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Janet Jackson: Free At Last

With her last album, Janet declared her independence from her famous family. Now, on ‘Rhythm Nation,’ she’s stepping out and dealing with the real world

Janet JacksonJanet Jackson

Janet Jackson, circa 1990.

Phil Dent/Redferns/Getty

EVEN BY CALIFORNIA’S PEERLESS STANDARD, the day is exquisite: sunny, impossibly clear, surprisingly warm for late November. Janet Jackson sits on a bench in a narrow park overlooking the ocean and the beach in Pacific Palisades, on the edge of Los Angeles. She’s out of the quasi-military regalia that constitutes what by now might be thought of as the Janet Jackson uniform and looking almost preppy in bluejeans, white sneakers with black stripes, a white Raiders cap, a ski sweater and a shirt with pictures of cartoon characters on it. Bugs Bunny and Woody Woodpecker peer over the collar of the sweater. Her large silver earrings, with African designs, catch the glint of the sun as she speaks.

Pedestrians stroll by, joggers jog, the occasional person or couple saunters along the shore. The appearance of a dog within fifty yards in any direction triggers heart-rending paroxysms of longing in Puffy, the charmingly good-natured – and evidently quite lonely – mixed-breed bitch Jackson brought along to the interview. Fondness for pets is, of course, a Jackson family trait, and Janet had phoned my hotel that morning to ask if it would be all right if one of her dogs came along with her. Puffy serves almost as a kind of security blanket, a benign companion that, by requiring Jackson’s care and attention, provides reassurance as she takes another step alone the road of independence.

Puffy’s function today is to help Jackson contend with her reluctance to deal with the press. She has not done any major interviews since her 1986 album Control – with its quintuple-platinum sales and string of hit singles – established her, at the age of twenty, as one of the most popular recording artists in the world. A preliminary meeting in Paris on the set of the video shoot for “Come Back to Me,” a luxurious ballad from Jackson’s latest album, Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814, had taken place a month earlier at Jackson’s request.

Like virtually everyone else in the public eye, Jackson doesn’t feel she’s been treated particularly well by the press, and she’s sensitive about the media’s portrayal of her brother Michael, to whom she is still extremely close. Also, after working so hard to break away from her family and build an independent identity, Janet isn’t especially inclined to enter situations over which she doesn’t have ultimate control. When she was first approached about doing this story, she requested the right to approve it before it was published – a request that was denied. Finally, you don’t grow up in the preeminent entertainment family in America without learning that maintaining an air of mystery about yourself is an acutely effective marketing technique.

In Paris, apart from some casual chatter on the set and the following day at lunch, Jackson was not interested in doing an interview. In fact, at the point of her departure for the airport, she still had not formally consented to do the story at all. Then I saw her and her boyfriend, Rene Elizondo, in the hotel lobby as they were leaving. Rene handed me a Rhythm Nation cap and a silver 1814 pin. Janet smiled and offered her hand. “I’ll see you in California at the end of the month,” she said.

While Control was Jackson’s personal statement that she had become her own woman, Rhythm Nation – with its reflections on racism, education, crime, homelessness and drugs – expresses Jackson’s effort to look beyond herself to the social world around her. “I wanted to make the album because there was an audience that wasn’t being reached, who really aren’t paying attention to what’s going on in the rest of the world,” she says. “I felt that I could reach that audience through the type of music that I do. I’m not the first person to do this – I know that. I know that I won’t be the last.

“I feel that most socially conscious artists – like Tracy Chapman, U2 – I love their music, but I feel their audience is already socially conscious. It’s like college kids, that whole thing. I feel that I could reach a different audience, let them know what’s going on and that you have to be a little bit wiser than you are and watch yourself.”

The audience Jackson is talking about is young blacks – a group that, despite her extraordinary crossover appeal (Rhythm Nation has already sold nearly 3 million copies and continues going strong), still constitutes the core of her following. Part of the reason she has been able to hold that audience is the irresistible groove supplied to her music by her coproducers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who, after Jackson’s first two indifferent albums, propelled her to stardom with Control. The duo returned to produce Rhythm Nation.

According to Jam, he and Lewis had very specific ideas for the type of record they wanted to make when they began working with Jackson on Control. “We wanted to do an album that would be in every black home in America,” Jam says. “We were going for the black album of all time. Gritty, raw.

