Long after the Victory tour faded, “You’re a Whole New Generation,” the radio version of Jackson’s “Billie Jean” Pepsi commercial, remained on the air. A song about anxiety and guilt, dazzlingly produced, voices flying through discrete layers of sound, “Billie Jean” was the most seductive record Michael Jackson had ever made; at first, his willingness to immediately transform it into an advertising jingle seemed like a slap in the face to everyone who loved it. But months later, when the constant airplay bought for the commercial allowed it not just to replace but almost to erase the original, one could hear “You’re a Whole New Generation” as a new piece of music. It was tougher: the rhythm was harsh, the production not elliptical but direct, Jackson’s voice not pleading or confused but fierce. When he sang the line, “That choice is up to you,” dramatizing the consumer’s option of Pepsi versus Coke, he made it sound like a moral choice. Altogether he communicated wholeness where “Billie Jean” had broken into fragments, anger instead of restraint, certainty in place of doubt. That only made the buried, surely slip-of-the-tongue message all the more unsettling. “You’re a whole new generation,” Jackson sang as the fade began, “you’re lovin’ what they do…” Wait, wait—who was this “they”?
From Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the 20th Century (1989)