Janet Jackson’s “janet.” celebrates its 20th anniversary today, May 18. Her groundbreaking fifth album has sold over 7 million copies and spawned six Hot 100 singles. The album was a sexual awakening for both Jackson and American culture. Hits like “That’s The Way Love Goes” and “Any Time, Any Place” were some of the most sexually frank to reach the upper reaches of the charts at the time.
Though she’s kept a low profile since 2011, when she released her self-help memoir “True You” and toured behind her “Number Ones” greatest hits set, Janet Jackson spoke with Billboard for an exclusive Q&A where she revisits the making of “janet.,” discusses its current influence and teases her next album (“I am working on a new project now”).
May 18 marks the 20th anniversary of “janet.” How would you describe what that album captures about your life at that time?
I can’t believe it is already 20 years! I always write my music based on what is going on in my life at the time. I wanted to allow people in… I want my fans to really know me. The ‘janet’ album was sexual and I was beginning to really discover that side of me.
Although you worked primarily with Jimmy and Terry again on “janet.,” you explore a lot of different genres on that album – from dance to soul to rock to opera on “This Time.” Did you have to fight to keep some of the bolder songs on there – was anyone telling you this wasn’t “pop” enough?
I’ve been exposed to all types of great music. I like to collaborate on my music. The creative process is fun and you get a lot of ideas from having discussions about it. Ultimately, the final decision is mine.
There are musical references and direct samples of janet. songs all over the place now, most notably on Kendrick Lamar’s “Poetic Justice.” Have you heard most of these re-interpretations (Moon Boots’ “Sugar,” which samples “If,” How To Dress Well’s cover of “Again,” MNEK’s “That’s The Way Love Goes” etc?) And how does it feel to see your work have such impact on new artists?
I have listened to the music that is out there and I love Kendrick’s “Poetic Justice.” There are artists, true performers that have come before me who have been a big inspiration to me. I hope I do the same for others.
Several of the songs on janet. and their accompanying videos were groundbreaking at the time for their overt sexuality. Why was it so important for you to express that part of yourself in your work, and how did you convince others around you at the time to let you take those risks?
Like I said before, I write about my experiences or things that touch me deeply. I was really beginning to get in tune with my sexual self. This is what I wanted to express so I did. The decision to move forward in an artistic way is mine. I didn’t need to convince anyone.
The videos and tour for “janet.” featured some iconic choreography from Tina Landon, most notably on ‘If.’ Do you have a favorite dance or video from that period?
Tina Landon and Omar Lopez choreographed “If”. I love “That’s The Way Love Goes,” “You Want This” and especially “If.” I don’t think people really realize what we were showing in that video that wasn’t available with technology then. The video featured futuristic technology, specifically high definition touch screens. I wanted the actors in the video to use these screens to communicate, and relate with each other in the clubs. Similar to what we all do with our smart phones and tablets today. As I look at our lives now, it seems that life is imitating art. I have seen different elements from all of these videos in lots of artists work and it’s a great feeling to know that you have inspired them in such a way.
Many artists cite you as a role model and a huge influence on their career and image. Which artists today do you admire?
I’m flattered that other artists consider me a role model. I’m really enjoying what Bruno Mars and Adele are doing, a lot of artistry there.