Two weeks have passed since I witnessed Janet Jackson close out the US Leg of the "State of the World" tour in Atlanta on December 17th, 2017. It wasn't my first time seeing the icon perform, as I saw her in Los Angeles on her 2011 "Number Ones" production; however, this show touched me in a very emotional place. Since seeing her last so much has changed, including the death of my parents and my move to Atlanta, GA. While watching her perform several hits from her massive catalog, it occurred to me that Janet has not only been around my entire life, but her music also soundtracks many different points in it.
"Janet became a fixture in my upbringing."
When I was born in 1986, Janet's "Control" was making significant waves on the Billboard charts. I'm thankful for parents who were in the know because they owned her albums and also purchased her video compilations on VHS. Before I could speak complete sentences, I was in front of the television watching "The Pleasure Principle," "Nasty," "When I Think of You," and more. As a kid, I was always a fan of music videos instead of cartoons. I can't remember much about being a toddler, but I recall both Michael and Janet Jackson on the living room television every day.
Hearing "Rhythm Nation" leads me back to being four years old dancing around with my brother and my mother telling me I wasn't allowed to mimic certain suggestive dance moves from the choreography —I did them anyway when she wasn't in the room. Seeing "Love Will Never Do Without You" reminds me of my late uncle, Kenneth, who died at the height of the AIDS Epidemic. During a family gathering, we sat in a room of his house and watched the more skin-revealing Janet groove in the Black & White (and color) visual with the likes of Antonio Sabåto Jr. and Djimon Hounsou. Janet became a fixture in my upbringing.
When I was seven, my parents, realizing my love for music, bought me a cd player for Christmas. Three albums under the tree were Salt-N-Pepa's "Very Necessary," Xscape's "Hummin' Comin' At 'Cha," and Jackson's "Janet." These three albums were my introduction to collecting music and also attempting to connect to the content. I'd go to school during the day and dance off any childhood frustration in the afternoons. I, like so many others, had the choreography to "If" and "You Want This" down to a science. "Janet." had a completely different impact once I was old enough to analyze and dissect its progressively sexual content. I have the same sentiment for her following studio album.
"Janet Jackson is the Blueprint."
"The Velvet Rope" was released while I was in the first semester of sixth grade. "Got Til' It's Gone" was set to premiere during the telecast of the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards. I remember being somewhat disappointed with the video, as I had come to know Janet as this flawless dancer whom always had a classic beauty to herself. It was during this era where she revealed a more eclectic look followed by a set of work that many have titled as her most magnificent. A friend of mine, who wasn't much of a Janet fan, gave me the copy of the cd her parents bought her. This was a blessing to me. During this time, I was wrestling with my sexuality. I was beginning to see how exhausting it was to posture myself as a straight "masculine" boy while feeling like something was incredibly wrong inside. I'd already accepted the idea that I was gay, but my surroundings made it clear they wouldn't acknowledge me as a same-gender-loving individual. Consequently, I repressed it as much as I could. "The Velvet Rope" provided a comfort like nothing before. Janet felt like the accepting family member who told me I was perfect as I was, along with my expression and my sensuality. Janet was the first artist that gave me the ammunition to say "fuck you if you don't like it."
March 9th, 2001, I received the best 15th birthday gift. Janet Jackson's first single, "All For You" was going to premiere on MTV's "Total Request Live." I remember having an awesome day, thanks to my friends and parents. Janet releasing new music and visuals was the icing on the cake. Unlike my initial experience with "Got Til' It's Gone," I instantly fell in love with "All For You." The song was catchy, and the video was filled with choreography, while Janet seemed happier than ever. When the album released the following month, I purchased it, with a gift card I saved, on the day it was available. I loved the playful interludes, which are synonymous with Janet LP's, and she offered so many tracks to dance. I keenly remember singing "Someone To Call My Lover," thinking about guys that I crushed on in the high school hallways. The summer of 2001 was owned by "All For You," Destiny's Child "Survivor," and Missy Elliott's "Miss E...So Addictive".
"All that time I spent feeling alone, others were connecting to her music at the same moment but in different locations."
The end of my senior year of high school saw the release of "Damita Jo." I remember many turning their backs on Jackson, after the infamous Super Bowl ordeal. I wasn't slight by it, and it certainly didn't change my love for the living legend. Now 18, I had my first experiences with dating as a gay man. I hadn't come out the closet to my parents, but I confided in a few about my sexuality. The album carried on into the summer of 2004 when I began going to clubs. "All Nite (Don't Stop)" couldn't spin for three seconds before all the men, who weren't ashamed and plagued by social constructs of forced masculinity, would hit the center of the dancefloor to perform the routine from the music video. Moments like these revealed to me that Janet meant a considerable amount to many gay men and women. All that time I spent feeling alone, others were connecting to her music at the same moment but in different locations. This display was the unity I longed for, and Janet was its soundtrack.
I was 20 years old when Janet Jackson dropped the well fitting "20 Y.O" and turning 22 at the release of "Discipline." While not the most robust efforts, the sets provided some great jams, like "Feedback" and "So Excited." I was a sophomore in college and having a blast with my friends. These albums remind me of a time of still being young and living at home with my parents, while also making terrible decisions with the guys I dated. Oh, what a time to be alive and naive.
Fast forward to October 2015; I just ended a long-term relationship with my fiance and moved into a place of my own. Janet's "Unbreakable" brought a familiarity and comfort that I missed. The album was all the things fans loved about her. It had the danceable songs while also being woke AF, something in which Janet doesn't receive enough credit. It was nice to hear her deliver the material in a way that only she, Jimmy Jam, and Terry Lewis could.
All the recollections mentioned above came to a head as I sat in the Phillips Arena, watching the woman that I've loved all my life performing. Janet Jackson has always connected to my life and hearing the vast majority of her songs place me right in the center of impactful memories. Unlike any other artist that I enjoy, I've never experienced a world that didn't have Janet in it, and I hope it is a long time before that ever happens. Janet Jackson is the Blueprint.
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