“When a song was on the charts at that time for us, it was not a hit,” Jam continues. “That was when you heard your friend play it, or you walk into the supermarket and you hear it playing over the box, or you walk into the clothes store and they got the tape in. That’s what we were going for.”

What they got was an album that penetrated virtually every home – white and black – in America and that defined Janet Jackson as one of the most significant R&B artists of the Eighties. For the littlest Jackson, it was an extraordinary vindication. “It was a goal, and we reached it,” Jackson says. “I was so excited. The thing was, now everybody was saying, ‘Oh, she did it – but can she do it again?’ They said, ‘Oh, she’s just going to be a flash in the pan.’ I knew what I felt. I knew what I had inside of me. The thing was to get it out and to do it again.”

CONTROL’ MIGHT PROPERLY BE THOUGHT OF AS THE point at which Janet Jackson, with some able assistance, created herself. Before that she had meandered more or less halfheartedly through the complex array of opportunities and constraints presented to her by being the youngest of nine children in the Jackson family. Born in 1966 in Gary, Indiana, Janet moved with her family to Los Angeles when she was two years old, just as her brothers Michael, Jermaine, Marlon, Jackie and Tito began making pop history as the Jackson 5.

In California, Jackson developed along lines typical of upper-class girls with strict parents and older brothers. She was educated by a tutor at home for three hours a day and recalls that her first career ambition was to be “a horse-racing jockey. I love animals, and I had this thing for horses. I started riding when I was five.

“Growing up, most of my friends were guys,” says Jackson. “Maybe it’s because growing up with my brothers, I was a tomboy. I got along with them so well, and I thought the nails and the hair and that whole thing was so boring. I was always trying to play baseball and basketball and horseback ride and swim and climb trees.”

What wasn’t typical about Jackson’s upbringing was that, among other things, her brothers were more than role models or even stars. They were cartoon characters she could watch on television. “I remember that,” she says of the first time she saw the cartoon show Jackson 5ive. “I remember they were out of town, they were on the road. It was Saturday morning, and I had on my pajamas. I was sitting in my mother’s bedroom on the floor, waiting for that cartoon to come on. And when they finally came on, I remember screaming and jumping up and down and dancing!”

Janet set aside her dreams of being a jockey when her father, Joe Jackson, who managed and was the driving force behind his sons’ group, asked if she wanted to join the Jacksons’ traveling nightclub show. She was seven years old. “My dad asked me if I wanted to sing in the show, the Vegas act,” Janet says. “I said, ‘Yeah, okay.’ I was so shy at the time, I can’t believe he asked me. Being in front of this huge audience for the first time, I could easily have gotten stage fright, but thank God I didn’t. It would have ruined the whole show.

“I did what I was supposed to do, and we got a standing ovation. I did it with Randy. We did ‘Love Is Strange,’ by Mickey and Sylvia, ‘The Beat Goes On,’ by Sonny and Cher, and we ended with ‘I Got You Babe.’ I did impressions of Mae West.” She breaks into giggles. “Once I got a taste of that, I really enjoyed it.”

Janet’s performances on the series of summer specials the Jacksons did caught the eye of producer Norman Lear, who was trying to cast the role of Penny Gordon, the abused child on Good Times. Jackson auditioned and, after doing a series of impressions – Edith Bunker, Cher, Mae West and Shirley Temple – and an improvisation with Lear, got the part. She stayed with Good Times for two seasons, before moving on to roles in A New Kind of Family, Diff’rent Strokes and Fame. She seriously considered making acting her career. “I enjoyed acting so much,” she says. “I said to myself that I’d really like to get into this and study, really learn.” But after A New Kind of Family was canceled and Jackson, who was then fourteen, had begun working on Diff’rent Strokes, her father asked if she wanted to sing again. She wasn’t enthusiastic but played the dutiful child. “I told him, ‘Yeah, okay – that’s fine,’ ” she says. “I didn’t mind, but I really wasn’t into it, because I wanted to get into acting, learning that whole craft. But I did it.”

Joe Jackson negotiated a contract for his daughter with A&M Records, and her first album, Janet Jackson, appeared in 1982. A sugary dance-music confection, the album is forgettable. After that, Janet’s life took some confusing turns. While she was working on Fame, the protective world her family had built around her began to shatter and the wildness of life in Hollywood intruded.

