael recalled the event, saying: “I took it out of the show in honour of Her Royal Highness… [She asked] ‘Are you going to do Dirty Diana?’
“I said: ‘No, I took it out of the show because of you.’ She said: ‘No! I want you to do it. Do it. Do the song.'”
Another woman Dirty Diana could have been based on was Diana Ross.
Michael and Diana were extremely close, with the star himself describing her as his “mother, sister and lover all combined in one” in his autobiography.
Michael’s mother, Katherine Jackson, spoke out about his relationship with Diana Ross in her own memoir.
She said: “When Diana Ross was named to play Dorothy [in The Wiz], Michael had further incentive to land a role in the movie.”
Katherine went on: “He’d been in love with her ever since he and his brothers had been her house guests.
“‘You’re not pretty until you start looking like Diana!’ he would tease [his sisters] La Toya and Janet.”
Michael did explain what the lyrics of Dirty Diana were based on.
Speaking to Barbara Walters, he said: “It was about certain kinds of girls that hang around concerts or clubs. You know; they call them groupies.”
Michael continued: “I’ve lived with that all my life. These girls… they do everything with the band, you know, everything you could imagine. So I wrote a song called Dirty Diana.”
He added to this rockstar narrative by including lead guitars from Billy Idol’s act, Stevie Stevens.
It has since been described as a “metal” song, much like his previous tracks Billie Jean and Thriller.