There is the serious artist Janet, The Sociopolitical Janet, the Sensual Janet, the Silly Janet. Today's dance rehearsal on a Santa Monica, Calif., soundstage brings out the Silly Janet. Today, she's begun to prepare her live show, soon to be seen in countries large and small throughout the world. Her friend and choreographer Tina Landon is in charge, and Janet, along with the other seven dancers, turns into a conscientious student dead set on mastering the meticulous routines. She seems happy being just one of the Kids, giggling at a miscue, going along with jokes about her shapely backside, kidding her partners about their love lives. In black sweatpants, baggy Mickey Mouse T-shirt and baseball cap with Funky Essentials scrawled across the crown, she looks 17, not 27.
At lunch break, the Kids run off, leaving Janet and me alone, seated on facing folding chairs in the middle of the enormous parquet floor. She's still in a breezy mood, reminding me of the last song on janet., a postcoital, almost preadolescent moment that doesn't come until the album is over and minutes of silence pass, the distance perhaps between the adult Janet and the little-girl Janet. The tune "Woops Now" – which appears as an unlisted footnote on the CD – is preceded by "Any Time, Any Place," a composition of daring sexuality, where making love on a public dance floor brings Janet's suite of desire to rapturous climax. But no. Following her after-the-dance dream, her final reverie is one of chastity, a return to the whimsy of childhood. This moment – the tension between the erotic and the innocent – seems the essence of Janet Jackson.
She considers my thesis before saying: "Let me describe one of the biggest musical influences of my life. It was Sly and the Family Stone's 'Hot Fun in the Summertime.' I was only 3 years old when that song had me jumping up and down. It made me so happy. On 'Woops Now,' I even say, 'I'm out in the sun having fun with my friends.' There's also the Turtles' 'Happy Together' and the Association's 'Windy' and Simon and Garfunkel's 'Feelin' Groovy.' Those are all precious moments to me. They're about just plain feeling good. Talking this way makes me want to skip out and go to the movies. Have you seen the new one about Tina Turner?"
Three hours later, Janet, her boyfriend, Rene Elizondo, and I are leaving a crowded Los Angeles theater. What's Love Got to Do With It has left a strong impression on Janet, turning her mood from carefree to thoughtful. At the back table of an art-deco-designed coffee shop, she orders mineral water. Inevitably, the question of family dynamics arises. She mentions sister LaToya.
"I've thought long and hard about what happened," says Janet. "LaToya was closer to my mother than anyone in the world, and yet my mother is the one she has hurt the most. When LaToya left the family, she was unhappy with her career. She was at a terribly vulnerable point in her life. She was taken advantage of. I'm convinced she was brainwashed. She was turned against the family and made to see us as enemies, when, in fact, we love her more than words can say. Right now, there's no contact. But I believe my sister will be back."
That night, with the TV news in the background, Janet balances a Powerbook on her lap, manipulating the mouse as she writes words that will be a song or poem. Suddenly she stops, looks up at the TV. An 8-year-old girl, singing a song about her friends in heaven, breaks down crying. The girl has AIDS. I glance over and see tears in Janet's eyes.
A week has passed. We've been looking at the beach, but we haven't actually touched it. The sun has set, and Janet's ready to get away from the ringing phones. We take off our shoes and head for the sand. She walks in spurts, stopping to talk, then starting out again. The surf is calm. Sandpipers dart about. In the distance, city lights are twinkling. The sky is streaked with shafts of soft light.
We talk about the little girl with AIDS. It turns out she's a Janet Jackson fan, and yesterday was her birthday. To surprise her, Janet flew to the girl's home in Las Vegas for the party. "The thing that impressed me most," says Janet, "was her writing. She made up songs on the spot. She sang them to me with incredible spirit and spontaneity. She was brilliant and made me think that children's intelligence – their artistic intelligence – is the most valuable and purest human resource.
"That's the intelligence I look for in myself. I don't always find it, but I know it's there. I'm talking about responding to the world emotionally, directly. Art that comes from the heart, not the head.
"The thing that excites me," Janet insists, "isn't becoming a bigger star but a better artist, deeper, truer to the things I find exciting. If right now, I find sex exciting, if I'm looking at physical love in a beautiful light, I put that in my art. If next year, I'm depressed or confused or angry, I hope to have the courage to express those feelings. I hope to be an honest artist – no more, no less."
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