Artist in Spotlight: Janet Jackson

Design of a Decade
Janet Jackson is one of the last few artists left today who was born out of the MTV Revolution. Back in the 1980s, the channel created a new musical archetype: the video diva. The video diva is a telegenic performer who visuals are as important (if not more) than her sound. Janet Jackson, the youngest of the famed Jacksons, benefited greatly from MTV. She ruled the music channel for a long time before the relationship soured after her unfortunate wardrobe malfunction during the Super Bowl XXXVIII half-time show. Before that ugly snaffoo, though, Jackson was a mighty titan. Her videos were expensive, elaborate productions that rivaled the kinds of work Bugsby Berekely produced in his hey day.

As a musician, Janet Jackson is harder to pin down. She’s a product of her collaborators, though she exerts a large amount of control and influence over her image or sound. Since 1986’s Control album, she’s had a hand in writing and/or producing her work, largely with former Time players Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. As a singer, she’s benefited from Jam & Lewis’ then-cutting edge productions, melding icy synths with funky beats, to create state-of-the-art urban dance-pop. Her lyrics contributed to her image as first a feisty and assertive young lady, then a socially-conscious disco diva, and finally to a sexy pop diva.

Her discography includes 11 studio albums, three compilations, two remix albums, and over 50 singles, 10 of which went number one. While she released meticulously-produced albums, she was primarily a singles artist, and her string of hits represented some of the best pop music of the 1980s and 1990s. Her longevity was also impressive, considering that she was competing with pop titans like Prince, Madonna, and her older brother Michael Jackson. Like the aforementioned icons, Jackson emerged from the 1980s, but seemed to have an easier time of adjusting to the 1990s. She retained her commercial dominance throughout the 1990s, slipping considerably since the 2000s, when the music industry as a whole began to go through changes. As a result of these shifts, big-budgeted superstars like Jackson were becoming increasingly irrelevant.

This past year, Jackson released her 11th studio album, Unbreakable, to critical acclaim. It also became her  seventh number one album. The album was warmly received by critics and fans after a string of releases that disappointed.

Alongside her career as a pop singer, Jackson also maintained a solid career as an actress. Though she’s far more famous for her music, Jackson’s entry into show business was as a child actress, first appearing with her famous family in 1976 in a variety show, The Jacksons. Though Michael Jackson was clearly the breakout, many took notice of Janet – particularly with her impressions (audiences liked her decent Mae West impression). Norman Lear saw The Jacksons and brought Jackson in to costar in the final two seasons of Good Times, as Penny, a child suffering from child abuse. After Good Times ended did a quick stint on A New Kind of Family (which featured a young Rob Lowe), before scoring a recurring role on the Gary Coleman sitcom Diff’rent Strokes. After Strokes, Jackson joined the sprawling cast of the TV-version of Fame, and stayed on for a season before embarking on a music career.

Poetic Justice 27x40 Movie Poster (1993)

Her film career started with John Singleton’s 1993 project, Poetic Justice, his follow-up to Boyz in the Hood. Though Jackson and the film received mixed reviews, she scored an Oscar nomination for the film’s theme, “Again.” She didn’t appear in another project until 2000’s Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, in which she starred opposite Eddie Murphy. She was able to add another number one hit with the film’s theme. Afterwards she became Tyler Perry’s muse, starring in three of his works: Why Did I Get Married?Why Did Get Married Too?, and For Colored Girls. Again, her notices, while respectful, were mixed for the most part. As an actress, Jackson has yet to prove herself as something more than a competent dilettante.

Studio Albums:

Product DetailsJanet Jackson (1982) – produced by Rene Moore & Angela Winbush, Jackson’s debut showed little promise of what was to come later. Janet Jackson was essentially another entry in the growing litter of Jackson sibling solo albums, and though Jackson’s voice – thin and a bit unripe – was charming, the production was essentially a holdover of late 1970s disco. The album has a couple bright moments, most notably “Say You Do” a blatant rip-off of Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough” but a strong one with some fantastic bristling strings.

Product DetailsDream Street (1984)- released during her time with Fame (the title song was used on the show), Dream Street was a so-so collection of substandard dance-pop. There are hints of what direction she was destined for, particularly with the smeary “Pretty Boy” and the sexy “Fast Girls” two of the record’s strongest songs, produced by Prince guitarist Jesse Johnson. The success of those two songs show that Jackson was really meant to be a Prince protegee a la Vanity or Sheila E., instead of a safe, middling teen pop star.

