Dw. Dunphy On… Fixing Janet

discDepending on who you ask, Janet Jackson may not actually be in need of fixing. Her latest album, Discipline, is a hit and so is the first single, “Feedback.” Things should be pretty good in Nasty-land, but a quick peek under the numbers reveals a different story. Although the album debuted at #1, Discipline is actually not selling as many copies as her previous releases. It’s a case of new math and relativism: 20 Y.O. and Damita Jo sold more, but did so in a more robust music sales market and could only eke out the #2 spot on Billboard. Discipline looks strong only because the market is so very weak.

damiThe album also continues a disturbing trend with Miss Jackson where a real spark of excitement, inspiration or fun is replaced by a demented sexuality feeding off of shock. She may attempt to project empowerment, but all she seems to reveal is that she can’t be anything in her creative world other than some contented plaything or, even worse, a little kid that likes to shout out the dirtiest words she knows because it makes the adults in the room quake. It was that perverse acting-out that ruined The Velvet Rope. The fans rejected it and she attempted some poppier fare afterward. Seems that she’s treading into old, shallow waters once again. The digital workout of famed producer Jermaine Dupri can’t save her from the same old schtick.

manbraWe know she has a story to tell. Up to now, she’s only hinted at it through her rebellious nature. Whenever she feels threatened or cries out for attention, she whips out the boobs. The first time was the famed Rolling Stone cover, a tie-in to her janet. album. The “man hands bra” image made her, for the first time in her career, a full-on sex symbol, and it’s been one strip tease after another since then. Preceding each album’s release is a pictorial of some sort to show off her latest slim-down. “Doesn’t Janet look hot? What does her new album sound like? Who cares!” Even the notorious wardrobe malfunction speaks to her psychological tether between sexuality and control, and before anyone once again raises the white flag of “accidents will happen” don’t forget that the woman was wearing silver nipple jewelry underneath. You don’t wear adornment unless you plan to lose whatever is covering them. Seriously, I never waste perfectly good pasties if I don’t intend to drop the bombs, but oh no, I’ve said too much.jt

The Jackson family has a twisted and turbulent passage, from “Wacko Jacko” to LaToya (who cut straight to the chase and posed long before she ever attempted relevance), from familial abuse to certain members who try to maintain the veneer of respectability and, in turn, shoot themselves in the proverbial foot. Only Murry Wilson and his talented and terrified progeny paint as tragic a picture. It’s not too late for Janet though, and if she really wanted it, she could use her history as inspiration rather than some psychic drain that manifests itself in baby-talk and bondage shots. Some points that come to mind are:

1. Get Real. She’s not a kid anymore. She’s not a young woman anymore, either. She’s 41 freaking years old. The statute of limitations are off and she can say anything she wants now, not just the spank talk she seems so stuck on. As someone who has seen the glamour, the glory and the rotten and reviled, she is in a position to comment on all of it in a powerful way if she chose to. If she truly wants to be taken seriously as an artist moving into her fourth decade, she has to finally grow up.

2. Get Original. What about Mariah Carey? Well, what about her? Is Janet trying to conjure an Emancipation Of Mimi sort of resurrection for herself, because that would be very easy to do — just steal from the Alicia Keys songbook too. “We Belong Together” is, in my mind and the minds of many a critic, a flagrant swipe from the Keys style, so if Mariah can do it, Janet can do it. But why do that when she has the ability to go in a completely original direction? Control and Rhythm Nation 1814 both benefited from the late ’80s New Jack movement, but has anyone really tried that sound out for the 2000s, perhaps laced with a little electronica for color? Or maybe she actually could pull off a mature, sincere ballad without schmaltzy instrumentation and brother Michael’s well-timed choke-up (“She’s Out Of My Life” and “Again” are much too close for coincidences). Who’s to say no, since she hasn’t apparently tried it on for size.

3. Get Quincy. Sure, she’s romantically involved with Dupri, but Jackson needs to break out of this rut she’s digging herself in. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis are done to death. Danger Mouse is best left to his own devices and, honestly, Timbaland needs to take a long, long vacation away from mixing boards. If Janet really wants to channel those lost heights, she needs to hire Quincy Jones, or any producer who has more experience in them than Generation Ringtone. Most of all, she needs someone who is going to let her know when an idea is bad and not worth pursuing, someone whose opinion has gravity and will keep recording until it is right, not merely fix it in the ProTools mix.

