Tag Archives: Janet Jackson

Janet Jackson: The First Millennial

If you’re going by much of the press regarding the Millennial generation, it’s easy to think that all of us are lazy, overly opinionated, and self-involved.  Of course this is simply not the case… this generation is one of incredible knowledge and skills, and has unmatched command of the digital sphere.

But sadly, those skills have been hampered by some difficult times.  Unlike the Gen Xers and Baby Boomers before us, Millennials have come of age in an era of economic uncertainty.  Though we have much to contribute, many opportunities for advancement were put on the back burner in the wake of September 11th, and the Great Recession.  Lacking the access lanes of our older counterparts, Millennials instead have chosen a different path.  A generation of global citizens, we choose to not only focus on ourselves, but also spend much time tackling some of the world’s most difficult problems.

Long before the Millennials developed their sense of identity, many of these same traits showed up in one pivotal GenX artist.  Though born into a family of extraordinary fame and privilege, Janet Jackson was less apt to the headlines than others.  She may not have had access to cell phones, internet or social media, but she nonetheless grew up as an ultimate observer and seeker of knowledge, as her siblings provided the youngest Jackson a crash course on how to be famous and successful.  Inspiring as it was, this situation was also a challenge for Jackson, as she had to struggle with how to find her  voice in the long shadow of her family.  After a few unsuccessful attempts, Jackson finds her lane on the Control album, thanks in part to the talents of legendary producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.

The trio may have established a new lane with Control, but it was their next project which would catch the whole world’s attention and set an example for future generations.  Released on September 19th 1989, Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 departed from the safety of pop music’s typical subject matter, and put focus on some of the world’s toughest challenges (most of which still plague us today).  Even today, the lyrics from title track Rhythm Nation read as an anthem for the modern global citizen

With music by our side
To break the color lines
Let’s work together
To improve our way of life
Join voices in protest
To social injustice
A generation full of courage
Come forth with me
People of the world today
Are we looking for a better way of life
We are a part of the rhythm nation
People of the world unite
Strength in numbers we can get it right
One time
We are a part of the rhythm nation
This is the test
No struggle no progress
Lend a hand to help
Your brother do his best
Things are getting worse
We have to make them better
It’s time to give a damn
Let’s work together

Interestingly enough, even as Jackson longed for equality over the song’s infectious beat, she was also keenly aware of how unequal the world was, especially for Black communities.  From the ‘RN’ album cover, to the videos to its overall theme, Jackson wanted to provide a positive image for Black America to combat the negativity being constantly thrown their way.  Here’s Ms. Jackson’s quote on the subject.

The color black has become increasingly important to me. It hurts my heart to watch the television special ‘Black in White America,’ when the Black girl picked the white doll over the Black. That’s why I decided the color scheme for Rhythm Nation – the costumes, the cover art, the overall feeling – would be positively, uncompromisingly Black.

In the Millennial generation, these same sentiments have led to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Forth from it’s title track, ‘RN’ continues to heed the call for social change.  State of the World tells stories of homelessness and prostitution (concepts too easy to ignore in pop music), while The Knowledge gives listeners the one key to improving these tough circumstances which can’t be taken away.  After watching news coverage of an horrific murder of school children, Janet Jackson felt compelled to write the ballad Livin’ In A World (They Didn’t Make) to speak out against gun violence.

Once the business is handled, Jackson, Jam and Lewis also know how to have some fun, and talk about love.  Like any Millennial of today, Janet shows in the rest of ‘RN’ that she’s much more complex than commander of social change.  Fun romps like Miss You Much,  Escapade and soothing ballads like Lonely bring this album back to an intimate connection.  An interesting oddity that the latter ballad seems a near perfect fit for the typical Millennial love struggle

As we all know, Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 was a huge success… a Grammy Award winner, the best selling album of 1990, 4 Number 1 hits across 3 calendar years, and a record-setting 7 top 5 singles.  But even a full 27 years since its debut, this work continues to resonate where many others have fallen away.  From the timeless beats and instrumentation to the important message, ‘RN’ has proven an important voice across four decades and two centuries.  That’s no small feat in the fickle world of pop music.  As Millennials continue their journey to prominence, they will find much to discover in the work of Ms. Jackson.

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Music Musings: President Obama’s Summer Playlist

Even those with the toughest jobs need some regular ways to unwind and escape.  That includes the nation’s best known elected official.

In the midst of what is surely a much needed summer vacation, President Obama has given the people a quick ear into some of his current favorite sounds.  The 2016 Summer Playlist dropped via his @POTUS Twitter account.

Here’s more from Rolling Stone

President Barack Obama has shared his 2016 summer playlist, which boasts a wide array of artists from Jay Z, D’Angelo and Nina Simone to the Beach Boys, Courtney Barnett and Caetano Veloso.

Like last year, Obama organized his tracks into two collections — songs for daytime and nighttime — and both are available to stream on Spotify.

