‘Somebody’s Watching Me’ by Rockwell, 1984 (Music Video)

Exhibit / March 22, 2017

Object Name: “Somebody’s Watching Me” by Rockwell (music video)
Maker and Year: Rockwell, Francis Delia (director), 1984
Object Type: Music video
Video Source: YouTube/RockwellVEVO
Description: (K.E. Roberts)

Rockwell, born Kennedy William Gordy, is the son of Motown founder Berry Gordy. Despite his father’s discouraging comments regarding his early songs, Kennedy wrote “Somebody’s Watching Me” in 1983 and submitted a demo to Motown under the name Rockwell because, as he claimed later, he didn’t want his father’s legacy to influence his success. “Somebody’s Watching Me” was released in January 1984, the debut single from the album of the same name. The song shot to number 2 on the U.S. charts (behind “Footloose” by Kenny Loggins) and went gold three months later. Michael Jackson, Kennedy’s childhood friend, sang the chorus, and Jermaine Jackson provided backing vocals. It remains one of the greatest pop songs of the era, and makes a famous appearance in the Miami Vice pilot (September 16, 1984), as undercover cop “Rico” Tubbs sings it (and dances to it) in a strip club.

The music video was directed by Francis Delia, whose first feature was 1981’s Nightdreams, a pornographic horror film written by Jerry Stahl (who wrote the 1995 memoir Permanent Midnight) and Stephen Sayadian, a former creative director for Larry Flynt Publications. Though Kennedy had planned a tongue-in-cheek production to match the mood of the track, he arrived on set to find it full of “dark stuff.” In the finished product, a POV camera tracks Rockwell through his once “normal home,” now a “Twilight Zone” populated by ravens, a scuttling pig-creature, decomposing faces, bloody showers, and a zombie-like postman. At one point, Rockwell gazes into his TV to find a group of men in black interrogating someone who appears to be Rockwell himself; suddenly, the men turn to the Rockwell on the other side of the screen and advance threateningly (“Well can the people on TV see me, or am I just paranoid?”). Directly after, we see Rockwell in the back yard, standing over his own grave clutching a bouquet of dying flowers.

The video was an immediate cult classic, and made the song a Halloween compilation staple. Aside from numerous horror themes, it evokes a deep sense of paranoia, the sweeping anxiety of the “high” Cold War of the 1980s: things are not what they seem, conspiracy abounds, and there’s a real sense of peril as the singer pleads to his audience:

I don’t know anymore.
Are the neighbors watching me?
Well is the mailman watching me?
And I don’t feel safe anymore.
Oh what a mess.
I wonder who’s watching me now… the I.R.S.?

And at the heart of it all is a fractured, fragile human being who is a stranger in his own home, a stranger to himself.

2 thoughts on “‘Somebody’s Watching Me’ by Rockwell, 1984 (Music Video)

  1. It had to have been Richard Blade’s Video 1 music video series from which I’d taped this video, since we didn’t have cable and hence, no MTV.

    Somebody’s Watching Me was my favorite video when it was released, simply because of the overall dark feel and bizarre/macabre imagery throughout. There were several parts in the video that my younger brother and I would constantly watch in slow motion (we were extremely lucky to have a higher-end VCR that had that capability back then) just to be able to see all the subtle details and assortment of creatures and goings-on in the background.

    lol since the frame rate was so sparse, it really took some effort to freeze-frame on our favorite parts. I mean, it really was quite an operation—being hunched over this VCR with our fingers on the buttons, trying to hit PAUSE at just the right moment, and having to rewind it and start over if we missed the spot, etc..

    My brother and I always laughed in the end, with that postman. I mean, what was he going to do, smack Rockwell with that jacked up hand? To kill him or just …I dunno, smack him around a bit? lol

    Looking back, it’s funny to know that my friends and I just knew it was MJ singing the chorus (I mean, who else could it be with that voice?), although we never had it confirmed. In the back of my head I always questioned how, for once, MJ would actually take backseat in a song, and not even make an appearance in the video. But I just kinda wrote it off with a shrug. It wasn’t actually until reading this article that I finally knew the “behind the music” story as to how/why MJ was in it …so, thanks for that!

    • Thanks, Greg. I remember the video for the same reason you do. I was into horror movies, and the Thriller video had come out less than a year before. I think that’s what Rockwell was channeling. “Somebody’s Watching Me” is much more frightening to me, though. There’s just something underneath it that’s not there in “Thriller.”

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