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.
It’s regrettable not to touch on all of Janet’s albums for this week-long feature – particularly the breakthrough Control. But, Rhythm Nation 1814 simply has too many good songs to ignore. When it comes to genre, Janet’s music runs the gamut. R&B, dance, pop, quiet storm, new jack swing… the list goes on. But, I especially love it when she goes full-on rock. Most of her albums have a song in this style (What About, Trust A Try, etc), but the zenith of “rocker Janet” has to be Black Cat.
Unlike the rest of Rhythm Nation, Black Cat was written entirely by Jackson herself (with some production help from Jellybean Johnson). This has always floored me. Left to her own devices, this shy, soft-spoken woman delivers a rock behemoth that goes just as hard as any heavy metal band.
Black Cat’s big, ballsy sound allows Janet to cut loose. Gone are her sweet, harmonized vocals, replaced by a reservoir of pure, gutsy power. She just kills the performance. With a song like this, you’ve gotta drop your guard and go for it. Forgive the pun, but there ain’t no pussy-footing around, here.
The guitar-fueled instrumental eggs her on, equally ferocious in its attack. It’s weird to say this about an artist not usually synonymous with rock music, but Black Cat may just hold my favorite guitar riff ever. It has such presence and drama. And, it builds to an astonishing solo during the bridge. The real kicker – especially for those who dismiss Jackson as nothing more than a dancer – is that Janet herself pulled everything together. I’m going to end with a quote from a 1990 interview because I find her work ethic, creativity and skill so charming:
“We were finished with the entire album and I came up with a guitar riff, and ran up to Jimmy and Terry and told them, ‘Hey, we should do this.’ They said, ‘We have a deadline so we couldn’t possibly go onto another song.’ I told them, it’s ok, I’ll do it, just throw me in a studio and I’ll put everything together… I wrote the riff and the lyrics, and actually the whole thing.” (source)
This one (Black Cat) is a hard choice. Many K-Pop groups flirt with Rock n’ Roll, but few actually get it right; or even close to right. There’s a strong pull towards J-Rock, which is understandable, but western rock seems to much of a stretch. There are some decent Korean girl rock bands*, but I’m trying to form an association with a K-“Pop” band. If I was choosing a boy band, I’d have it easier, but let’s stick with the girls.
Obvious picks would be Dreamcatcher or Pink Fantasy, but both groups arc their rock edge towards J-Rock; not western. Some K-Pop GG have incorporated electric rock guitar into their pieces with great effect, but still.. ..not really rock. So, I’m going to go into “What if?” territory. Here is my list of K-Pop girl groups that I think could have pulled off this song if they would just try to fully embracing western rock.
Ref #1: Jessi “What Type of X”
Why?: Umm, have you listened to it? Duh! If she had just peeled back some of the dance element from this and steered more towards a rock direction, she would’ve nailed a great K-Rock song.
Ref #2: PIXY “Wings”
Why?: “Wings” was a very visceral release. If it has incorporated a gritty rock electric guitar element, it could’ve easily slipped into Rock n’ Roll territory.
Ref #3: Lee Hyori “Black”
Why?: It’s right there.. ..right on that edge. So close to being a really, really crispy rock morsel!
After thoughts. There are a few female K-Pop singers that I think would’ve been fantastic K-Rock singers. Right off the bat, Kim Boa and Kim Bohyung from SPICA would’ve been incredible. A few others are Seo In Young, JeA (BEG), Lee So-jung, Hyeji (4TEN), HA:TFELT (Ye-eun), and.. ..so on.
* Side Bar (from above):
Nylon Pink: cover of SNSD “Run Devil Run”:
Rockit Girl “Day By Day”:
After School’s E-young is an INCREDIBLE shredder:
A-Yeon is an extraordinary drummer:
Loved this series, it helped me better appreciate Janet!
Also, as a long-time MJ fan musically, I really felt some familial vibes from the image you put up top!
This is my favorite song from the Rhythm Nation 1814 album! Everything about this just feels so grand