This series looks back at the 1990s and its influence on the generation of people who came of age during the decade.
First, a prologue. This post ran here in a slightly different form last year. That was before I'd started the '90s series here, and since then I realized this piece fits well within that framework. I've edited it a little (very little, in fact) and am slotting the revised version into this series. It just seems appropriate; it's looking back at a time when Janet Jackson ruled the airwaves, in this case I'm really focusing on the Rhythm Nation 1814 years, so '89, '90, maybe '91. That album rarely left my tape deck or Walkman, and the videos were ingrained in my memory from repeat viewings on MTV. One thing I didn't edit is the overly precious use of second person in the narrative. When you read "you" here, I'm really talking about me, but also you, or us, or anyone else who loved Janet back then. I'd grown up on her music. Soon after this I'd transition fully into my teenage/young adult rock-snob years *groan* but this period in pop music was glorious. I haven't lost any love for that era's music since.
Have you ever wanted to hug a pop music icon as much as you wanted to hug Janet Jackson in, say, 1990? She exuded warmth, soul, and acceptance. Hell, years before that you wanted to save her on Good Times. Oh, Penny! Little did you know, she didn't need saving.
Look at the videos for "Love Will Never Do (Without You)" or "Escapade"—her smile shines brighter than a thousand suns. She practically radiates happiness in those videos. Certainly she could be as serious as a heart attack—"State of the World" and "Rhythm Nation," for instance—but she was still always fun. Those songs set up residence in your heart and mind, never leaving. Back then you marveled at them as they premiered on MTV; each one more insanely catchy than the last.
Name a better pop love song from the last twenty-five years than "Love Will Never Do." See, you can't. What's often forgotten now is how heavy her songs were during her prime—the beats on "Love Will Never Do" practically blast you off your feet; "Rhythm Nation" is pure epic R&B jam, but also entirely unlike anything pop music had seen before. It explodes out of the speakers and never hits the brakes. Props to Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, in full effect.
A poster of Janet from the "Love Will Never Do (Without You)" video hung on your bedroom wall during most of high school. That smile, always beaming out at you when you entered the room. That smile, it always seemed even more incandescent to you after a particularly rough day in the teenage trenches. In the song Janet knew that in theory love is fine, but in reality it simply would never do without that most essential ingredient: you. What more could a listener want to hear? Sometimes silly things like pop music get you through certain points in your life, but it's only after that you fully appreciate them. Years later you felt you'd outgrown Janet's music, her poster. You were a fool.
During a Presidential debate last fall, that perverse misogynist, that habitual sexual predator, the current Cheeto-in-Chief *shudder* infamously muttered "nasty woman" at his opponent. Memes of Janet and her song "Nasty" popped up online in an instant. It was as if a nation needed Janet and her nasty grooves again. Gimme a beat. It's time to give a damn, let's work together. By listening to her you could cleanse the toxicity from your system that had infected you over this long and grueling election cycle. You had deluded yourself into thinking you were fine without her over the years. Then you started spinning her songs again. It was obvious that for a decent chunk of time, when she and you were younger and full of electricity, there was simply no one better in popular music. For your money, she was the best there ever was at what she did and you'll endorse her every day of the week.
They said it wouldn't last. What did they know, anyway.