Product DetailsControl (1986) – easily Jackson’s best album and a mid-80s masterpiece, though it’s as much a triumph for its producers, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. The album featured the duo’s patented metallic-funk – a fantastic amalgamation of funk, pop, dance, soul, and rock. Aside from the excellent production, what sets Control apart from Jackson’s first two albums is that she has a hand in writing and producing the record, allowing for her personality to shine through. The album boasts six top twenty singles, one of which went number one (as did the album). The singles were instant classics: the funky “Nasty” became an updated feminist anthem, as Jackson demanded respect from her suitor with the classic line: “No my first name ain’t baby, it’s Janet. Miss Jackson if you’re nasty!” The similar “What Have You Done for Me Lately” – a muscular, thumbing number has Jackson castigate her layabout lover for not satisfying her. Gone were the pop thrushes who worked overtime to please their man. Jackson stepped in with a handful of pop singles that pushed forward a palpable pop feminism that was at once mainstream and commercial, but at the same time important and subversive.

The dance-heavy album finishes with two ballads – the abstinence-celebrating “Let’s Wait Awhile” and its immediate opposite “Funny How Time Flies” (which ends with Jackson’s orgasmic moans and mutterings in French). The record’s boffo success – it sold over 5 million copies – stunned the music industry, which was only too happy to write off the performer as merely riding the coattails of her famous siblings. She topped off her banner year with an incredible performance at the 1987 Grammys that was received with an enthusiastic standing ovation.

Product DetailsJanet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 (1989)-Jackson ran into the same problem her brother did. After Thriller, Michael Jackson wrestled with coming up with a strong follow-up, and few felt that Bad lived up to the expectations. In the wake of Control‘s success, the pop charts were flooded by Jackson clones (including her former choreographer Paula Abdul), and her label was pushing for a Control sequel. Jackson was reportedly inspired by the news of school shootings and stories of the War on Drugs and worked with Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis on putting together Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814. Crammed with good intentions, the album feels like a let down after the roar of Control, but still contains some of Jackson’s best single moments. The album reeled off a record-setting seven top 5 pop hits, and spun off hit singles for three years. It also won Jackson her first Grammy for Best Long Form Music Video, and its tour became the most successful debut tour by a pop artist.

The album is seen as Jackson’s landmark album, and for most, the first album one needs to buy. I disagree. I think it’s a solid effort, but the socially-conscious lyrics let the music down. Some went as far as comparing the record to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, which is ridiculous. Jackson’s lyrics while well-intentioned, sound naive and unformed. On the title track – which uses a fantastic sample of Sly & The Family Stone’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” – is a near-perfect collage of industrial beats, clattering samples but Jackson’s chirping of a monochromatic utopia makes little sense – even worse, the video features Jackson and an army of dancers, all done up in pseudo-military gear. While an arresting image, it nonetheless doesn’t jive with the “peace and love” agenda in the lyrics. “State of the World” is a little better because Jackson isn’t singing in general platitudes but is directed her ire at specific ills, namely homelessness. “The Knowledge” is probably the best of the political songs – a breakneck-paced dance song adorned by vocal and radio samples that is convincing in its message for education.

After a clatch of socially-conscious songs, Jackson lets loose her dance diva and it’s clear she’s far more comfortable leading folks on the dance floor than to the voting booths. “Miss You Much” is the greatest song that Prince should’ve recorded. The bright, clipped dance beats and tight percussion make this a classic for the clubs. The quick and breezy “Alright” is also good, as is “Love Will Never Do (Without You)” a midtempo number that has Jackson singing in a lower register (the song was reportedly planned as a duet with Prince). “Escapade” is one of the album’s dated moments, a thick sludge of synthesizers, keyboards, and drum machines that thunder through the speakers.

Product Detailsjanet. (1993)-by 1993 Janet Jackson was a bonafide superstar. She was no longer being compared with her brother, and drew far more comparisons with Madonna. Also by this time, Jackson’s place in the pop world was secure and untouchable, resulting in a record-breaking $32 million contract with Virgin Records (which Michael Jackson would dwarf soon after with a $65 million contract, which Janet Jackson would later best with a $80 million contract – these numbers look stupid today with albums barely selling 500,000 copies).