From Wale and Charles Mingus in the Daytime, to Ledisi and THE Janet Jackson in the Nighttime, the President’s Jams are definitely legit.  Peep the full list directly from the White House.

Summer Playlist

So will you be giving the Summer Playlist a spin?  If so, share your thoughts in the comments.

Floetry says it best… all you gotta do is Say Yes.

 

Music Musings: ‘Unbreakable’ Janet Jackson

Janet Jackson is back.

It’s a statement that can still seem more fiction than fact.  Even for someone that finally experienced the star in live format earlier this week via the Unbreakable Tour, I watched in disbelief as Miss Jackson defied conventional wisdom by sailing through her massive string of hits while executing dance moves far better than her younger imitators.  Indeed for those brave enough to go see the pop star this year, the Unbreakable tour is likely to exceed expectations of the most discriminating fans.

That’s the tour, and  today we get to hear what she’s working so hard to promote.  After a summer of rumors and anticipation, Unbreakable has arrived.  I don’t know if I can call this a review, but maybe some informed observations from a good fan?  A ‘first view’?  Well whatever you want to call it, here are my thoughts after spending Day One with Unbreakable.

2015 finds a Janet with ‘lots to talk about’, and most notably going to some places that we didn’t expect from her previous catalog. After a career spent trying to establish her own sound in contrast to others of the surname, finally we see Jackson lean in, even embrace the legendary influence of her brothers.  The album’s title track, Dream Maker/ Euphoria and closer Gon’ B Alright find the songstress  delivering vocal stylings inspired by The Jackson 5.  As Jimmy Jam stated in an interview with the BBC, vocals on the latter may leave listeners wondering if Janet herself is singing all parts on the track. Much to our surprise, everything is her.  Dream Maker/ Euphoria is a soul-tastic fantasy world where sweeping Motown-esque samples  at the opening exuviate into Janet’s sultry vocal over a crucial bass.  It’s a resplendent journey for sure.

Another highlight is BURN IT UP!- an infectious club thumper built on beautiful and mysterious arabic dance music. The culture clash definitely doesn’t seem by accident, as Jackson has already offered a deep appreciation to the traditions of her current home country.  The end result shows that the legendary pop team knows how to get the world moving no matter what hemisphere they’re in.

After a fun club tune, Dammn Baby offers another romp into “current” pop trends– well kind of.  As Jam, Lewis and Jackson are well aware, so much of today’s musical sound is rooted firmly in elements first heard in the 80s— heavy synth over intricate rhythmic and colorful instrumental texture.  As a result, it’s kind of unfair to claim these musical legends as imitators.  But inspired by the sounds of radio today, they recognize that the pendulum has swung “forward” in their favor.  Oh, they’re able to speak the 2015 language much better than several of their “younger” counterparts.  Let’s hope this song gets some love from the radio spotlight.

On Shoulda Known Better, Jackson explores themes of her socially-conscious past.  It’s a conversation between the 23-year old Rhythm Nation superstar and her more experienced self in 2015, realizing that the only way we can hope to achieve a better world is by first coming together and seeing our common humanity.

It’s never the critic that counts
Cause critics only wanna talk
While enlightened minds and open hearts
Together make this world a better place

[…]

I had this great epiphany
And rhythm nation was the dream
I guess next time I’ll know better

Other highlights include the EDM/Minneapolis/ jazz piano collaboration on Night, the quiet storm classic and current RnB chart-topper No Sleeep and a poignant tribute to brother Michael in Broken Hearts Heal.  In the latter, Jackson shares the album’s most deeply personal lyrics, wrapped in a light, breezy aura of faithful optimism. And yes, your ears are not deceiving you– a quote to Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough aerates through the track.

There’s a lot more to discover in this quality body of work.  At this stage in their careers, Jackson, Jam and Lewis have every right to sit back, reminisce and be proud of their historic accomplishments.  But perhaps the greatest beauty of Unbreakable is that it serves as a reminder of how special artistic expression is to the human experience.  As critical as the air we breathe, the need of all people have to communicate, connect, converse and feel never subsides.  A goal that is definitely achieved in this album.

So those are my impressions, but check out what the actual music critics are saying too.  Here’s Complex Music UK, Vulture and The Atlantic to get started.  Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.

 

Janet

Photo Credit:  YuTsai

 

And BTW…

2015 marks the 33rd year since Janet Jackson became a solo artist. Check out the 16-year old Janet performing her first ever single, the aptly-titled Young Love on Soul Train.

 

UPDATE  October 12th 2015:

Unbreakable is officially a hit!!  Janet Jackson’s new album makes a Number 1 debut on the Billboard charts.  With the impressive seventh album to reach the top, Jackson now earns the historic distinction of holding number 1 albums across 4 decades– the 1980s, 1990s, 2000s and 2010s.

As Ms. Jackson might say herself, it’s fait accompli.  Congratulations Janet!!

Janet Jackson2