Like a Moth to a Flame: Janet Jackson’s ‘janet.’ Turns 25

Posted May 22, 2018 by J Matthew Cobb in Features

On the twenty-five year anniversary of janet., we pause and reflect on just how slamming this defining moment in music history was

On Sunday, Janet Jackson, who turned 52 only days ago (May 16), was honored with the Icon Award at this year’s Billboard Music Awards, becoming the first black female to win the coveted award. It’s also the first time in nine years since the youngest Jackson sibling as dawned a spot on television (after years of undeserved exile due to Nipplegate). Her acceptance speech was perfect for the moment, addressing the #MeToo movement and the need to return to civility, God and world peace. This crowning moment also comes on the heels of the 25th anniversary of one of Jackson’s prized albums: the sexually-liberating janet. album.

janet-1993-rollingstone-coverCertainly Janet’s previous albums, Control and Rhythm Nation 1814, were industry game changers. They were landmark successes in her career, showcasing a brilliance of musical growth and glorious ambition unseen in R&B. Because of Jackson’s contributions, R&B, (and more specifically, black product) was pushed further to the front, integrating heavily with pop and creating an extra push for dance music through house, New Jack swing and dance-pop. The high-visual concept videos that came also bolstered Jackson’s name, giving her equal standing with her rock star brother Michael and Madonna. But janet., her first entry with Virgin after leaving A&M for a stunning $40 million, was more personal, almost exodus-like. The dancing R&B diva craved liberation, a freedom to express herself as a sexual being. She wanted to take even more risks. And with her musical partners, the Minneapolis pair Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, by her side, the journey would be fulfilled.

The legacy of the front cover, playlist

On the cover lies a black and white image of Jackson with hands over head, hair gloriously blessed with wavy curls. The image is actually a cropped version of the ballsy Rolling Stone front cover photograph of Patrick Demarchelier, published much later in September 1993. The original of the now-iconic photo finds former husband, frequent co-writer and music video director Rene Elizondo, Jr. covering her breasts using both hands in a pre-Nipplegate era. In that story, Jackson talked in-depth about this newfound liberation. “Sex has been an important part of me for several years, but it just hasn’t blossomed publicly until now,” she told journalist David Ritz. “I’ve had to go through some changes and shed some old attitudes before feeling completely comfortable with my body. Listening to my new record, people intuitively understand the change in me.”


And that change is heard from the jump start of the 75-minute adventure. With the smoldering opening lines of the Number One smash hit “That’s the Way Love Goes,” a song blessed with Sade sultriness and a sexy urban contemporary jazz cadence, Jackson takes us on that journey. And virtually every stop on the disc is rapturous, almost perfect from start to finish. Yes, there’s an ever abundance of ten-second interludes trapped into the disc, but the parade of songs are too good to pass up:  The totally underrated “You Want This” (and its bad-ass Motown sample of the Supremes’ “Love Child”) bangs with New Jack swing fervor; opera star Kathleen Battle transports us into the heavenlies on the edgy, industrial “This Time” using glorious elongated notes. “If” is the bigger sister to “This Time” and it’s obviously more commercial, which led to its cannon shot to number four pop and number one dance. It’s totally sexy, pushing S&M foreplay to the forefront (“I’d make you call out my name, I’d ask who it belongs to”). “Throb” immediately follows, and Janet’s sexual prowess hits a crescendo. Muted orgasmic moans and a call to action by Janet (“Cum for me”) are heard on the prelude. Then flows an aggression of house beats, a jubilant dancefloor sweeper that plays like an anthem for gay discos.


What happens next is just as surprising. With Rolling Stones-esque rock ‘n soul instrumentation, Jackson jumps on a forgotten Stax single, “What’ll I Do” It’s a cover, something Jackson hasn’t done up to this point. The Steve Cropper/Joe Shamwell composition, originally recorded by Johnny Daye, gets new life here, and is transported into a joyful, carefree atmosphere that supersedes the original. Thanks to the thunderous drumming of Mint Condition’s Stokley, big sassy horns and the hearty backing vocals of Sounds of Blackness alums Ann Nesby and Jamecia Bennett, the rendition flares like a Sunday morning revival. Unfortunately, it was never released as a single, probably because it was a cover, but there’s no denying how good the track sounds.


The rest of the album, mostly ballad heavy, is just as good as its first half. With “Because of Love” echoing the New Jack swing swag that prevailed radio, a tender ballad “Again” (the closing song from the Janet-starring motion picture Poetic Justice), the love-hungry “Where Are You Now” and the seven-minute Quiet Storm wonder “Any Time, Any Place” on board, Jackson exposes us to a more intimate experience, one full of vulnerable emotions and soul-searching ambition.


In a glorious sense, looking back at the album that celebrates its 25th anniversary this month, janet. is an ambitious fast-forward into the Nineties, pushing past the conservative and repressive barriers of the Regan Eighties. It’s an outcry towards sexual surrender, even if she also advocates for safer sex throughout the lyrics, a poignant move in during the peak of the AIDS crisis. It also moved R&B even closer to its now-louder cousin, hip-hop, allowing audiences of both to come together without any compromise. And the critics took notice to it, even praising it louder in the new millennium for its magnetic charm. In 2010, like an inscription done in tribute fashion, Rolling Stone wrote in its book The 90s: The Inside Stories from the Decade that Rocked that by “using soul, rock and dance elements, as well as opera diva Kathleen Battle, [she] unleashed her most musically ambitious record, guided as always, by producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.”

What’s next for janet.

janetjackson-janet-coverJanet. clearly reigns as one of the best albums of the 1990’s. It deserves all the accolades that’s coming its way from its 25th year celebration. Will it get it? Who knows.

Here’s what we do know. In the CD era, the album only was put on vinyl in Europe, pushing decent vinyl discoveries to fetch upward to the $50-100 range. There are no plans yet to drop remastered 180-gram vinyl versions of the disc. That could very well change much later since the Billboard Icon honor has elevated the profile of Jackson some. Her performance at the Billboard Music Awards, meshed with a stunning six-minute medley of janet.-ringers “Throb” and “If” and a fleet of powerful dancers, will certainly give her an extra push of digital and streaming sales. But since the album was released on Virgin (now merged with Capitol) and not by her new home of BMG, it would be their call. In the meantime, pull out that 6x platinum glorious disc featuring six Top Ten hits in whatever form you already have it in. Whether it is the compact disc, digital, the original UK 1993 vinyl or throwback cassette, give it a good play. Do it for the icon and for yourself.

J Matthew Cobb is the managing editor of HiFi Magazine


About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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