Review

Pop Legend Review: Janet Jackson – Rhythm Nation

Janet Jackson - Rhtyhm NationThis 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.


Rhythm Nation


rhythmnation

Early on in my Janet Jackson journey, I remember finding the album cover of Rhythm Nation 1814  a little unapproachable. Its stark, black-and-white photography gave it the air of an academic thesis rather than a pop album, and the huge track list (half of them interludes) was quite imposing. It’s now my favorite album of all-time, and those features I once found intimidating are some of its greatest strengths.

When writing about Together Again, I remarked on Janet’s incredible, underrated voice. My favorite singers tend to live inside the rhythm of a track, their performance adding to and fueling the groove. This is where Janet excels, and Rhythm Nation is an iconic example.

Forged from a sample of Sly and the Family Stone’s instantly-recognizable Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin), producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis build layers of industrial funk over the top to create an aggressive manifesto. Janet’s vocals join the brew, cut and spliced in service to the groove. She delivers an impassioned performance over the top, the pop leader of a dancefloor movement. Its dense sound still feels a singular moment. There’s nothing else quite like it.

It’s depressing how relevant this song and album remain today, but that’s also a testament to its universal nature. There are plenty of protest songs in pop music history, but not as many that appeal to our better angels in an attempt to unify. Janet’s vision of a Rhythm Nation — united by groove – feels incredibly potent and frustratingly elusive today. Meanwhile, that new-jack-swing-on-steroids beat keeps pumping, undeterred.

21 thoughts on “Pop Legend Review: Janet Jackson – Rhythm Nation

  1. DUDE! This is one of the best songs of all time honestly, I love that intense beat and those heavenly, rousing vocals. It feels both haunting and celebratory and I guess that fits the theme of the message to a tee. Everything here feels perfect, I’ve yet to dive into her discography but if I was solely judging by this song, I have to say that I am quite excited to go further.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Weirdly enough, I was doing that right now! Have already listened to “Love would never do”, and it sounds incredible! Most definitely am gonna finish listening to the album this week!

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        • I had to look up wikipedia because I don’t have instant recall for which song was on which album, but the Rhythm Nation album had 7 promoted singles which all reached the Top 5 on Billboard. The album sold 12 million copies. Its a monster of a fantastic album!

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Listen up kids, THIS is how to do an arena-filling anthem about something that really matters. WE are a part of the rhythm nation. Tonight! Janet’s in the house!

    Re-watching the video, it occurred to me how this is a fine early example of an army of backup dancers in sync, with that volume of people in unison adding to the meaning of the song. Before this, most backup dancers tended to be all jazz hands people on the street type. Think Lionel Richie “All Night Long” or even Janet’s own “When I think of you” from 1986. (I am sure Nick will review “When I think of you” later this week.)

    Kpop really owes a lot to Janet with this dance routine, every dark theme routine, BTS’s Fire, etc, it all comes from this concept right here. Even Beyonce’s Super Bowl performance of “Formation” owes a lot to this song and video.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. It’s really nice you’re doing pop legend reviews. Janet has recorded some great stuff and I often listen to her.

    My favorite singer will always be Whitney Houston. Live, she will always remain unmatched when she was in her prime. Her artistic genius was never captured as well on a cd, compared to her time stopping live performances. She brought soul and gospel to pop and her influence on R&B music can’t be compared to another artist.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I love Janet so much! Very biased as I was raised on her and Michael. My mother cast her musical influence on me far and wide, as I’m named Rhiannon after the Fleetwood Mac song and I also share her favorite vocalist of all time, which is the late Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, Audioslave, and Temple of the Dog. Pair him with my favorite kpop group of all time, SHINee, and you have quite a polar opposite pairing! I just think it’s interesting to talk about our favorite western and non-western artists, and why. Maybe a fun feature could be something like “if you like red velvet/tvxq/golden child/etc, then you’d love (insert artist here).” It doesn’t even have to be western artists since I know they aren’t the focus of this blog! I got a little off topic here, but my point is, I love Janet, I love Chris, and my aforementioned idea could be a pretty neat blog feature.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Love running into another music fan that mixes it up with many different genres and styles. From classical to punk rock to experimental, I can usually find something that will get the toes tapping. Certain genres deservedly take up a lot of the oxygen in the room (e.g., Rock, Disco/Dance, Pop, etc.), but even obscure styles can take you on a journey if you’re just willing to open your mind up.

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    • Hi, I love Fleetwood Mac as well and SHINee is also my favourite K-pop group. I don’t see it as having a polar opposite pairings though, but rather enjoying things in a wide spectrum, maybe? Oh, and Rhiannon is also one of my favourite songs from FM. Great choice, mum!

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    • I do that on my Twitter account often! I ask people to name their favourite artist or a song they enjoy a lot and I recommend a K-pop song in response to that! My account is deactivated now because I’m overworked but usually when I do that the response I get from people is great and I’ve got quite a lot of people into K-pop through these recs ^^

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  5. In continuation, the most obvious choice for K-Pop artist that could’ve pulled this off, I have to give a nod to a group that actually did; specifically, Nature’s dance cover from 2018:
    Ref (N:RN): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SWl-LMaFvx8

    However, if this cover did not exist, then I’d have to go with either After School “Bang!”:
    Ref (AS:B): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B_u5amB7cDs

    or Girl’s Day “Female President”:
    Ref (GD:FP): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v0f9ifrDSp8

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well that was a delightful rabbit hole of covers! I think the winner for me was “Walk Like An Egyptian” because I like how they emphasized the guitar in the instrumental, but “Rhythm Nation” is great too.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Honestly, all 5 of the covers from that pre-debut series were gold. Whomever thought up that little gem of marketing strategy definitely deserves a whole box of cigars and a raise.

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    • Oooh, I hadn’t heard that Girl’s Day song before and it’s great! “Bang” I did know already – it was one of the first tracks I listened to when I was brand new and mostly just listening to songs on “best of” lists.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I never connected that strongly with her earlier releases, but I can recognize excellence when I see it, and this is excellence. I’ve been finding the “Janet was done dirty” think-pieces too depressing to dwell on, but I’m glad that people are talking about it and examining what it says/said about being a famous black woman in this country.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. The album is legendary. One of the best albums of all time. Not a single bad song in my opinion and I was instantly hooked on the whole album, despite not fully comprehending certain songs’ messages & narrative at the time, including Rhythm Nation, since I was still in elementary school. I do remember trying to copy her dance, which obviously ended up failing miserably 🤣 But glad that I had the opportunity to watch her performed all of those iconic choreographies live.

    Listening again, now, I wish she made Rhythm Nation 1814 a concept album, like that of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. But then we wouldn’t have Miss You Much, Love Will Never Do (Without You), Alright, Escapade, Black Cat and Come Back To Me.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. that “we are a part of the rhythm nation” felt familiar for such a long time and now ive finally found the song, thanks so much nick

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