Even though I am embarrassed to admit it, Janet Jackson was one of my teen idols. I’ll never forget seeing the video for “What Have You Done For Me Lately” in March of 1986, when I was an impressionable teenager with raging hormones. I knew she was Michael’s little sister, but she just came across as incredibly unique.
Even though Janet was overweight, she was beautiful. She didn’t have to try to be sexy like she does now; she was sexy. My friends, who were into Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, etc. told me she would be a one hit wonder. Unfortunately, for them, Control became the first album by a female artist to ever launch five top 5 singles on Billboard’s then relevant Hot 100: “What Have You Done For Me Lately;” “Nasty;” “Control;” “When I Think of You;” and my favorite from the Control album, “Lets Wait Awhile.”
Janet took a two-year break from the music scene after her breakthrough success, which was not a bad idea given some of the music that came out in 1988 and 1989. By fall of that year, however, she came screaming back with Rhythm Nation, which, till this day, remains one of the best albums ever made. Janet’s songs about racial harmony, children’s issues, and the “State of The World” were well written, sung with passion, and were on the lips of almost every music loving American. The album turned her from Michael’s little sister into her own superstar.
The concert tour that supported this Grammy winning album was one of the most sought-after tickets of 1990. I attended her show at Poplar Creek in Chicago and along with 20,000 other people, danced, sang, and was blown away by Janet’s amazing performance. There was some controversy about her lip syncing, but nobody really seemed to mind. Lets be honest: Janet is more of a performer than singer, and there is nothing wrong with that.
However, there was one vocal performance that night which really stood out: “Come Back To Me.” It was obvious Janet wasn’t lip synching; she was singing from the heart. Even though my knowledge of music was very limited then, I realized that it is more important to touch people with your voice rather than act like a human dog whistle, something the just emerging Mariah Carey was very good at then.