"Childhood" is the lead single from Michael Jackson's ninth studio album, HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I where "Scream" is track one and "Childhood" is track ten on the second disc of the album HIStory Continues. The B-side, "Childhood", is a solo piece. The single was released on May 31, 1995. "Childhood" is written, produced and sung solely by Michael Jackson. New York City's children's choir are credited for providing backing vocals on the track. It became the main theme song for the Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home soundtrack, which was released by Jackson on his record label MJJ. Jackson had previously provided the main theme song for the first Free Willy film, his hit single "Will You Be There", originally from Dangerous. Aside from HIStory and the Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home soundtrack, "Childhood" appeared on compilations such as Movie Music: The Definitive Performances and Sony Music 100 Years: Soundtrack for a Century.
"Childhood" was a worldwide hit. In the U.S. it was the first song in the 37 year history of Billboard to debut at number five—where it peaked. By the end of August 1995 it was certified Gold and Platinum by the RIAA for shipments of a million copies in the U.S. It reached number one in Italy and New Zealand, number two in Australia and Norway and number three in the UK. It became a top five hit in every major music market.
In the HIStory album booklet there is a drawing of Jackson as a child. He is huddled in a corner of the room and looks scared; The electric cord of his microphone has snapped. On one corner wall are the lyrics to "Childhood", the other wall shows Jackson's signature.
"Childhood" is a very brave song and one the most honest songs from Jackson ever and it was written by him on top of his giving tree at Neveland. In the song, Jackson states, "No one understands me...They view it as such strange eccentricities, 'cause I keep kidding around". He invokes "the painful youth I've had" and asks the public to, "Try hard to love me" and, with a breaking voice, asks, "Have you seen my childhood?"
"Childhood" is a biographical reference to Jackson's difficult years as a youngster, such as the relationship with his father and the pressures of being world famous from such a young age—as the lead member of The Jackson 5. From a young age Jackson was physically and emotionally abused by his father through incessant rehearsals, whippings and derogatory name calling. Jackson's abuse as a child had affected him throughout his later life. In one altercation—later recalled by Marlon Jackson—Joseph held Michael Jackson upside down by one leg and "pummelled him over and over again with his hand, hitting him on his back and buttocks". Joseph would often trip up or push the male children into walls. One night, while Jackson was asleep, Joseph climbed into his room through the bedroom window. Wearing a fright mask, he entered the room screaming and shouting. Joseph said he wanted to teach his children not to leave the window open when they went to sleep. For a number of years afterward, Jackson suffered nightmares about being kidnapped from his bedroom.
Although it had been reported for a number of years that Jackson had an abusive childhood, he first spoke openly about it in a 1993 interview with Oprah Winfrey. He grimaced when speaking of the childhood abuse at the hands of his father; he believed he had missed out on much of his childhood years, admitting that he often cried from loneliness. In the same interview, speaking of his father, Jackson said, "There were times when he'd come to see me, I'd get sick...I'd start to regurgitate. I'm sorry...Please don't be mad at me...But I do love him". In Jackson's other high profile interview Living with Michael Jackson (2003), the singer covered his face with his hand and began crying when talking about his childhood abuse. Jackson recalled that Joseph sat in a chair as the group rehearsed, saying, "He had this belt in his hand. If you didn't do it the right way, he would tear you up, really get you. It was bad. Real bad". When Jackson received his Living Legend award—presented to him by Janet Jackson—at the 1993 Grammys, he said, "I don't read all the things written about me, I wasn't aware the world thought I was so weird and bizarre. But when you grow up like I did in front of 100 million people since the age of five, you're automatically different...My childhood was completely taken away from me. There was no Christmas, no birthdays. It was not a normal childhood, no normal pleasures of childhood. Those were exchanged for hard work, struggle and pain, and eventual material and professional success".
If Michael had the chance to change it all, he wouldn't, no regreds at all, no matter what, but still he is, alowed to be longing for a normal childhood, and trying to compencate for his lost childhood, not being childdish, but with a heart childlike.
The music short film of "Childhood" is set in a forest; Jackson, in scruffy clothes, sings "Childhood" while sitting on a tree stump. The camera moves up the trees into the night sky and flying airships travel overhead. On board the ships, children are seen playing a variety of games as they travel further away from Jackson, towards the moon. Other children appear in the forest undergrowth before floating up towards the airships, but Jackson remains seated on the tree stump. Two actors from Free Willy— Jason James Richter and Francis Capra—appear in the video. The video for "Childhood" is 4:27 minutes long and has little in common with the corresponding film. The short film is outstanding, a Chris Van Allsburg-style vision of children in flying airships, crusading through a forest at night".