Despite her definite break from her family’s shadow, she still named her 1993 Virgin debut janet., leaving off her last name. It was an unnecessary move, but one that proved to be prescient when Michael Jackson’s career was struck by child molestation allegations. On janet., Jackson not only moved away from the looming shadow of Michael Jackson, but she shifted away from her image and sound. During most of Control and Rhythm Nation, Jackson was clad, nearly head-to-toe in black. She shocked fans and critics with the video for “Love Will Never Do (Without You)” by appearing in a pair of tight jeans and a cropped-top, cavorting with half-naked male models (the clip, directed by photographer Herb Ritts, was a clear rip-off of Madonna’s “Cherish” video, also directed by Ritts). janet. continued in Jackson’s interest in sexuality and music by introducing sexual lyrics and imagery. The album’s cover was a cropped version of her famous Rolling Stone cover that featured the singer topless with an anonymous pair of hands cupping her breasts. All of this could be dismissed as cheap publicity, but janet. is one of the singer’s most compelling albums, and is one of the best dance albums of the 1990s.

The first single “That’s the Way Love Goes” (which earned Jackson a Grammy), showed the music industry the kind of album and sound janet. had. Instead of featuring tight dance beats, the song was a gentle slow-jam. It has a slinky, swinging beat and owes far more to funk and jazz than dance. Jackson’s voice – never a distinct or powerful instrument – works its way like a slithery laser, purring the heady lyrics.

But fans of disco Janet needn’t have worried, because much of the album was highly-produced dance music. janet. also flirted with other genres including rock, rap, jazz, house, even opera. “If” was a fantastic dance number with guitar shredding throughout the song while “Throb” paid homage to gay house and disco.

Because Jackson wasn’t Whitney Houston, her ballads often suffered because they betrayed her massive vocal limitations, but on janet., she and Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis managed to create sensual ballads that showed off Jackson at her best. “Any Time, Any Place” is a darkly erotic song that Jackson sells with a dreamy, sinewy performance, while “Again” is a tear-stained piano ballad that benefits greatly from Jackson’s tremulous performance.

Like her the preceding two albums, janet. unfurled a string of top ten hits and ultimately sold over 20 million copies, becoming Jackson’s best-selling work. It was released during the seeming peak of the recording industry. It is a large, expensive record that encapsulates 1993 in pop music. Just as the grunge era was going to emerge, largely thumbing its nose at these kinds of pop colossi, janet. has become an artifact of a time in the music industry when artists whose names weren’t Adele were selling 20 million records.

Product DetailsThe Velvet Rope (1997)-After the smashing success of janet., Jackson’s imperceptible decline started to take place in 1997 with The Velvet Rope. Though it debuted in the top position on the pop charts, it sold a fraction of what janet. sold. The six singles spun off from the album weren’t the immediate hits, and “only” two were top five smashes. Still, after janet., Jackson seemed to have little to prove. The Velvet Rope is an underrated near-masterpiece that has some of the singer’s most interesting and strangest music. Battling depression, Jackson took pen to paper to illustrate her pain and anguish, and in the interim, she made some beautiful music.

Like janet., The Velvet Rope is a sprawling work that reaches to different genres. Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis try out different textures and sounds – electronic bleeps, guitar screeches, feedback scratches, looping synths, funky bass or guitar licks. The lyrics explore Jackson’s personal demons as well as thoughtful musings of society around her. She writes of homophobia, AIDS, and domestic violence and is far more convincing here than in Rhythm Nation.

The album’s first single was the gorgeous “Got ’til It’s Gone,” which featured Q-Tip and Joni Mitchell and a sampling of Mitchell’s classic “Big Yellow Taxi.” The song is a minimalist funky song with nods toward alternative urban pop. Jackson’s vocals are minimal and ghost-like, and she offers a laid back performance, one that doesn’t rely on her stardom or charisma. It’s a strange and eccentric song and a bold move on Jackson’s part – instead of intrusively demanding space on her own record, she just sort of lets the beats work their magic as she croons delicately.

The title track is a loud harsh mess that examines privilege. Violinist Vanessa-Mae shreds some serious electro-violin, before a multi-tracked Jackson appears to start singing about exclusion. “What About” has a similar aesthetic as Jackson rages over crashing guitars at an abusive partner – it’s interesting to compare the pissed-off Jackson of “What About” to the offended Jackson of “What Have You Done for Me Lately.”

