Blake Cale for NPR
Thirty-five years ago Janet Jackson released an album that changed the course of his career and pop music. Control took over radio, reinvented the playbook for black artists moving to pop, and ushered in a whole new sound for R&B. For more than a decade after, Jackson released hit after hit and # 1 album after # 1 album, alongside his production and writing partners Jimmy’s Jam and Terry lewis.
Jackson’s influence is still evident in all pop music: the way the stars choreograph their videos, their vocal intonations, their visual presentation, the very way they navigate stardom. But today, she is rarely seen at the level of her musical peers from the ’80s and’ 90s, such as Prince, Madonna and her brother Michael. And the moral uproar that followed her Super Bowl performance in 2004 showed all the ways popular culture can erase black women and their accomplishments. Now, as the company reconsiders how it has treated celebrities like Britney Spears, we reconsider Janet Jackson and her work – with help from Jam and Lewis themselves, as well as a music journalist. Danyel smith.
– Sam Sanders, host of It’s been a minute
How? ‘Or’ What Control arrived at
By the time she started working on her third album, Jackson was starting to forge her own path: she had called off her marriage to singer James DeBarge and traveled to Minneapolis to record with music producers James “Jimmy Jam” Harris III and Terry Lewis. At Control, Jam and Lewis wanted to write songs inspired by Jackson’s own experiences.
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Jimmy Jam: She had a beautiful voice, first of all. But what we thought was … when she was young she had all this attitude. She was like Miss Attitude. â¦ And so our thought was that if we could work with her, we could bring out a bit of that attitude.
Terry Lewis: There are a few words that describe her if I had to break her down: fearless, relentless, beautiful. Like a nice texture, and very in control.
Jam: She was ready to go out on her own. And the other piece of the puzzle was that she was really ready to sing. The first two albums she did, she did it among a lot of other things – and the idea of ââsinging wasn’t really her idea, it was more her father’s idea. … when we got to Control she was in a space where she really wanted to be an artist. When we showed him some of the Control words she said, well, wait a minute, that’s what we talked about.
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Lewis: A lot of people say Janet is not a great singer, but Janet is a great singer. To be a great singer, you don’t have to be the strongest singer. You just need to be in control of what you love to do. And for me, style trumps volume.
Jam: Those little things – the breath, the sighs, the laughter – those things that she always did, we just left in there. It was often a mistake. … For us, all the things that were outtakes were always the pieces that we always tried to make sure were there because that was her personality.
How? ‘Or’ What Control and Rhythm Nation makes Jackson an icon
Control has sold approximately 14 million copies and has been certified platinum five times. He spent over 90 weeks on the Billboard charts and won several Grammy nominations, including an album of the year nomination. Jackson’s next album, Rhythm Nation, was also a big success, and the tour sold out within minutes.
Jam: With Control, we said, we want our album to be that album that everyone blows up their house [our] district. … [But] we wanted the blackest, funkiest album we could make.
These albums ended up changing the sound of music because they changed the sound of the radio. … All the great pop music has come from Sweden at one point. You know you had Max Martin, you had everybody from Backstreet Boys to Britney Spears on all these records [made with Swedish songwriters and producers]. And they were all, to me, based on what Control and what Rhythm Nation was. And if you’ve spoken to them, they’ll tell you. I remember Max Martin – we went to the Songwriters Hall of Fame the same year he was – and he said, “Hey man, when we were making these records we were basically trying to do what you were doing.”
How Super Bowl XXXVIII ended Jackson’s career
After the so-called “wardrobe malfunction” during Jackson’s performance with Justin Timberlake at the 2004 Super Bowl halftime, the Federal Communications Commission fined CBS $ 550,000 for indecency. The clips have aired in the media over and over again, and TiVo has announced that it is the most replayed moment in the service’s history.
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Danyel Smith (music journalist and podcast host Black Girl Songbook): It was as if that piece of cloth that had been torn from her clothes was replaced by a big scarlet letter. â¦ It was like the world was saying, we’re done with you now, because of this.
It’s a similar thing to me of how we have to keep seeing black people being beaten up over and over again by the cops. Or see the child being shot by the police. â¦ It does two things – that, one, grinds it in your brain, but it can also be numbing, right? But in both cases it’s also like, why? Why is this violent moment shown to us over and over again?
Of course, the main question is, why did it hurt Janet’s reputation so much, without hurting Justin’s in the same way? … I really think it’s criminal to forget the impact Janet Jackson had on music. It’s bloody and it’s criminal.
[Think about] the days when people like Leontyne Price had to fight, you know, to be on stage in some of the best opera houses in the world. When Marian Anderson cannot sleep in hotels in cities where she performs in front of crowded halls of black and non-black audiences. When you think about how badly Motown had to fight to get black music played on pop stations, which again is the same battle as artists like Whitney Houston, Gladys Knight, Toni Braxton, the fights they still had to lead to get played on pop radio. â¦ And then we have to be in a situation where Janet is a victim on Super Bowl Sunday. … the takeaway is, wow, that hasn’t changed that much.
Chris Pizzello / Chris Pizzello / Invision / AP
Black-smith: I’ve interviewed Janet a number of times, and in one of our conversations she just acknowledged the fact that she sort of made herself up. Like, I think BeyoncÃ© would be the first person to say that without the influence of – yes, definitely Tina Turner, and I always want to add Donna Summer when I think of BeyoncÃ© – but if it wasn’t for a Janet Jackson. , especially with regards to singing and dancing at the same time … you know BeyoncÃ© pulls it all off.
A lot of us are saying if you want to understand, especially black women, and really just women – to understand what it was like to be in love, to blossom at 20, at 25. -ans – Janet takes us on all the rhythms. Janet sang about our life to us.
This episode was adapted for the web by Anjuli Sastry. It was produced and edited for release by Jinae West and Jordana Hochman. We had additional help from Liam McBain and Sam Yellowhorse Kesler. Thanks also to Kimberly Sullivan, Sarah Knight and Neil Tevault. You can follow us on Twitter at @NPRItsBeenAMin and email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.