I call the ‘janet.’ album the love album
Janet Jackson’s “janet.” celebrates its 20th anniversary today, May 18. Her groundbreaking fifth album has sold over 7 million copies and spawned six Hot 100 singles. The album was a sexual awakening for both Jackson and American culture. Hits like “That’s The Way Love Goes” and “Any Time, Any Place” were some of the most sexually frank to reach the upper reaches of the charts at the time.
Though she’s kept a low profile since 2011, when she released her self-help memoir “True You” and toured behind her “Number Ones” greatest hits set, Janet Jackson spoke with Billboard for an exclusive Q&A where she revisits the making of “janet.,” discusses its current influence and teases her next album (“I am working on a new project now.”).
May 18 marks the 20th anniversary of “janet.” How would you describe what that album captures about your life at that time?
I can’t believe it is already 20 years! I always write my music based on what is going on in my life at the time. I wanted to allow people in… I want my fans to really know me. The ‘janet’ album was sexual and I was beginning to really discover that side of me.
Although you worked primarily with Jimmy and Terry again on “janet.,” you explore a lot of different genres on that album - from dance to soul to rock to opera on “This Time.” Did you have to fight to keep some of the bolder songs on there - was anyone telling you this wasn’t “pop” enough?
I’ve been exposed to all types of great music. I like to collaborate on my music. The creative process is fun and you get a lot of ideas from having discussions about it. Ultimately, the final decision is mine.
There are musical references and direct samples of janet. songs all over the place now, most notably on Kendrick Lamar’s “Poetic Justice.” Have you heard most of these re-interpretations (Moon Boots’ “Sugar,” which samples “If,” How To Dress Well’s cover of “Again,” MNEK’s “That’s The Way Love Goes” etc?) And how does it feel to see your work have such impact on new artists?
I have listened to the music that is out there and I love Kendrick’s “Poetic Justice.” There are artists, true performers that have come before me who have been a big inspiration to me. I hope I do the same for others.
Several of the songs on janet. and their accompanying videos were groundbreaking at the time for their overt sexuality. Why was it so important for you to express that part of yourself in your work, and how did you convince others around you at the time to let you take those risks?
Like I said before, I write about my experiences or things that touch me deeply. I was really beginning to get in tune with my sexual self. This is what I wanted to express so I did. The decision to move forward in an artistic way is mine. I didn’t need to convince anyone.
The videos and tour for “janet.” featured some iconic choreography from Tina Landon, most notably on ‘If.’ Do you have a favorite dance or video from that period?
Tina Landon and Omar Lopez choreographed “If”. I love “That’s The Way Love Goes,” “You Want This” and especially “If.” I don’t think people really realize what we were showing in that video that wasn’t available with technology then. The video featured futuristic technology, specifically high definition touch screens. I wanted the actors in the video to use these screens to communicate, and relate with each other in the clubs. Similar to what we all do with our smart phones and tablets today. As I look at our lives now, it seems that life is imitating art. I have seen different elements from all of these videos in lots of artists work and it’s a great feeling to know that you have inspired them in such a way.
Many artists cite you as a role model and a huge influence on their career and image. Which artists today do you admire?
I’m flattered that other artists consider me a role model. I’m really enjoying what Bruno Mars and Adele are doing, a lot of artistry there.
It’s been five years since your last album, and nearly four since your last single. Have you been working on new music, and when can we expect it if so?
I am working on a new project now. We are creating the concept and initial thoughts on the music. I am excited about the direction we are taking. I don’t want to rush it… I don’t want to put a time constraint on the creative process.
‘I’ve come too close to happiness to have it swept away’
Quite possibly one of Janet’s biggest singles ever, Again is a cheesy ballad that will tug at the heartstrings of even the biggest Madonna fans. Janet later tried unsuccessfully tor recreate the song’s success with the beautiful Every Time on The Velvet Rope A radio favourite, this is the Janet song her pretentious fans love to hate, claiming (with good reason) that there are far better Janet ballads, including the
Track #19 off janet., which turns 20 today - love it or hate it?
—That's The Way Love Goes
That track was of course, That’s The Way Love Goes. Released to a ravenous public, its slinky groove and seductive lyrics proved that Janet was all grown up. The song was both a musical and lyrical departure from the tough and industrial sound of Rhythm Nation, but was embraced just as enthusiastically.
It entered the charts at #14 and within two weeks, climbed to the top, where it would stay for a further eight weeks, making it the most successful single ever by any Jackson.