“Free Xone,” “Together Again,” and “Tonight’s the Night” is a trilogy that lends itself to Jackson’s identity as a queer icon and queer ally. “Free Xone” – a funy, rushed number that samples James Brown has Jackson singing about the equality of queer love, while “Tonight’s the Night” has the diva covering Rod Stewart, but choosing to make the ballad a lesbian love song. And “Together Again” has Jackson returning to the dance floor with a sterling tribute to her friends who’ve died of AIDS. Though “Throb” was a pretty queer song, these three songs upped Jackson’s alliance with the queer community. And in 1997, it wasn’t as common for pop singers to embrace their queer fans – this was years before It Gets Better, marriage equality, Caitlyn Jenner. In fact, only a year earlier, DOMA was signed. This wasn’t a great time to be queer.

With janet., Janet Jackson became an international superstar. With The Velvet Rope, Jackson became a well-respected artist.

Product DetailsAll for You (2001) – After the dark angst of The Velvet Rope, Janet Jackson returned to bright, sunny pop music with All for You. Unlike janet. or The Velvet RopeAll for You would not be an ambitious effort, nor would Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis try to be innovative or cutting-edge. Instead, the trio put out a competent, enjoyable album with a great batch of singles, some good b-sides, and some filler. All for You has also the ignominious distinction of featuring Jackson’s last US top 10 hit (to date).

The album’s first single, the title track, was a monster hit for Jackson. It stayed at number one for seven weeks, winning the singer another Grammy. It’s a fantastic song. A frothy, gurgling dance-pop confection that harks back, affectionately to Jackson’s 80s years. Jackson’s voice is multiplied and multi-layered so it sounds like there are a hundred Janet Jacksons chirping merrily the inane and flirty lyrics.

Though Jackson was coming off a rancorous divorce, little of the album reflects that. It’s mostly bright, sunny pop. While engaging, it feels like a bit of a let down, given just how far Jackson pushed herself with janet. or The Velvet RopeAll for You features some solid work, but little of it would rank as her best work. “Someone to Call My Lover” (her last top 10 hit) is upbeat, though a bit anodyne (though it makes great use of the folksy guitar hook of America’s “Ventura Highway.” Better is “Come On Get Up” – a thumpy house number with some fun tribal drums.

The nadir of the album is a bizarre reworking of Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain,” entitled “Son of a Gun (I Betcha Think This Song Is About You)” which like “Got ’til It’s Gone” samples heavily from a legendary singer-songwriter’s iconic hit. But Joni Mitchell’s contribution to “Got ’til It’s Gone” was tasteful and interesting – Carly Simon’s awkward guesting amounts to one of the most ridiculous white-lady raps I’ve ever heard (she made Madonna sound like Tupac). Jackson’s vindictive lyrics and heated murmurs toward a cheating lover are okay, but Carly Simon shouldn’t have been allowed anywhere near this song.

Product DetailsDamita Jo (2004)- Damita Jo is a strange entry in Jackson’s catalog. It was overshadowed by Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction, and hobbled by a radio and MTV ban which doomed its sales and media presence. It was her first album since Dream Street not to reach the number one (though its first week sales were strong), and it was her first album since Dream Street not to have a top 10 hit single. A shame, really because while not a classic, Damita Jo is a good album – more interesting than All for You, though it tries to attain the light, upbeat mood of All for You. It’s still a bit of a mystery why Damita Jo didn’t live up to its potential, but it came and went without much noise, and was the first slip that would turn into a steep decline in Jackson’s commercial fortunes.

Too bad. Damita Jo has some good moments. “All Nite (Don’t Stop)” is a great club banger – one of Jackson’s best, really (it uses a fantastic sample of Herbie Hancock’s “Hang Up Your Hang Ups”). And “R&B Junkie” is a great dance song that pays tribute to urban dance crazes. “Sexhibition” despite its awful title, is also a solid slice of stylish dance music. Two of the album’s singles, the waltz-like Kanye West song “I Want You” and the guitar-pop of “Just a Little While” are strong songs that would comfortably rank alongside some of Jackson’s more classic moments.

