janet. A New Agenda for Miss Jackson

Janet Jackson’s music career officially took off in 1986, with the release of her redefining album, Control. A strong, assertive and commanding new Janet replaced the sugary sweet teen actress image she held prior to its release. With her versatile voice, both in sound and message, Janet commanded hard-hitting beats and became a new Queen of our airwaves and dance floors. This bold image of fearless female fervor was only solidified on 1989’s socially conscious Rhythm Nation 1814.

Yet, she was so much more than that. She was not just the feminist wrangler of “Nasty” boys. She was not just the commander of the “Rhythm Nation.” She was not just the iconic dancer that inspired us all. She was not just Michael’s baby sister. She was more than the brand attached to “Janet Jackson,” and in 1993 she decided it was time to bare it all. She would introduce the world to the woman behind her grand production. Her name, simply:

The Original Sexual Revolutionary

Before Christina was “Dirty” on Stripped, before Britney was a “Slave 4 U” on Britney, before Kelly Rowland found her “Motivation” on Here I Am, before Lil’ Kim proclaimed herself “Queen Bitch” on Hardcore, before Beyoncé unveiled why she needed to roll up the “Partition” on BEYONCÉ… Janet dropped janet. With it, she ushered in a new wave of women in pop who would liberate themselves sexually, who would feel emboldened to explore sensuality. With it, Janet became a sex symbol. With it, Janet became a woman. With it, she changed the pop landscape forever.

Until janet. she had been known as “Miss Jackson if you’re nasty,” but now, some would say, she was the one being “nasty.” Janet disagrees, however (as do I) – because as she once said, what she does “has class to it.” In yesterday’s Billboard interview, she reiterated that she tried to do it “tastefully,” and perhaps with the exception of some of the lyrics to “If” – she succeeded.

New Sounds

Her image and the content of her lyrics were not the only thing that evolved, though. The sound of her music had too. With janet. she took a more subdued approach. Gone were the 80s, and with it that signature 80s sound. In came the slinky, smooth 90s R&B grooves, like the timeless “That’s the Way Love Goes.”

Janet began her sexual revolution in the music video for “Love Will Never Do (Without You)”. However, it was with the janet. album that she married the image into the music. She’s uninhibited throughout the album, it’s naturally sexy and playful. “That’s The Way Love Goes”’ smooth jazz vibe clearly demonstrates the diverse approach janet takes.

Genre Unspecific

Like it’s successor The Velvet Rope, janet. is far from a one-genre album. Arguably R&B and pop can be found in the DNA of many songs, but each song blossoms into it’s own unique palette of genres. “That’s The Way Love Goes”  leads in as smooth jazz, but it’s the only track on the top half of the album to zero in on that sound. New jack swing dominates much of the album, and weaves into the other genres throughout.

Janet, Jimmy, and Terry experiment with industrial sounds on tracks like “If” and “This Time”. The latter even boldly marries industrial & new jack sensibilities with the operatic vocals of Kathleen Battle. Who else but Janet could conceive of such an idea?

Elsewhere, Janet reaches back in time musically. She teams with the legendary Steve Cropper to craft “What I’ll Do”, which may as well be an Otis Redding leftover from the 60’s. “You Want This” combines Diana Ross & The Supremes’ “Love Child” with Kool & The Gang’s “Jungle Boogie” and a touch of new jack swing. Also sampling The Supremes is the aforementioned “If,” adding a rock and roll flair to compliment the sexual fervor of the track.

On the baby-making section of the album, janet. circles back to the jazzy slow jam territory introduced with “That’s the Way Love Goes.” The now iconic “Any Time, Any Place” is the album’s most straight-forward sexual song; liberated, carefree and dripping in sensuality. It redefined her image forever.

A New Agenda

With her decision to return to acting, Janet earned an accolade that will forever enhance her resume with the janet. album and her first feature film, Poetic Justice, also released in 1993. She was nominated for Best Original Song at the Academy Awards for “Again,” the piano ballad taken from the film which also appears on the album. Not only that, but the film debuted at #1 and her performance was praised by critics.

While the focus of the janet. album was unlike Rhythm Nation‘s social consciousness, there was still a feminist beat throughout. Her defiance in her rejection of the notion that woman should be sexually suppressed was a statement in its own right. However, on the track “New Agenda,” Janet created a Black, feminist anthem that has stood the test of time: “An African American woman, I’m standing tall with pride.”

janet.

In so many ways, Janet Jackson’s 1993 album janet. was titled perfectly. The album showcased the many facets of a multifaceted woman, released just two days after her 27th birthday. From her versatile voice, genre-less sonic approach, to her barrier-breaking boldness, janet. was a bold, cementing statement. Full stop.

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