“I started working on Fame right after graduating from high school,” Jackson says. “My parents were very strict while I was growing up. It was really our music and our work, we never really had . . . we missed out on our childhood, getting to know what really goes on out there. It’s good because we didn’t get involved doing drugs and things like that. At the same time, it’s bad because once you step out there for the first time, it stuns you. I saw a lot of things I’d never seen before.”

In the wake of the success of his 1979 solo album Off the Wall, Michael Jackson, to whom Janet would ordinarily turn for support, was less available than he otherwise might have been. To absorb some of the shock, Janet became involved with singer James DeBarge, whose family group, DeBarge, was modeled on the Jacksons. She was also working on her second album, Dream Street, though, once again, her heart was elsewhere.

“By the time of the Dream Street album I was totally into him and really not into my music or anything,” Jackson says of DeBarge. “Actually, he was my first real boyfriend. . . . I had known James since I was ten years old, over the phone – we had never met. His family was friends with my brother Jermaine and my sister, La Toya. We finally met when I was fifteen at Soul Train. My brother was doing a show, and DeBarge was on it too. James said, ‘Do you remember me?’ And I said, ‘Oh, my God, you got so big!'”

From such innocent beginnings sprang Janet’s first rebellion. In September of 1984, while her brothers were embroiled in the turmoil of the Victory tour, Janet, then eighteen, eloped with James DeBarge. They were wed in Grand Rapids, Michigan, DeBarge’s hometown; the Jackson family learned about the marriage through the media. Less than a year later, after considerable pressure from her family, the marriage was annulled.

The breakup of Jackson’s marriage set the stage for Control. She moved back to her parents’ house, where Michael and La Toya were still living, and did some soul-searching. She left Fame and for a time considered enrolling in college at nearby Pepperdine, where a number of her friends had gone.

“I wondered, ‘What do you want out of life?’ ” Jackson says. “It’s funny, because after wanting to act for so long, I realized I wanted my music. Maybe James had a lot to do with that, because he brought the music back into me. We’d sing and write together.”

While she was trying to determine a new direction for herself, Jackson began confiding in John McClain, a long-standing friend of her family’s – “I’ve know John since I was two,” she says – and then director of urban music at A&M. Most of the brain trust at the label couldn’t work up much juice over the prospect of yet another Janet Jackson album. McClain, however, felt he had something special on his hands. “Janet’s kind of quiet and shy, and the company didn’t know how dynamic she is,” he says. “At the same time I knew that Michael and Jermaine and Tito and Jackie are real quiet, but when the red light is on in the studio or when the spotlight hits, they turn into different people. Basically I had an idea of what Janet had in her.”

McClain’s masterstroke was hooking Jackson up with Jam and Lewis. She was already familiar with them; she had seen their band, the Time, perform, and Jesse Johnson, the group’s guitarist, had produced two tracks on Dream Street. Seeing the Time in concert had been a tad uncomfortable, however. Under Prince’s subversive tutelage, the group had worked up one of the funkiest – and raciest – acts on the scene. Among other onstage outrages, the band members would jubilantly stroke their crotches about as often as they’d shout, “What time is it?” – that is, every twenty seconds or so. Jackson, unfortunately, saw the group in the company of her mother, Katherine Jackson, a devout Jehovah’s Witness.

“I had a crush on Jesse when I was really little,” Janet says, smiling. “I watched them perform when I was fifteen in Chicago. Here was this guy in this pink suit – I thought, ‘God, he’s so cool. I love the way he moves.’ I was really embarrassed because I was with my mother and they’re grabbing onto their stuff – and then their lyrics! I was with some of the people from the record company, so I said, ‘Excuse me, but can I trade seats with you?’ I sat two seats away from my mother. This whole concert I just wanted to get up and dance, but my mother’s sitting there and she’s going, ‘Is this what the kids are into now?’ You know how parents get.”

Joe Jackson, who was still managing Janet at the time, got that way too. He warned Jam and Lewis, “I know you guys are from Minneapolis: I don’t want my daughter sounding like Prince.” For their part, Jam and Lewis insisted that Janet record in Minneapolis, partly because, according to Jam, “that’s where we record everybody,” but also because they wanted to place her in an environment where she’d have to fend for herself.

At first the idea didn’t sound too terrific to Janet. “Jimmy and Terry said, ‘We want to take you out of the environment of having everyone do everything for you,’ ” she says, laughing. “I said, ‘But no one does anything for me!’ I guess they felt, ‘Oh, you have this and you have that.’ I said, ‘Okay.'”