Product Details20 Y.O. (2006)- After the failure of Damita Jo, Jackson tried to regroup, releasing 20 Y.O., a misleading release that supposedly paid tribute to her career, and marked the 20th anniversary of the release of Control (1986). That promotional gimmick was a mistake because 20 Y.O. pales in comparison with Control. Little of the album is worth mentioning, and it’s the first of Jackson’s post-Control albums that doesn’t have a memorable tune. “Call on Me” was the album’s most successful single, a rap duet with Nelly, that manages to stand out as does “So Excited” which has Jackson turn to Herbie Hancock again, this time sampling “Rock It.”

Like Damita Jo20 Y.O. was met with relative indifference, and failed to hit the number one position. None of its singles met with much success, either. This is probably the least essential of Jackson’s post-Control albums. It isn’t that the album’s terrible – it’s just boring, bland and nondescript.

Product DetailsDiscipline (2008) – After 20 Y.O.‘s release, Jackson’s contract with Virgin Records ended and Jackson signed with Island. Along with a new label, Jackson also decided to work without the steadying hands of her longtime collaborators, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. Jackson’s partner at the time, Jermaine Dupri took on executive producing duties, and Jackson hooked up with some top shelf dance and urban-pop producers including Rodney Jerkins, Ne-Yo, StarGate, and Tricky Stewart. The resulting album was marginally better than 20 Y.O., and it signaled a hopeful direction in Jackson’s sound, as she experimented with electropop. She also muscled out a top 20 hit (her first in years) with the album’s lead single “Feedback.” At this point in her career, Jackson ossified into a self-parody and caricature of a once-vital and impressive recording artist. Once she was sexy and sensual, but now, the lasciviousness on her records were sounding boring and rote. Though Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis were missed, Jackson’s willingness to work with some out-of-left field artists like Daft Punk and Missy Elliott meant that Discipline wasn’t the ho-hum effort that 20 Y.O. was.

The leading single “Feedback” was reminiscent of “Rhythm Nation” in production. Clattering kettle drums and loopy scratches and samples and spacey techno flourishes made Jackson sound current and with it. The lyrics are stupid and again, unnecessarily smutty – but really, lyrics matter little when listening to a Janet Jackson club banger. Even better is the neo-disco of “Rock with U” which was actually a really good song. Criminally underrated, this thumbing house number was fantastic, and a welcomed tribute to her queer fans. It is exactly the kind of dance music that Jackson should have been doing: modern, interesting, and creative. “So Much Betta” was another crazy creative song. Heavily sampling Daft Punk’s “Daftendirekt” the song distorts, mutilates and reshapes Jackson’s vocals over a rubbery, stomping beat.

Despite these hopeful peaks, Discipline easily became Jackson’s worst-selling album of her post-Control years. After the failure of Discipline, she was released from Island, and Jackson was without a major label for the first time in her recording career. A world tour was shuttered due to illness, and her relationship with Jermaine Dupri ended. Jackson would put her music career on a hiatus that would last seven years (with the exception of a couple one-off singles). In the mean time, she resurrected her acting, married a billionaire and, most tragically, suffer the loss of her Brother Michael Jackson in 2009.

Product DetailsUnbreakable (2015) – Jackson’s latest album is a welcome return to form. Reunited with Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, the singer seems to have assessed what she did wrong in the past few years and made a concerted effort to avoid those missteps. One of which was toss up her lyrical content. She wasn’t preoccupied with outsexing her competition. Instead, she took the time she had away from the music industry, and used that experience to inform her music. The album is tight and far more economical, without the slushy interludes that bogged down her other efforts. There is a far higher ratio of hit-to-filler, and it feels as if Jackson was rejuvenated by her time off.

The title track, an anthematic R&B – joyfully retro number,  pays tribute to Jackson’s longtime fans.  “Burnitup!” is a fantastic dance song that reunited the singer with Missy Elliott, another music legend that has been gone for too long. The song is sounds like classic Janet Jackson, and Elliott shows that her hiatus hasn’t slowed down her rhyming skills. “Dammn Baby” is a wonderful slice of Minneapolis funk that recalls Jackson’s Control days. “The Great Forever” is a swinging number with a chugging beat and catchy hook. The album’s brightest spot is one of the most uncharacteristic numbers, “Gon’ B Alright,” a swirling, rollicking number that would do Sly & The Family Stone or James Brown proud. It’s a tight-fisted, rocking funk n roll number with Jackson belting in an appealing lower register.

