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.
Soon, it was Strike One for Janet: she lost weight. She had never looked so beautiful. I still remember my roommates and me at Northern Illinois University drooling over the “Love Will Never Do Without You” video. Commercially, she hit a gold mine. Artistically, however, her weight loss forced people to concentrate more on her looks than her music. With the exception of The Velvet Rope, which came out in 1997, it forced Janet to concentrate on her looks more than her music as well.
However, when 1993 came around, Janet took full advantage of the downfall of pop music’s biggest icon, Madonna (who would make a comeback, and several others in the years to come). Madonna was the world’s greatest sexpot, but, unfortunately, didn’t know where to stop and soon started appearing naked everywhere. The world soon looked for another sexpot that was similar to Madonna and Janet eagerly stepped in with her Janet album, featuring screaming orgasms, ejaculations, one night stands, etc.
The public ate it up like apple pie and Janet was the biggest superstar on the planet. She was considered the “only cool” Jackson. Despite her sexually charged image, most people considered it a sign of Janet becoming a true adult and she was on every hot list that can be imagined. No wonder she was able to take a two-year break without being forgotten.
The Velvet Rope could have easily been Strike Two for Janet. “Got Till It’s Gone,” the first single, hit the airwaves in August of 1997 and disappeared almost instantly. The response was so poor that Virgin Records decided not to release a physical single for the song, hoping everybody would forget about this minor career mistake and move on.
“Together Again,” the follow-up single, saved Janet from further backlash and proved that Janet Jackson was anything but "over with." Janet’s dedication to the friends she lost because of AIDS proved to be anything but the usual sappy, repetitive songs that Elton John, George Michael, and others put out in previous years. In fact, the song was a celebration: “One day we’ll be together again. 'Cause… every where I go, every smile I see, I know you are there, smiling back at me.”
Even though there was a slight backlash because of Janet’s increasingly sexual image (her act now included lesbianism, sadomasochism, and more), the music overshadowed it all. Even though the album didn’t sell nearly as much as Janet’s previous albums, it was still considered an artistic highlight and spawned three top ten singles, something which was rare for an album released during the latter part of the '90s.
As the new decade rolled in, Janet’s superstardom still seemed unbreakable. In the Summer of 2000, Janet costarred along with Eddie Murphy in Nutty Professor 2: The Clumps and scored a number one hit from the soundtrack. By the end of the year, fans were looking forward to a new album.
The year 2001 was strike two for Janet. Even though her new album, All For You, and its title track hit number one, fans and critics started to wonder if Janet was starting to "lose" it. Many considered the album's sexual theme repetitive while others found songs such as "When We Ooooo" and "Son of a Gun" lacking the same quality of Janet's previous hits. For the first time in Janet's career, her concerts showed mixed box office results. However, All For You still sold 3 million copies in the U.S. and that was an accomplishment for someone who had been recording albums for nearly twenty years.
February 1, 2004: Strike Three! Actually, this is considered the "9/11" of Janet's career and freedom of speech on television as well. During the Super Bowl Halftime Show, Janet decided to shock the world by having Justin Timberlake violently rip off a piece of clothing covering her right breast, exposing it sagging with a nipple ring. An international uproar ensued and Janet instantly became the most scorned person on the planet.
Rather than living up to her stunt, Janet soon issued a pathetic apology, said it was an "accident," and thus the term "wardrobe malfunction" was added to our never-ending vocabulary. Besides the devastating effects this had on her upcoming Damita Jo album, the planned publicity stunt was the beginning of censorship that was considered new wave McCarthyism. Janet tried to calm the fires by blaming the uproar on George W. Bush, racism and everything else, but made matters even worse for her and alienated several fans.
In 2006, after seeing previously fallen stars Mariah Carey and Madonna make major comebacks, it seemed natural that Janet would follow their footsteps. While the "wardrobe malfunction" was still in people's minds, Janet thought she would cover it up by gaining over 100 pounds, losing it, and then appearing as the new weight loss queen on the cover of US Weekly. This might have worked if Janet had followed it up with some good music.
The song "Call on Me," the first single from 20 Years Old, bombed so badly that even MTV refused to play it. "So Excited," the second single, bombed even worse. After appearing on Oprah, Janet's 20 Years Old was expected to sell at least 350,000 copies in its first week. Unfortunately, the album didn't even sell 300,000 copies and instantly declined on the charts.
Has the door permanently closed for Janet Jackson? According to many, it has. However, the fact that the world loves comebacks as much as they love superstar downfalls could eventually open a new door for Janet. Just ask Cher, Mariah Carey, Tina Turner, and others who carefully crafted major comebacks simply by reminding the world why they became superstars in the first place.
I'm sure that Janet has finally realized that appearing half naked on different magazines isn't working anymore. She needs to fire her publicist and manager. She needs to disassociate herself with that musically utalented midget, Jermain Dupri. Then, after taking some time off, she needs to find producers who will help her craft the thoughtful, catchy tunes that made her a superstar in the first place. When this happens, we will all forgive Janet for the Dorito Ho era.Powered by Sidelines