Michael Jackson’s ‘Man In The Mirror’ features one of the most satisfyingly epic key changes in all music. This is why it’s so good.
So we’re looking specifically at this moment here:
Let’s just celebrate for a moment the audacity of this key change. For a start, it occurs on the word ‘Change’. Not only that, it occurs on the word ‘Change’ during a song ACTUALLY ABOUT change. Key change, changing person, on the word ‘Change’. It’s change central.
‘Man In The Mirror’ begins in humble, plain, unassuming G major. The harmony is sweet, fairly unadventurous, but functional. Jackson, a keen improviser (‘HEE-EE!’), clearly enjoys rattling around G major and exploiting that killer 7th degree of the scale for maximum impact. Fine. We expect this.
But then, at about 2:50, it happens. Change happens. In a stroke of genius, the key change itself is pre-figured with a moment’s silence, which completely removes the rug from under the listener’s ears (if that’s physically possible), and establishes a new reality of A flat major (or G sharp major, which looks more impressive) without so much as a cursory consultation period.
It is brazen, insane, wonderful.