In the time it took Janet Jackson to go from chart-topping R&B legend to tabloid fodder, her musical legacy seemed to take far more of a hit than her brothers’ or that quintet that she was never a part of. Somehow, having a breast exposed on national television seemed to temporarily invalidate decades of hard work and exceptional hit-making, which is frankly preposterous when you consider that Britney was the highest earning female pop star in the US this year – and she’s done a lot worse. The reality is that Janet forged a completely fresh and sexy path for electronic-inspired pop music, pushing the envelope thematically almost as far as Michael (and, I mean, have you seen the video for ‘Scream?’) This is what people should talk about when they talk about Janet Jackson.
‘Together Again’ is not Janet’s best song by a long shot (that honour would probably go to the brilliant ‘Control’ or ‘Rhythm Nation’), but it is her most famous. It’s also the first song of hers I remember knowing from a very young age, because it came out when I was ten and for about three months in summer you couldn’t turn on the TV without seeing that music video where she prances around in a fake jungle surrounded by dancers dressed like giraffes and elephants. This song was so huge that it was #1 all over the world and with good reason; the sentiment, the melody, the beat and those deceptively quick-moving chords are just it. At no point was I aware that this was a song about AIDS. I just thought it was the most uplifting, unpretentious piece of pop I’d heard. You know, as a highly attuned ten year-old who still watched Power Rangers every afternoon.
When you write hits at Janet’s level, there’s a lot of work that goes into a song that most people don’t hear. The way those hi-hats seem to ‘shoop’ into each other like they’re slinking along the street, the frequency of the bass which is low enough to own it’s own layer of the mix but light enough to walk down the scale without descending into mud and those vibraphones which, if you listen closely, mirror the chorus melody in a lower octave, are all examples of this sort of attention to detail. Listen to those little synth whistles, the sleigh bells, the harps, christ, that late modulation to a new key. It’s absolutely goddamn seamless. And then you have Janet, who I haven’t mentioned solely as a singer yet because she’s also a composer – which nobody should forget – whose breathy high notes and direct hits are on par with Mariah or Beyonce at their zenith. There’s just not an ounce of fat there, and she is so wonderful at it. I really wish megastars still wrote songs like this, going for the heart rather than the genitals. It would be such a welcome change, wouldn’t it? Janet has such exceptional range and timbre in her voice, she shouldn’t be a paparazzi dream. She should be back on the throne. We’ve already lost one hyper-talented Jackson; let’s not make it two.
Janet Jackson – ‘Together Again’