Cosmic Slop #55: Was Janet Jackson more artistically viable than brother Michael?
Following the cancellation of her European tour, Shaun Ponsonby listened to Janet Jackson’s discography and began to wonder if she has been a more interesting artist than her more famous brother.
Originally posted on Getintothis
Janet Jackson cancelled the UK leg of her ironically titled Unbreakable Tour this week due to “scheduling conflicts”. That sounded a little bit like bullshit seeing as the tour had been booked for at least a year. What happened? Just a few weeks before it commenced she realised she had an appointment with the opticians that day?
Notably, when I had tickets to see her brother (Michael, not fucking Marlon) at the O2 Arena, he died on me. So, it seems the Jackson family will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid me. They don’t seem to like me. Maybe they have been talking to Prince.
Jackson needed surgery around Christmas time, so I assumed the real reason for the cancellation was that she is yet to recover fully from this operation (whatever it was). However, she hasn’t cancelled a performance at the Dubai World Cup a few days before, so she mustn’t be that bad.
I then briefly wondered if it was due to Elton John’s recent comments about her lip synching in the press (direct quote:”You know, fucking music magazines writing a review of Janet Jackson saying, ‘This is the greatest show – four and a half stars.‘ It’s fucking lip-synced! Hello! That’s not a show! I’d rather go and see a drag queen. Fuck off!.” Such elegance). But on viewing YouTube clips of her current tour, it was pretty obvious that Elton was doing a pretty nifty ventriloquism act with his arse, as she appeared to be singing very much live.
The only other possible conclusion I could muster – and the one that was prevailing most on Twitter – was that the tour just wasn’t selling. Which is a shame because, as controversial as it may be to say so, I’m starting to wonder if Janet’s career has been more artistically viable than Michael’s.
The crazy Michael fans may wish to leave at this point, as this isn’t a piece that will chime with the ridiculous notion that he was literally an angel sent down from the heavens to enlighten our lives by walking backwards in a sort of slidey motion (yes, some of them seriously believe this without irony).
Everyone else, hear me out.
Michael Jackson, for all his success, basically didn’t change musically. Every single album he made post-Off The Wall was exactly the same. There was a set in stone formula to Michael Jackson albums that lent little to experimentation or breaking down barriers. It was all so safe.
There are several reasons that Thriller is the biggest selling album of all time. Undoubtedly one of them is that it was designed as such – there is literally something everyone can enjoy on there. Before 1982, you’d never imagine you would own an album that was produced by Quincy Jones, featured a dreadful Paul McCartney duet, a blistering Eddie Van Halen solo and had the ABC kid singing. It was focussed grouped to reach as many people as possible, a concept that pretty much corresponds with the recollections of those that were there. And its success apparently proved to MJ that this was how you made a great album.
As a result of that, each successive record followed an identical formula that he would keep for the rest of his career to diminishing artistic success; funky song to open (Bad, Jam, Scream, Unbreakable), rock song with famous guitar player (Steve Stevens on Dirty Diana, Slash on Give In To Me, Santana on Whatever Happens), breezy if forgettable filler (Just Good Friends, Can’t Let Her Get Away), We Are The World schlock (Heal The World, Earth Song, The Lost Children – the latter being one of the worst things that has ever happened in history) and a giant whinge about the media (Leave Me Alone, Privacy, Why You Wanna Trip On Me?, the entire HIStory album).
Occasionally you would stumble across songs that showed what might have been – Who Is It? from Dangerous is really quite wonderful, as is Stranger in Moscow from HIStory. But usually the records are about as predictable as an AC/DC record, with the notable difference of AC/DC being quite straightforward about it.
To be clear; there is nothing wrong with that. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? I do enjoy a lot of those records regardless. But can Michael Jackson seriously be considered an artistic genius – as so many people believe – if he is merely repeating the same formula again and again? Some great pop music, yes. Genius? I’m not so sure.
I’m not saying Janet is a genius either, but she has taken more chances than her brother. If we see her consecutive Control, Rhythm Nation 1814 and Janet albums as her three great statements, then they’re all extremely different records exploring a variety of themes.
Leaving aside the powerful, feminist cry for independence on Control, you have an album like Rhythm Nation 1814 which is probably much deeper than most people reading this would expect.
Her pleas for “healing the world” aren’t Disney-fied schlock with easy answers, it is set to a funky Sly & The Family Stone sample on Rhythm Nation and matches Sly in sentiment (and of note she is dressed in the military garb that Michael would nick a few years later). Black Cat is a much more authentic rock song than Beat It, so much so that Lemmy claimed to have recorded an unreleased version of it, and I would rate Love Will Never Do (Without You) higher than most of Michael’s pop hits.
Years down the line, she seemed much more willing to experiment. Tracks like That’s The Way Love Goes could still be hits today in a way that Michael’s In The Closet probably couldn’t, and whereas he tried to dip his toe into the hip-hop pool, Janet incorporated Q-Tip into Got Til It’s Gone with much greater success than Michael with his shoe-horning rappers into his tunes just because it was big at the time.
That’s not to say that she hasn’t made missteps along the way. In fact, she seemed to completely lose interest in what she was doing following the infamous Superbowl/nipplegate incident – possibly because there was a racist/sexist/ageist blacklist on her material from which her career has never recovered, despite actual perpetrator Justin Timberlake (a white man in his 20s) getting off scot free. So she may have just thought “fuck it”.
But in retrospect, whereas Michael often only really seemed concerned with being the biggest, Janet’s more earnest material feels fresher, more experimental and much more interesting. She seems to have followed her muse with the help of longtime producers/collaborators Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, and quite a bit of it sounds wholly uncommercial despite being successful.
I don’t know why you cancelled the tour, Janet, but the sooner you re-schedule, the sooner people will start re-appraising your discography.
I imagine Morrissey running for London Mayor wouldn’t be too far off from Donald Trump‘s presidential campaign.
NME somehow managed to make the death of Sir George Martin as Oasis-centric as everything else they post with the headline “Liam Gallagher leads tributes…” and a picture of him and Martin (instead of, say, the fucking Beatles).
AC/DC have announced that frontman Brian Johnson must quit touring immediately as if he completes the current tour he will go deaf and that they will return with “a guest vocalist“. As much as I love them, they’re kind of morphing into the rock & roll equivalent of Last of the Summer Wine – no matter who leaves the cast, they’ll just keep churning it out regardless.