Jackson came to Minneapolis with her friend Melanie Andrews, who would eventually become her sassy vocal foil on “What Have You Done for Me Lately.” Jackson borrowed Jam’s Chevy Blazer for the length of her stay, and she and Andrews drove themselves around the city, occasionally getting lost in the process. “It wasn’t bodyguards and limousines,” says Jam.

Jackson’s survival skills immediately got put to the test when Jam and Lewis took her out on her first night in town and one club denizen decided to bust a move. “He was coming on strong, too, and I didn’t know what to do,” Jackson says, laughing. “I’m standing there going, ‘Yes.’ ‘No.’ ‘Excuse me.’ I’d walk over to Melanie, and he’d follow me. And I’m looking at Jimmy, and he’s going, ‘Go on, baby, go on.’ I’m saying, ‘I need help. Help me.’ Finally, I got him away from me – I don’t know how. I went over to Jimmy and Terry and said, ‘Why didn’t you guys come and help me?’ They said, ‘You could take care of it. You’ve got to learn to do things yourself.’ I’m going, ‘Oh, God.'”

BEFORE BEGINNING WORK ON ‘CONTROL,’ JAM and Lewis spent about a week getting to know Jackson and helping her relax and feel at ease. “I told them my whole story, what I wanted to do,” Jackson says. “I told them about things that happened in my life and what I really wanted this album to be about. I said, ‘I need you guys to help me express how I feel, to help me put my feelings out.'”

After that, Jam and Lewis began coming up with rhythm tracks and lyric ideas for Jackson, constructing a concept album for her about her own experiences. “When I was seventeen, I did what people told me,” she sings on the tide track. “Did what my father said/And let my mother mold me.” The song’s next verse contains unmistakable references to her marriage to DeBarge. “First time I fell in love/I didn’t know what hit me,” she sings, and the sound of a car crash follows. “So young and so naive/I thought it would be easy.” Jam and Lewis’s pile-driver grooves and the taunting sexuality of songs like “Nasty,” “The Pleasure Principle,” “You Can Be Mine” and “What Have You Done for Me Lately” suggested a persona for Jackson far removed from the innocent who had been so taken aback by Hollywood’s wicked ways.

In short, Control reflected the state of mind of a young, sheltered black woman who had been through a failed marriage and was venturing out on her own. Jam and Lewis encouraged Jackson to contribute her ideas, play keyboards and generally enjoy herself. “Throughout the album her confidence grew and grew,” Jam says. “She realized that she was the only one holding back her potential.”

While making Control, Jam, Lewis and Jackson locked themselves away in the studio, revealed as little as possible to A&M about what they were doing and let McClain whip the company into a frenzy back in Los Angeles. When McClain heard the tracks for the record, he told the trio to come up with two more songs. One of them turned out to be “What Have You Done for Me Lately.” Based on a track Jam and Lewis had been saving for their own solo record, the song became the album’s first single and first Top Five hit.

Control was completed in about six weeks – an amazingly short period for such an accomplished album – and then the making of Janet Jackson entered the marketing phase. Fashion photographer Tony Viramontes was called in to shoot the album’s cover and to create a more dramatic look for the singer. McClain discovered a choreographer named Paula Abdul – through Jackie Jackson, who was dating her at the time – and she designed the moves that lent Jackson’s videos their fire.

Of course it’s no small irony that so many hands helped shape a project whose stated theme was the personal liberation of Janet Jackson. Essentially a new self was crafted or carved out for Jackson – albeit based on her own ideas about herself and what she could become – and she learned to occupy it. As McClain puts it, “From video one through the rest of the videos, she grew. At first, it might have been an image that she wasn’t used to, but, man, by the second or third video, Janet had pretty much embraced it. And that is her.”

“I feel what I’ve witnessed is the coming of age of an artist,” says Richard Frankel, the director of creative services at A&M, who began working with Jackson on Dream Street. “In retrospect, I think she probably has always had good ideas. But what I’ve been able to see develop is her ability to communicate them and feel confident about expressing them. It’s an age function as much as it is an experience one. She’s there now. Control could not have been more aptly titled. It was a really pivotal record for her. She came into that process a completely different artist than she departed from it.”

