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.
1993’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.