It’s hard to see someone that you know has talent and resources squander them in a prolonged arrested development. Janet Jackson is such a figure and she has proved it on several occasions, both in talent and in missed opportunities. She just needs to actually step away from her facades and tell the story in plain, clear ways rather than constantly trying to appeal to the horny R&B machine. We may see that particular Janet one day, and I hope we do. If her output is to remain one long, lurid exercise in audio voyeurism, it would be little more than a sad, pointless fade-out.




  • JonCummings

    I have to admit that when you headlined this piece “Fixing Janet,” I thought/hoped you were talking about taking her to the vet. As femme-pop gets more and more whorish, I can think of a number of artists who could stand (metaphorically, at least) not to be in heat all the time.

  • Darren

    Poor Janet is the epitome of an artist with absolutely nothing to say, but an insatiable need to be famous and, thus, she says it anyway. Zzz.

  • http://www.bullz-eye.com DavidMedsker

    I know I'm showing my age when I say this, but I think Timbaland and his protege Danja Hills are the wildly overrated. How much fun do you think Mark Ronson would have producing Janet? That could be interesting.

  • :::theroux

    u wrote: –she is in a position to comment on all of it in a powerful way if she chose to–

    The coy, giggley, sex-kitten thing has long expired for Janet. But do we really want Janet-does-Iraq tunes, or Janet takes on the man tracks? She should stick to sampling Joni Mitchell, and not try to be her. Just sayin, no one looks to Janet for deep commentary. We go to her for a hot beat and slck dance moves, and she's still given 'em.

    –LaToya (who cut straight to the chase and posed long before she ever attempted relevance)–

    Actually, she broke out the bongos after a long drawn-out attempt at musical relevance. They tried to make her the pop sweetheart,”Heart Don't Lie” (yikes!), and then Full Force tried to turn her into Samantha Fox (“You're Gonna Get Rocked”) Heard it? It's scary. These ill-guided efforts failed miserably, (read: not relevant,) and then came the crotch spread.
    Janet got nekkid for that album cover *while* she was still highly relevant.

    Go ahead and bust on her for the Superbowl thing, that was pure desperation. And yeah, twas definitely planned. If your tit falls out by accident, instinct dictates that you promptly cover it with both hands. Janny just stood there, looking faux-shocked, with her hands on her hips, as if to say, “yeah, check out my hot Picasso cubist titty.”

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    Honestly, I'd probably feel no great sympathy for her if she did tackle Iraq or race relations, probably because I fear both topics would be reduced beyond sense. But she has lived a very strange life with ups and downs and everything in-between. Remember that she was a Jackson first, then a child TV star, then Miss Jackson afterward. Surely something there is worth a heartfelt examination (without stirrups and instruments, mind you).

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    Maybe Ronson would work. Though he falls into the electronica DJ subset, he understands classic R&B. Heck, look what he did for Amy Winehouse, and she's a friggin' zombie.

  • Elaine

    Thank you for saying the truth about her nudity at the Super Bowl. The only thing worse than the fact that it wouldn't go away in general was the way people glommed onto it politically. People declared it was all much ado about nothing other than 'puritannical' heartland evangelist kooks run amok. No. There *was* an element of that, but it went deeper. I'm not puritannical, heartland, evangelist, or a kook, and I thought it was disgusting. It was sad in many ways. One was the fact that kids watch the biggest sports event of the ear with their parents. It was also a bellwether moment for standards dropping even further, and for no good reason whatsoever. It's not like she flashed boobie for artistic sake. You know, like Chloe Sevigny's fellatio in the Brown Bunny movie. Now THAT was integral to the story. (eyeroll) You bring up that it was sad from a desperation standpoint. A very good (and cynical, on her part) point.

    Anyway. Here I am talking about it.. meaning it still hasn't gone away. I *am* part of the problem.

  • http://retro-remixes.blogspot.com deltablues2

    I love Janet and I think her recent career problems are actually quite simple. Her new material is simply not that good. She has a pleasant but thin voice that can't stand up to bad material. She was always smart enough before to have great songs that she performed with charisma. Now that the new stuff is so bad, her shortcomings are much too obvious.

    I agree with everything that was said in this article. Janet is talented and can do better than pretending to be one of these vacuous, no-talent young women in today's urban music. She needs better songs and better producers who can bring out the best in her again.