IF JANET JACKSON’S COMING OF AGE coincided with Control, it did not end there. Her definition of herself, her standing in relation to her family and her stature in the music industry altered so totally that she had plenty more decisions to make. Controversies swirled around her, and she discovered that, rocky as her rise was, managing success can be harder than attaining it in the first place.

As her singles soared to the top of the charts, Jackson was encouraged to tour. She didn’t feel she was ready, and refused. She also severed her managerial relationship with her father, as her brothers had done before her. “I needed to grow and do things myself,” Janet says. “It becomes real difficult when your family is in your business, if you’ve hired a family member to do a job for you. I don’t think it’s something I would ever do again. By being a relative, sometimes they feel they should get breaks.” She begins to laugh. “You can’t yell at them – that sounds so awful – but you can’t get after them if something has gone wrong, the way you wish you could.”

As will happen when you suddenly begin to sell millions of records, Jackson’s business arrangements grew extremely complicated after Control. One consequence was that, for a time, it seemed that Jam and Lewis would not be returning to produce Rhythm Nation. Jackson even recorded some tracks with other producers – though none of them appear on the album – before everything got worked out.

“At the level the Control album started out, nobody was involved,” Jam says. “But then on the next record, everybody wants to have a piece of it. Control was really us and Janet and John McClain.” After Control, McClain’s role in Jackson’s affairs became increasingly unwieldy. By virtue of his success with Control, McClain had amassed a great deal of power at A&M, while his relationship with Jackson had deepened. “It’s hard to say whether he helped the situation or hurt it,” Jam says of McClain’s involvement in the negotiations for Rhythm Nation. At the time he was acting both as Janet’s manager – or advisor, if you will, I wouldn’t say manager – and also working for A&M. It was kind of a conflict of interest, which I think we all eventually realized.”

McClain claims that Jam and Lewis simply asked for too much money. “As far as me managing Janet, or whatever they thought that was, that was a girl who was like my sister, something that I had nurtured,” McClain says. “It was a tough situation, because I was an officer of the company, but Janet wasn’t just a regular artist. But I never managed Janet; we just had a close relationship. . . . It didn’t endear me to Jimmy and Terry, because we had to fight to work the deal out, and the attorneys got in it and you’re battling.”

Jackson finally stepped in and took matters into her own hands. She called Jam and Lewis herself, she says, and asked, ” ‘Do you guys want to do this or not? Let me know now so I can start thinking.’ They said, ‘We want to do it, but are you sure you want to work with us again?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ They said, ‘Okay, well, we’ve got to straighten this stuff out.'” Eventually an agreement was reached. McClain has left A&M and no longer works professionally with Jackson, though he is credited as executive producer on Rhythm Nation, as he was on Control.

Jackson’s management complications – and the fact that it was difficult for many people to accept her as an independent force, unaided by one Svengali or another – also led to rumors that Elizondo, with whom she became involved while filming the video for “Nasty,” had become her manager. Everyone who works with Jackson has found Elizondo an indispensable means of presenting ideas to her; he serves as a calming presence, one of the few people she feels she can trust. On the set of the “Come Back to Me” video, in which he appears as Jackson’s love interest, Elizondo was continually by her side, taking her hands in his, offering suggestions about the shoot.

“One thing I hate is that everyone thinks he manages me,” Jackson says of the rumors about Elizondo. “And he doesn’t. He doesn’t manage me in any fashion, shape, form, size. . . . Rene helps me a lot with visuals. That’s how we come together.” In fact, Jackson had been, somewhat awkwardly, managing herself, with help from an informal team of executive advisors at A&M. Jackson refused to allow Elizondo, with whom she is currently living, to do an interview for this story.

Stardom brought additional pressures. As the Control phenomenon was winding down, Jackson’s relationship with her choreographer underwent a radical change. Paula Abdul followed Jackson’s path to massive commercial success. Some people felt that in the three years between Control and Rhythm Nation, Abdul had supplanted Jackson. Jackson denies that or even that Abdul’s ascendancy has damaged their friendship.

“I’m really happy for the success that she’s had,” Jackson says. “She’s a very ambitious girl, and I know that’s something that she’s wanted deep down. I kept telling her that she should pursue a singing career, and she kept going, ‘No, not just yet.’ ” As for the two being competitors, Jackson says simply, “It’s all competition out there. We’re all reaching for the same spot. . . . I don’t feel that we’re really competitors – I guess because I know her and I love her. She’s more like a sister than a competitor. We don’t talk to each other as much as we used to, only because we’ve been so busy.”

