MGF Reviews Janet Jackson – 20 Y.O.

Janet Jackson – 20 Y.O.
Virgin (release date: 9/26/2006)

1986 was a difficult time for America.

Moviegoers wept at the passing of longtime Autobots leader Optimus Prime, as fans of The Transformers uneasily welcomed the Rodimus Prime era. McDonald’s introduced the McDLT in an ill-fated attempt at fast food segregation (you must click that link) that was eventually overturned by the benevolent Mayor McCheese. Meanwhile, the Boston Celtics won the NBA championship in a feat that gave false hoops hopes to awkward white boys and freckly bruthas, everywhere.

But, all was not lost.

Janet Jackson dropped her classic Control LP in 1986, as well.

Hard to believe that an album of just nine tracks, checking in at under 40 minutes of music could possibly be something of a sonic flashpoint in history, but there ya go. In the 20 years since, Janet Jackson remained in the paparazzi spotlight as she’s successfully reinvented herself from cuddly child actor to ’80s glam.

And, then into a 1990s sex kitten, before Poetic Justice ensured that quotation marks would surround the word “actor” on her resume, forevermore.

By the time that decade was done, Miss Janet had settled into something of a bland and predictable persona. She might acknowledge her brother Michael’s existence for a few months and appear on one of his tracks, but, for the most part, she was content to make the same songs over and over again.

Then, at the Super Bowl, her boobie got exposed, Justin Timberlake hung her out to dry (hey, maybe he is Black, after all!) and the red states turned on her. To paraphrase the late Andre the Giant, “”¦20 years is a long time.”

20 Y.O. was a far more fascinating ride before it was ever released. The notion that Janet’s boyfriend/C.H.U.D Jermaine Dupri could “save” her career was laughable in that after such a long career, Janet should know that she’ll never do (fill in 20-something pop star) numbers, anymore. Nor should she have to.

But, there was Janet at the front of a Virgin Records media blitz, trying to convince white America that she’s really quite harmless (most notably in an interview with Oprah), while simultaneously trying to win over Black America by showing off her (still) nasty side (she goes to strip clubs and is down with threesomes, apparently) in an interview with King Magazine.

After all that noise, is it any wonder that 20 Y.O. falls flat?

Khia, easily the ugliest and most untalented of the current crop of female rappers lends nothing but a failed attempt at risqué on “So Excited” The production is scratch-heavy and decent (as most of Dupri’s work is) but Janet is pretty much on auto-pilot between the “breathless” delivery and manufactured coos thrown in.

Janet channels Gwen Stefani at her most annoying on “Show Me”, as she spells out the song title for those of you didn’t finish first grade. We’re only two songs in at this point and Janet sounds more like someone doing a solid impression of her.

“This Body” is a pretty good grind-her-on-the-dance-floor effort, with a guitar foundation and a break from the paint-by-numbers formula. “Daybreak” and “Enjoy” are energetic and faintly reminiscent of the 1993 Janet Jackson, easily the best creative period of her musical career.

That’s what makes it so frustrating when she dials up the raunchy goodness on “Take Care”. Hey, I like listening to women tell me they masturbate as much as the next guy, but c’mon. To my dad, she’ll always be “Penny” on Good Times. Even worse are the trite musical clichés that she dredges up on “With U”, where she stops in the middle of the cut to “talk real” to the audience. Speaking of clichés, there’s Nelly on “Call on Me” which fails in every way to capture (steal?) the chemistry between Nelly and Kelly Rowland on “Dilemma”.

There’s no way that 20 Y.O. could live up to its hype and, sure enough, it didn’t. Poor first week sales essentially forced Dupri out of his executive position at Virgin and left Janet’s career at the crossroads. This is an uneven, mostly mediocre album, but at times it makes you realize why you fell in love with Janet Jackson in the first place.