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.
Love Will Never Do (Without You)
Not many albums spawn seven huge hits, and Rhythm Nation 1814’s multi-year run was so sprawling that it inadvertently kicked off a new album era within its own confines. Love Will Never Do (Without You) may not have been part of the 1993 Janet project, but its transformative imagery certainly offered a prelude.
This song, this song, this song. It’s the sort of pop perfection I just want to bottle up and enjoy every time I need a lift in mood. Initially pitched as a duet, it’s one of the few tracks I can remember where an artist essentially duets with themselves. Verse one is pitched at a lower octave, presumably with a male voice in mind. Verse two flips expectations by pulling up and taking advantage of the higher tone we’ve come to expect from Janet. In theory, this is a simple trick. But, you’ve got to have the right performer to pull it off. Janet nails the contrast, and the end result is very striking.
Of course, this isn’t the only element that makes Love Will Never Do pop. The percussion thuds with brute force, simplifying the rhythms of new jack swing but upping the intensity. The bassline is equally simple, and this focus makes it even more powerful. Then, that anthemic chorus rushes in with a welcome fullness. Janet’s lush vocals create instant harmony. It’s an absolute headrush of the highest order.
I’m linking both the iconic music video and the album version, and I encourage you to listen to the latter. Extended by over a minute, the second half of the track is given time to build toward an almost hymnal climax. The vocal ad-libs are diverse and dynamic, echoing the chanted repetition of the title. The instrumental returns to the dulcet tones of the introductory riff before the vocals slam back in. Janet’s ad-libs become integral to the celebratory rhythm. As always, the details are just as important as the song’s overall effect, and their presence allows Love Will Never Do to wrap its musical arms around you.