Janet’s real sister, La Toya, also turned up the media heat. Her posing for Playboy and her threats to write a book about her family – both of which could be easily seen as her misguided declaration of independence – embarrassed her parents and her siblings. “I was surprised,” Janet says of La Toya’s appearance in Playboy. “I was really shocked. It didn’t seem like the La Toya that I knew, the La Toya that I know – our rooms were right across the hallway from one another in my parents’ house. We talked, and she said it was something she felt she needed to do. It was something inside of her that she needed to get out. So you can’t say no to something like that, in a sense. It’s like, I understand, but why that? But I guess that’s something she’d have to answer.”

Whatever changes have taken place in Janet’s life, her brother Michael remains her idol and her model. The enormousness of their success has only served to bring them closer. Janet’s eyes glaze as she speaks about her brother. “Michael and I are the closest in the family, between all my brothers and sisters,” Janet says. “Ever since I was little, we do everything together. He said that, out of everyone in the family, we’re the two that think most alike. He was very helpful; he gave a lot of advice. He inspires me.”

That inspiration is not without its element of sibling rivalry. “When Thriller came, I was so envious,” Jackson says. “It was so incredible. I was going, ‘God, I wish that was me.’ I was so happy for him, but it was like ‘Why can’t that be me? That’s what I want to do.’ That’s what inspired me to do Control. I’d love to break any of his records. That would be great for me.”

And how would Michael respond? “I think he’d be proud – one side of him,” she says, starting to laugh. “The other side of him would be saying, ‘I’m going to break that record.'”

NOW WITH ‘RHYTHM NATION’ SHOWING every sign of having the staying power of Control, Janet Jackson is about to embark on a world tour scheduled to last for nine months. The shows, which open on March 1st in Miami, promise to pack the explosive power of her videos, with six dancers joining her and her backing band.

Rhythm Nation was recorded on and off between September 1988 and May 1989, with Jam, Lewis and Jackson – joined this time by Elizondo – again holing up in Minneapolis and not letting A&M Records, or anyone else, for that matter, know what they were up to. “I must say that A&M – for a record company – was very understanding, because during the whole project they never heard a thing,” Jam says, laughing. “Right at the end Gil Friesen called and said, ‘Look, I’m the president of the record company, and I ain’t heard nothin’. What’s the deal?’ ” The trio was so secretive about the album that, until it was turned in, the record was referred to only by its project number: 1814.

Jam and Lewis alone wrote nearly half the songs on Rhythm Nation, unlike Control, on which they shared songwriting credits with Jackson. According to Jam, Rhythm Nation‘s social dimension took shape as the recording proceeded. “It evolved,” Jam says. “It was on everybody’s mind, but it was not anything that was talked about. It happened as we were doing it. We watched a lot of TV, and a lot of things that happened, in particular the playground murder of the kids – that was the one thing that happened where it affected the whole day. That type of thing definitely pushed us in that direction.

“We thought as producers it was important – even risky – for Janet to address those issues,” Jam continues. “You never know what the public perception of that is going to be, whether they’re going to say, ‘We don’t want to hear her talk about that.’ It was a challenge to us to put the groove there but then also to have the message.”

Still, despite the topicality of songs like “Rhythm Nation,” “State of the World,” “The Knowledge” and “Livin’ in a World (They Didn’t Make),” Rhythm Nation is far from a revolutionary call to arms. Jackson is more comfortable with generalities than specifics, upbeat slogans than tough analyses, charity than politics. Among the causes she supports are the Make-a-Wish Foundation, which assists terminally ill children, and the United Negro College Fund.

But she is right to think that her songs – precisely because they are not protest songs – can inspire thinking about, and possibly even action to alleviate, social problems. As the sun shimmers on the Pacific and Jackson settles herself behind the wheel of her black Wrangler Jeep to drive off, she says, “You know, a lot of people have said, ‘She’s not being realistic with this Rhythm Nation.’ It’s like ‘Oh, she thinks the world is going to come together through her dance music,’ and that’s not the case at all. I know a song or an album can’t change the world. But there’s nothing wrong with doing what we’re doing to help spread the message.”

If personal freedom has political implications and if pleasure must be part of any meaningful political solution – and it really must – there’s nothing wrong with it at all.

In This Article: Coverwall, Janet Jackson


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