Before 'Billie Jean', MTV did not air videos by black artists because they were not perceived as 'rock' enough.
Michael Jackson broke several musical boundaries with his music throughout his lifetime, but perhaps none was more revolutionary for both music and civil rights than when Billie Jean aired on MTV in 1983. Before that song, there had never been a black artist’s video shown because they weren’t considered “rock” enough for the channel.
Jackson claimed that he knew the song would be a massive hit. In fact, the story goes that when leaving the studio after recording he was so focused and excited that he didn’t notice that his car was on fire! “Off The Wall” was his first album released outside of the Jackson 5 and while it was stunningly successful, Jackson was angry that it didn’t win Album of the Year and decided he would make another CD even better. The result was one of the most famous albums of all time, Thriller.
MTV still refused to air the video, and it wasn’t until the president of CBS, who owned Jackson’s record label, threatened to pull all CBS funded music off of MTV that they changed their minds. Fortunately for MTV, people forgot how ignorantly racist they were and they reaped massive renown and increased profits from one of the most famous songs of all time.