Janet Jackson received the Billboard Music Icon Award this month, in recognition of her body of work.
She first caught my attention in 1989. I was fifteen then, and had become hungry for all kinds of music. I voraciously consumed albums as if there were no tomorrow. It felt like I bought a new album every other week, with the money I earned from doing my paper round, although in reality, I probably didn’t buy quite that many.
Previously, I hadn’t paid any attention to Janet Jackson; I knew who her brother was of course, and I was vaguely aware that her Control album existed and I had seen Control: the remixes in the bargain bin at Woolworths, but that was the extent of my knowledge of her.
Then, Miss You Much came out, I loved it, bought it, played it incessantly and eagerly anticipated the album Rhythm Nation 1814. I had never heard anything like it before; the pop funk, the industrial beats, the snippets of conversations between each song, the Jam and Lewis synths, the samples, the calls for social justice and the political messages within the songs themselves.
Then there were the visuals; black and white promo videos with slick choreography, and even a short film which seemed to try to cement Jackson as an artistic force. For me, the first two thirds of the album are the best; it kind of trails off into a wasteland of ballads after that, and I usually fast-forwarded everything after Escapade (yes, literally pressing the fast-forward button, this was the 1980s after all, and I was mostly listening to this on my walkman).
Rhythm Nation 1814 is one of the few albums that I have owned, at various times, in three different formats: the original tape that I bought, the vinyl picture disc that I won from a magazine, and then, later, the CD. The first four songs (Rhythm Nation, State of the World, The Knowledge, Miss You Much) are just perfect.
Janet Jackson does not have the strongest of voices; for me, her music is all about the beats and the grooves. Here’s a playlist of some of my favourites, from different stages in her career.
Parts of this post originally appeared on my blog here.