  • http://music.consumerhelpweb.com/blog Mike

    As someone who thinks “Velvet Rope” was Janet's most daring (if not her best) album, I would love for her to go back in that direction. The sex-kitten thing is getting old, and at this point, it's having the same potential results as Madonna would if she'd been regurgitating “Erotica” for the past sixteen years (although Janet's sort of average last four albums have been better than Madonna's crappy last three). The most upsetting thing about “Discipline” is that Janet, someone who's prided herself on writing the lyrics for all of her songs over the past 20 years, did not write one single word on this album. That's definite creative regression, and it also has a ring of desperation to it, like Janet's (in a musical sense, obviously) whoring herself out for a hit.

    Comparing “We Belong Together” to Alicia Keys is way off-base, in my opinion. Actually, if you listen to Lil Jon's “Lovers & Friends” (which came out about six months before “Emancipation”), you'll notice that the songs are damn near identical. Basically, Mariah just wrote new lyrics to Lil Jon's backing track. Kids recognized the similarities and turned it into a hit, then the folks who'd been ignoring Mariah for the previous 3-4 years said “hey there, Mariah's back!” and turned the song from a hit into a smash.

    Janet's worked with Timbaland before on several remixes, and I don't think she'd want any sort of close association with him for as long as Timberlake's his right hand man (when the three do collaborate, that's when you KNOW she's gotten really desperate). More than she needs a hit, she needs to prove that she's artistically viable again. No one has more simpatico with her than Jam & Lewis, so if I were her, I'd give Jimmy & Terry a call again. Besides, Quincy's retired. He hasn't produced an album other than his own in 20 years.

  • bnyc

    Janet needs to accept the fact that people don't want to hear about her getting her ass beat by her “daddy” and fingering her clit until it falls off. That shit is tired. In this day and age, who does it titillate? Who does it shock?

    You roll your eyes, is what you do.

    I hope the intention behind her latest blah album was to get all that shit out of her system, for good. She needs to make a great dance/pop album but in this American Idol age, I'm not sure that will even work for her anymore.

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    For The Quincy Jones thing, I can't imagine something more exciting than the possibility of pulling him out of retirement and making it happen. If the incentive was there (emotional, creative and financial) it could happen.

    I think one of the reasons she wouldn't go back to Lewis & Jam is that it bears the impression that they are responsible for her best work, that it is more them than her, and perhaps that's fueling this kind of estrangement. I don't think it would be all that great if she did go back to them, for all the obvious and possibly superficial reasons.

    And I never heard “Lovers & Friends” but when I heard “We Belong Together” I kept flashing back to Keys' “Diary”. Now, as negative as it was to say that Mariah was cribbing Alicia, it says much more negative things that she was cribbing Lil Jon. What's next? The M-Pain?

  • http://www.popdose.com 1Py_Korry1

    “[T]he notorious wardrobe malfunction speaks to her psychological tether between sexuality and control.”

    After reading what you wrote, I looked at the video of Janet and JT and it looks like a poorly executed marketing ploy — where neither sexuality or control where present.

  • http://www.popdose.com 1Py_Korry1

    “[T]he notorious wardrobe malfunction speaks to her psychological tether between sexuality and control.”

    After reading what you wrote, I looked at the video of Janet and JT and it looks like a poorly executed marketing ploy — where neither sexuality or control where present.

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    For The Quincy Jones thing, I can't imagine something more exciting than the possibility of pulling him out of retirement and making it happen. If the incentive was there (emotional, creative and financial) it could happen.

    I think one of the reasons she wouldn't go back to Lewis & Jam is that it bears the impression that they are responsible for her best work, that it is more them than her, and perhaps that's fueling this kind of estrangement. I don't think it would be all that great if she did go back to them, for all the obvious and possibly superficial reasons.

    And I never heard “Lovers & Friends” but when I heard “We Belong Together” I kept flashing back to Keys' “Diary”. Now, as negative as it was to say that Mariah was cribbing Alicia, it says much more negative things that she was cribbing Lil Jon. What's next? The M-Pain?

  • http://www.popdose.com 1Py_Korry1

    “[T]he notorious wardrobe malfunction speaks to her psychological tether between sexuality and control.”

    After reading what you wrote, I looked at the video of Janet and JT and it looks like a poorly executed marketing ploy — where neither sexuality or control where present.

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