Thinking about Janet Jackson’s (Alleged) Retirement

Janet with her new husband

Photo Credit: Marco Glaviano, People Magazine

I’ve been thinking a lot about the news that Janet Jackson is allegedly going to retire from the entertainment industry for a minute now.

I think if I were honest, I’d feel the need to say that Janet Jackson has run out of things creatively to say and that she’s been spinning her wheels at least since 20 Y.O, if not earlier. I don’t think it’s an accident that she’s spent the last decade doing more acting than she has really focusing on recording trailblazing music. I’m not sure she was well-served by Tyler Perry films that squandered her natural warmth on weirdly cold characters, but I could imagine how from her perspective there was something interesting about essaying characters so dissimilar from who we know Janet Jackson to be.

I could see how she might feel like her life’s work as an entertainer is complete, even though selfishly as a fan I’d like to get another album or two from her.

But I wonder if there’s something more deeply profound at work here.

Let’s remember that Janet Jackson has been performing since she was 7 years old. She’s 46. That’s 40 years in the public eye. Forty years as a member of perhaps the most celebrated, yet maligned and misunderstood, black family on the planet. Forty years being told she’s the (relatively) sane one. Forty years under an incredibly oppressive microscope. Forty years giving her life to our enjoyment.

I don’t know that we think enough about the health of black people who have to live their lives in the public eye. Michael died at 50. Luther died at 54. Rick James was 56. Whitney was 48. Marvin Gaye was murdered at 44. Both Gerald and Sean Levert died at 40.

These were preternaturally gifted black people who gave their lives to art and music. They were not always loved and adored for it. They were still black. In America. Let us remember that the life expectancy for black people is lower than for white people.

So I think there’s something profoundly healthy about Janet Jackson at 46 saying she wants to step away from all of the pressures of being a black public figure – as much as she can – and just live her life. It’s a powerful gesture of self-preservation that I don’t know black artists always feel so empowered to make.

Read this way, of course the woman who gave us Control would end her career on her own terms. Of course the woman whose masterpiece, The Velvet Rope – a dazzling treatise on the struggle to love oneself amid all the crazy of a life as a Jackson, as a black woman – would decide when she’s had enough.

In her own way, if this retirement is indeed real, Janet Jackson’s decision feels to me like a fitting cap to a career that was, in its best broadest strokes, about black self-determination and black self-love.

What’s the Best Way to Make Music?

I’m rather opinionated about music. Folks know this.

And while all that frustration criticism comes through loud and clear when I write or tweet, I’m definitely not as good at communicating that I understand and respect how profoundly difficult making music really is.

I thought about this when I came across this Tyrese quote on Singersroom.com:

“Producers these days are lazy. Making tracks. Sending emails. I’m just saying. When you make music under the same roof, with the actual artist that you’re working with, everybody is praying together, eating together, laughing together. It’s a different kind of nuance that’s created around music.”  (emphasis mine)

I do think there’s something profoundly special about the music that can come from songwriters, producers and artists spending time together crafting music that the artist feels a close connection to because that artist has had some input into making it, but with that understanding comes a deeper understanding that I think critics of black music don’t articulate nearly enough: what Tyrese longs for is the exception in the music industry, not the rule, particularly with black popular music.

In other words, a lot of people aren’t afforded the luxury of getting into a room with the best songwriters and producers and creating something that they can feel has the personal touch because that’s not the kind of artist they are intended to be, whether they know it and acknowledge it or not. We should be honest about this fact.

Continue reading

Britney Spears’ Lame Reinvention

After watching Britney Spears’ latest videos:

and

Can we agree that she’s not as interesting a video persona when she’s ripping off Madonna as when she was trying really hard to be recreate every. little. thing. great about Janet Jackson’s video persona:

and

I mean, right?

Continue reading

Behind the Velvet Rope

I really hope this stuff makes it into whatever music Janet Jackson releases next:

 

 

As much as I love Janet Jackson as a performer, she’s really at her most compelling when she’s baring a bit of her soul. The Velvet Rope, her 1997 masterpiece, was the first time she opened herself up for the full length of an album.

But there were hints much much earlier.

 

 

Man – it’s been 14 years since The Velvet Rope. And sadly, there were very few hints of Janet’s inner life on the albums that have come since. As callous as it sounds, it’d be nice to get back behind the rope.

I think, artistically, that it’s time.

Peep Rahsaan and Lalah in the Studio

I’m definitely one of those fans who would like to be a fly in the wall when one of my favorite artists is recording. Like – what would it have been like to have been in the room when Jan, Jam and Lewis came up with That’s The Way Love Goes? And did erebody involved know that Meth and Mary would record a classic when they were in the studio? Could they tell? And I wonder if Jay really never writes anything down and if ‘Pac actually recorded a billion tracks per session. We don’t really know, but part of the fun of listening to your favorite artist’s work is wondering how in the hell they came up with it.

In this video, we get a small peak into Rahsaan Patterson and Lalah Hathaway working on a song called “6 in the Morning.” The banter between them is fun and light, but I’m intrigued by the working dynamic that is hinted at here. Specifically, we see a bit of Rah as producer and get to watch how he guides Lah’s vocal. Vocalists like Rah and Lah are peerless so a peak into the process – even one as small as this – is revelatory.

Dope. Enjoy.