For many fans and critics, the soulful “Butterflies” is one of the hidden gems of Michael Jackson’s late career. Like “Heaven can wait,” it reminds people of what made Jackson’s voice such a revelation in the first place, yet benefits from added maturity and sophistication. Though Sony never officially released “Butterflies” as a single, it quickly became an underground hit, particularly in urban areas like New York City. Given the enthusiastic response, many people simply couldn’t understand why it wasn’t promoted as the new sound of Michael Jackson. “It would have opened people’s minds,” music critic Steven Ivory told NPR. “Butterflies” still managed to reach #13 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #2 on the Hot R&B/ Hip-Hop Singles chart on the strength of air play alone. The song was introduced to Jackson by longtime friend and record executive, John McClain. Jackson liked what he heard in the track by Floetry, a young neo-jazz/soul duo from England. Marsha Ambrosius recalls receiving a message from the King of Pop in 2000: “This really light voice comes out of the answering machine: ‘I’m really interested in that stuff coming out of A Touch of Jazz. That Floetry stuff is really cool’. It was Michael Jackson” After receiving several potential demos, Jackson choose “Butterflies”. A few months later Ambrosius and Natalie Stewart were in the studio working with him on the song. “It was incredible,” recalled Ambrosius of the experience, “because he continually asked, ‘Marsh, what’s the next harmony? Girls, does this sound right? What do you think? Is this what you were looking for?’ He was so open.”
“It is not too overstated to suggest that ‘Butterflies’ is one of Jackson’s most significant R&B recordings in some time,” argued music critic Mark Anthony Neal. “Jackson opens the song with a growl-like murmur of a tenor, but the song takes off in the second verse when he pushes his range to breathy lilting falsetto that powerfully captures the vulnerability that the song’s lyrics attempt to convey.” “Butterflies” has become one of Jackson’s most highly regarded late works, and continues to be “discovered” by music lovers who missed it the first go-round.