While the track dominated radio waves and smashed sales records, its parent album was quietly released on the 18th of May, 1993.
The album opened with one of Janet’s most memorable interludes, ‘Morning’.
‘We had the kind of night where morning came too soon…’
With those sensual words, she kicked off what would become her most successful and arguably, her most important album to date.
What do you think? Do you think janet. is as important as album as Control or The Velvet Rope? Or do you, like Rolling Stone, like to play down its importance? I’d love to hear what you have to say.
I personally think janet. is more of an assertion of Janet’s own creative control than Control itself.
In hindsight, I had no business listening to her fifth album, janet, given I was nine years old when it was released. I imagine if my mama stumbles across this article, she might tell me to dip my lanky head down just so her hand can go upside it. Still, as Janet said about her own self in the past, she started to think of sexuality at an early age. If nothing else, she helped pique my curiosity. Speaking of, I’ll forever be grateful to Janet for this era in her career because it introduced me to her dancer, Omar Lopez, who gave me one of my earliest hints that my life was meant to operate on the other side of the rainbow.
What I appreciate most about that album and Janet Jackson altogether, though, is that not only did she teach me a little about sex, she provided a blueprint on how to be frank sexually yet remain multi-faceted as an artist. She proved you could be both sexual and substantive. It’s a lesson I wish many of those who have since followed had taken better heed of.
Now more than ever are you quick to hear an artist discuss their upcoming project as “my personal album to date.” It’s become more of a marketing statement than anything mirroring the truth. What they mean is, “I’m working with the same mesh of top producers as everyone else and singing about the same things in relatively the exact same way. And I really want you to buy it, otherwise I’m going to have to do a reality show to maintain even the first cousin of relevance.”
However, the janet album was genuine growth. Here was a woman who had gone from singing about abstinence on her 1986 single “Let’s Wait Awhile” to cooing about the possibility about sex in public – all while whisper-singing about racism and sexism. It followed in the tradition of the newfound independence she sang about on Control and the social issues she felt warranted addressing on Rhythm Nation.
And even though the album was tied largely around sex, it also included the emotions behind it. Love and longing – and not just for – and not just for shoes with red on the bottom of them, trinkets from whatever jeweler du jour at the moment, and on and on the current clichés of R&B go.
What are the chances now of seeing a Black pop star of Janet’s level singing these kind of lyrics at the peak of her career: “History hidden from me to hide my identity so I’d never feel I am somebody.”
Two years before the release of her fifth album, janet, Janet Jackson became the highest paid artist – scoring a record deal with Virgin Records worth some $40 million. She would be paid more than her brother, Michael Jackson as well as her direct competition, Madonna. She managed to reach that feat without just singing about fluff.
I don’t know how it happened, but somewhere along the way people stopped caring. If you want to sing about the spreading of legs, so be it. Hell, I’ll probably sing-a-long. That said, I do worry that with so much else going on, you would think our Black pop stars would even bother to speak on at least some of it.
What’s most frustrating about the last decade since Janet’s wayward nipple made a spectacle of itself at the Super Bowl is that it seems like many have forgotten just how dominant the littlest Jackson was in pop music and the kind of music that got her there.
As with janet celebrates its 20th anniversary on May 18, I just want to say, thank you so much, Damita Jo. I don’t understand why these not as great you acts can copy your video treatments, but not tell their writer-producer friends, “Maybe we should sing about us becoming food stamp nation. You know, after we twirk on the first seven tracks and smash on the last three?”
Clearly I’m entering the “get off my lawn, you meddling children” stage of music listening, but I just can’t help but grumble at how vapid even some of my current favorites are. It’s a shame given Miss Jackson had long shown them the way. Now do the butterfly in celebration.
VH1 celebrates Janet’s 47th Birthday:
‘A Happy Birthday is in order to one of the most iconic pop stars who ever stepped foot on stage. While there are stats galore to validate why she’s Queen we’re focusing on her sexy. Have you seen pictures of her lately? Chick doesn’t look a day over 30. Janet is still slaying, effortlessly, at 47. Her soft baby face can make anyone melt. Her sex appeal ooozes sexy without towing the line of raunchy. Forty-seven of Janet’s sexiest looks, anyone? Don’t mind if we do.’
Dev Hynes, Scoop DeVille, Raheem DeVaughn and more celebrate the album’s 20th birthday (and the singer’s 47th).
Aaliyah’s wonderful. Great artistry, smooth vocals.