Pop Legend Review: Janet Jackson – If

Janet Jackson - IfThis 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.


Janet Jackson - Janet1993’s Janet album represented a sexual awakening of Jackson’s sound, centered around themes of love, lust and sensuality. It’s an incredible work – as daring and diverse as anything she’s created. It’s also heavier on slow, slinky grooves than her 80’s material. This is no bad thing, as the sonic landscape perfectly matches her strengths as a vocalist.

If isn’t slow, but it’s damn slinky. In fact, it’s downright smutty. I say that as a compliment, because even during Janet’s most explicit tracks she’s always in control. After the gorgeous mid-tempo energy of lead single That’s The Way Love Goes, If comes roaring out of the gate with hurricane force. It’s a sharp, prickly monster of a dance track, perched upon heavy, distorted riffs. Electric guitar shreds across the verses, ornamenting a staccato delivery where Janet’s voice becomes the central groove. It’s that Rhythm Nation of hers in full effect, twisted and warped toward carnal pursuits.

Then, we hit If’s blazing dance break. For those who’ve seen it, it’s the dance break of all dance breaks. I can’t listen to this segment without the iconic choreography stomping through my brain. Percussion battles it out to give form to the chaotic guitar, driving home the single-minded intensity of the track. On the album, this song is immediately followed by the brilliantly bonkers This Time, where Janet joins forces with opera singer Kathleen Battle for a seven-minute epic. It’s too ambitious and wonderful not to add to this post.

7 thoughts on “Pop Legend Review: Janet Jackson – If

  1. Ah, so this one came out in college when my listening habits changed and no one had access to MTV, or a TV at all for that matter.

    However right across the street from the student union was a large multi-level Tower Records which featured large scale prints of That Picture in the windows, the picture with someone else holding her boobs. This was around the same time that Madonna’s Sex book was stacked high too, and on other buildings the GAP and Benetton had full wall sized closeups of people and more people. Every single pore was visible.

    In other words, those years were very much a personal expression in all its full glory kind of years. After all the racism and sexism and homophobia of the 80’s, especially with the AIDS crisis, the imagery in the arts shifted to an extreme no apologies era. The Cold War was over; the Berlin Wall had fallen. All the pretense and costumed illusions of the 80’s were dropped to a bare raw existentialism. Here I am, take me or leave me. This song and video fits right within that gestalt.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, but the 90s was when women started to put their bras back on. After the coke fueled craziness of the disco era with women in Halston tops shaking what their mommas gave them (sans undergarment support), they began to reel it in and embrace the 6 layers of goth and grunge look.


      • True, there was a vast disconnect between the styling of the grunge era and the visuals of non-grunge pop music. Flannel or skimpy halter top. More than Words or Baby Got Back.

        I myself wore the style known as “whatever is clean”.

        Also, yes, agree BoA, and Robyn.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. In continuation..

    No brainer with this one (“If”). Gotta go with the Beat of Angel, BoA. A lot of parallels with some of BoA’s best drops. In a lot of ways, BoA was the Korean version of Janet*.

    Reference #1 – BoA “Girls On Top” (2005)

    Reference #2 – BoA “Let Me” (2010)

    Reference #3 – BoA “The Shadow” (2012)

    * and also Robyn (let’s see if Nick is paying attention).


  3. Dude, Janet releases some killer music. “If” sounds like the exact type of song I want to hear nowadays, I love how it makes me feel two contrasting things. At one point, it’s sleek, slinky and smooth and at the other, It’s chaotic and crazy. I don’t think it quite tops Rhythm Nation for me, but it’s pretty damn close.

    Finally realized why you love her music so much!

    Liked by 2 people

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