A retrospective review of Janet Jackson’s “Damita Jo” (2004), “20 Y.O.” (2006) and “Discipline” (2008).
by Mark Keen
The period between 2004 and the “Unbreakable” album in 2015 could in many ways be viewed as Janet’s years in the pop wilderness. This was the result of the controversy stemming from ‘nipple-gate’ in the Super Bowl performance with Justin Timberlake where a ‘wardrobe malfunction’ led to an extreme reaction against Janet. Justin’s career was unscathed by the incident (storm in a teacup), but Janet’s music and videos were seemingly blacklisted for some time.
Although the albums still hit the top five in the US, their impact was much reduced and barely visited the charts in the UK – “Damita Jo” (US No.2, UK No.32), “20 Y.O.” (US No.2, UK. No.63) and “Discipline” (US No.1, UK No.63). Nevertheless there are some great tracks and videos to discover, which makes this period in the wilderness all the more unfortunate. Perhaps the apparent diminished pop sensibility of the albums also had some impact to ears such as mine who preferred the pop focus of the early hits.
“Damita Jo” (2004) had an array of producers, although Jam and Lewis were still involved to a much lesser extent. It still sold three million copies despite the backlash from the Super Bowl incident. The first single was “Just A Little While” which struggled to number 45 in the US although some performances in the UK helped it to number 15.
Two further singles were released from the album, although these were released as a double A-side in the UK “I Want You” was noticeable for an early writing and production credit from Kanye West, and has a lovely, retro Motown sound.
“All Nite (Don’t Stop)” was one of the highlights of the album, but again didn’t trouble the pop charts much due to the backlash in the US. Nevertheless the video is worth checking out.
“20 Y.O.” (2006) was intended as a celebration of 20 years since the release of “Control”, but met with mixed reviews. The involvement of Jermaine Dupri appeared to have changed the intended focus of the album, for which he would be criticised for subsequently. The first single “Call On Me” a duet with Nelly under achieved only hitting 25 in the US, but slightly better in the UK (No. 18), but undoubtedly greater things were expected of it, especially considering the expense of the video. However, Janet was still suffering from the backlash particularly from MTV.
The follow up single “So Excited” also performed badly only hitting number 90 in the US. The video is worth checking out as usual. There are so many writers credited on this song, it perhaps explains why the album appeared so unfocused and a real smorgasbord of sounds.
“Discipline” (2008) did not include any involvement of Jam and Lewis or any writing contribution from Janet, but had a huge number of other contributors. Although the album hit the top spot in the US it would be one of Janet’s least successful albums. The first single “Feedback” was a sizable hot reaching number 19 in the US.
Janet was unhappy with the promotion of the album and left the Island record label as a result. The second single “Rock With U” missed the charts altogether.
In 2009 Janet would return with another greatest hits (“Number Ones/The Best”) which she would also tour. The album would include one new track with “Make Me” which received favourable reviews.
In 2010 Janet released the tender ballad “Nothing” from the soundtrack ‘Why Did I Get Married Too?’. Janet’s acting talents were also getting greater recognition by this point. Although, the song never troubled he charts it is worth checking out. This would also see Janet release a single on A&M records. This was a real return to form and was in the pop vein of classic ballads such as “Again” and “Let’s Wait A While” and does appear to show an influence from brother Michael who had recently died.
Things would then go quiet until the critical comeback with “Unbelievable” (2015) which we will check out next time and bring the story up to date!
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