This week, I’m breaking my own rules for a very good reason. On Friday, Janet Jackson’s Janet documentary premieres. My hope is that this will begin to set right a decades-long exile fueled by those classic American bedfellows: racism and sexism.
Janet’s name comes up occasionally on this blog. Her career – from sound to style to execution – is a blueprint for so many K-pop acts. She’s my all-time favorite artist – a forever idol in these eyes. And with a new era soon to begin, it seems right to finally share some of my favorite songs.
Each day this week, I’m going to write about one of her mammoth singles. I don’t think I can rank them, so I’m just picking five that stand out most to me. Don’t worry… The Bias List isn’t going to suddenly turn into a pop music blog. I have no plans (or much desire) for that.
But, it’s Janet! She gets the exception.
Though this single arrived over a decade after her breakthrough Control album, it’s where my journey as a fan began. I was in high school when The Velvet Rope was released, and the album meant so much to me. When it comes to pop music, I was a late bloomer. I really wasn’t interested until the very end of middle school. But once I got sucked in, all bets were off.
I consider Rhythm Nation 1814 my favorite album of all-time, but if you asked me to vote purely with my heart, The Velvet Rope would probably eke it out. I so admire its vulnerability and intimacy, the depth of its thought and breadth of its style. K-pop fans, you’d find A LOT to love here (especially you SM fans!).
Mega-hit Together Again is easily the album’s most pop-oriented moment, bounding along a gorgeous melody and gentle house beat. I throw around the word “euphoric” a lot, but this is pretty much the definition of pop music euphoria. It’s uplifting and pure, seemingly spawned from an otherworldly presence. Given its subject matter (an ode to friends stolen by the AIDs crisis), this sense of spiritual intervention seems almost a foregone conclusion.
Whatever the case, this is gorgeous songcraft – and it absolutely goes off at concerts. Janet’s sweet tone puts the listener at ease through an extended introduction, heralded by harp-like arpeggios before the beat kicks in. Do yourself a favor and listen to the album version. The groove really gets a chance to breathe before bursting into the opening verse.
As Together Again surges and crests, Janet’s trademark harmonies buttress the track with a satisfying sense of depth and texture. She’s never gotten enough credit for her skill as a vocalist. She’s not a powerhouse, but I’d take those lush harmonies any day. Just listen to how they build toward this song’s climax. It’s just blissful. Together Again could have easily become a morose, grief-stricken affair. Instead, it’s reassuring and celebratory. It’s the mood-lifter of all mood-lifters, and had me scrambling to catch up with the rest of her discography back in 1997.