I cannot in good conscience begin my little series with Madonna and not Janet as well. So today will be my double post on the topic simply because these women hold the same place in my mind.
Janet Jackson, much like the Disneychildbot of today, began her career in television and was born into one of the most famous, talented, and game changing singing families in pop history (this statement is not allowed to be challenged by anyone! Jackson 5 for life!). To say that she grew up in a crazy high pressured and challenging environment is an understatement. She hit puberty during Good Times for heaven sake! And she was our chubby cheeked sweet heart on Fame. She embodied all that was pure, sweet, untouched and youthful.
*Record Scratch*Then Ms. Janet Damita Jo Jackson grew the f*&^% up. And damn did she! Janet brought black beauty, grace, and sexuality back into the popular culture. She had a quiet and soft demeanor and appeared always to be shy and reticent. But, we couldn't mistake this as an act because we grew up with Janet and we knew her. And we learned something very new about our idol and friend. She was a force. This was a young woman who experienced life from inside the circus. Who came through significant social changes for blacks and for women. And her music reflected that. She knew the business extremely well and with the help Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam she walked into womanhood. But on her terms.
This was a woman for who independence and strength were a necessity. She need to assert herself beyond the family brand, she needed to carve out a space in Pop music dominated by safe and bland young white girls. And she needed the support of her community to do it. But, she understood that she had to have "crossover" appeal to sell those albums. Another thing she understood, sexy.
Then came Rythm Nation. Her intent was to embrace equality, to see music as the great equalizer that would bring us together as friends and with respect. And she must have achieved that partially because there wasn't a soul who didn't love this song or perform this dance.
Now, I'm going to present two videos to explore Janet as sex symbol (because damn was she ever). I want to begin with how she represented a romantic and loving sexuality. One of a yearning from the heart instead of the loins. Soft, quiet, and gentle much like certain elements of herself. But, the key here is that it was enrobed in blackness. This was a black love that wasn't animalistic or base. It was tender and awakening. Check this:
Now you say "Zemar! It wasn't all clean romance!" Or, "Ugh Zemar, that' s not exciting!" Well slow your roll pervs. Damita Jo has you covered (also- just remember Damita Jo came before Sasha Fierce- Bey is the second coming kids not the first!). So you want sexy Janet eh?! Here we go...But remember Janet was a grown ass woman with her own appetite and veered heavily towards sensuality. Not flat on your back Madonna style sexxxy sexxx but hardcore sensually driven sex. The flash of skin, the dilated pupils, the touch, smell, sound, and taste. She wanted to absorb and be absorbed. She represented women who were in tune with their sensuality with their power beyond the vagina.
Now, I want to square with you all here. Janet had both emotional and physical issues, she struggled openly with weight and suffered depression. And she was honest about those issues and shared this with her fans. But all of this endeared her more to us. We loved shy, sexy, strong, sweet, and loving Janet. And to have her in the world as a contrast to Madonna, as a contrast to stereotypical images of black women makes her all the more important in the Pop lexicon.
Oh, and I'd be remiss if I failed to mention her most famous film role opposite Tupac Shakur in Poetic Justice. Owned it. God, remember when John Singleton was good?