As with janet., Jackson announced her return not with a flashy dance single, but with a drowsy ballad, “No Sleeep,” which wasn’t the best choice, as not only is the song bland but it’s a bad representation of Unbreakable, which has some of her most exciting music in years. And like “Dammn Baby” reminding listeners of Control, Jackson makes a reference to Rhythm Nation with the socially conscious EDM number “Shoulda Known Better,” in which she ruefully regrets her naivete.

Unbreakable debuted at number one on the pop charts, bringing her total of number one albums to seven. Sales have been sleepy, but it doesn’t seem like record sales matter anymore. No longer beholden to a ridiculous contract and a bloated label, Jackson’s much leaner now and more efficient. Though a superstar, she’s operating like an indie artist (well, as close to an indie artist as a superstar of her magnitude can be).


Product DetailsDesign of a Decade: 1986-1996 (1995)-Jackson’s first greatest-hits album credited Jackson with designing a decade, but because of label issues, only Control and Rhythm Nation are featured heavily, while janet. is represented by one song, the classic “That’s the Way Love Goes.” And no singles from Janet Jackson or Dream Street are featured. It’s an odd collection, but one that shows just how on-the-mark Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis were at their peak.

For new fans, Design has two new songs: “Runaway” and “Twenty Foreplay.” The former is a frothy pop song that mishmashes world music cliches and tropes, while Jackson trills about all of the places she’s seen. It’s a silly song with little-to-no substance, but is light and inoffensive. The latter is a long, languid ballad that starts of listless before ramping up into a funky midtempo soul song, featuring some of Jackson’s most forceful and soulful singing. The two new songs are well-produced and solid tracks – both done at a time when Jackson, Jam & Lewis were at their creative heights, so it’s a tribute to their prowess that neither feels like a throwaway track, and each feels like a legitimate hit.

Product DetailsNumber Ones (2009)-Number Ones is a far better, more comprehensive hits package that not only contains all of her singles from Control to Discipline, but it also has some duets that have not appeared on a Janet Jackson album. And it also boasts a killer new track “Make Me” a wonderful disco song that pays lovely homage and tribute to the late Michael Jackson. As with Design of a Decade, Jackson is still pretending that Janet Jackson and Dream Street never happened.

But so what? Number Ones is worth getting for the rarer duets like her breezy uptempo pop hit “The Best Things in Life Are Free” from the Mo’ Money soundtrack. She shares singing duties with soul great Luther Vandross on the New Jack Swing tune (which also features Bell Bid DeVoe and Ralph Tresvant). It’s interesting hearing Vandross smushed into a genre for which he’s not a natural (still he sounds glorious), and the song is cheery and breezy.

Another, more interesting, entry is “Diamonds” recording during Jackson’s Control time, when fellow A&M artist (and label founder) Herb Alpert turned to urban-pop for chart success. “Diamonds” written and produced by Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis sounds like an outtake from Control. Alpert’s famed saxophone is trumpet, but it acts more like a Janet Jackson record than anything. Though the song was a huge hit at the time, peaking in the top 5, it’s somewhat of curio in Jackson’s discography and unavailable on any Janet Jackson album (though folks should pick up Alpert’s credible bid for crossover success Keep Your Eye on Me, which also features “Making Love in the Rain” a slow-jam that features Jackson on vocals).

“Scream” Janet Jackson’s much-anticipated duet with brother Michael is also included. I have always had mixed feelings about this song. It’s clearly Michael’s song and he dominates it (though it is produced by Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, and not one of Michael’s collaborators); his vocals are prominent while Janet’s feel mixed low and obscured by production. The song itself is clashing and loud dance-rock with some elements of pop and soul. By the mid 1990s, Michael Jackson’s work had devolved into creepy, paranoid screeds against the media. He felt persecuted and the feelings of self-pity bled into his music, so that a lot of what he did post-Bad was unlistenable. There is some of that with “Scream” but it’s lightened up considerably by the influence of Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, as well as Janet, all of whom manage to ameliorate some of Michael’s woe-is-I ways. It’s not Janet Jackson’s finest or definitive moment, and it feels like a bit of let down, considering the talent involved, but it’s an important song nonetheless.

The brightest song in the package is “Make Me,” a tremendous disco song. Harking back to classic Janet Jackson the song features fine, tight percussion and a clipped speed that recalls some of her greatest dance music of the 1980s and 1990s. It also feels like a sweet tribute to her late brother (she recalls his hit “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” throughout the song). Like with the high points of Discipline, “Make Me” is the kind of music that Jackson should be concentrated on.




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