The House that Janet Built.

janet | Kourtney Thomas Fitness

I got rather last-minute tickets to see Janet Jackson last night, and I’m still reeling a bit. I have so many thoughts and feeeeelings. And the first is, my god, she’s so incredible and I love her SO MUCH. People like to poo-poo musicians or other artists, talk about how they don’t matter, but let me just take a minute. It often goes so, so far beyond the music.

I’ve loved Janet since I was 9. That was the year her album janet. came out. I had it on cassette tape, and I played it till the case broke and the notes were falling apart. I can remember everything about it, and all the lyrics to all the songs. As she sang many of them last night, so many things came flooding to me.

One side of the tape opened with the sound of a helicopter and the lyrics, “In a world sick with racism, get well soon…” At the time, I had no idea what that meant. None. Absolutely zero. I had no concept of racism, because I had never met a person of color. I had no idea of the world around me whatsoever, let alone its social struggles. I didn’t know how bigoted and racist my environment was, because I knew no different, yet.

I sang the words, and I sang the words of the song that followed, “New Agenda,” over and over again, but again, had no concept of the message. Go look it up. And remember, this was 1993. Now, imagine what it was like to hear, and sing, those lyrics as an adult last night, 25 years later. An adult with a completely different worldview. The world is different, but…is it? Seems to me a new agenda’s still due.

On that very same album, “If” was my favorite song. I loved the music video and watched it every chance I got. I even found a choker like the one she wore because I was so in love and just wanted to be Janet so badly. I had a girl’s idea of what this song was about, but I didn’t understand all of its message, or that of many of the other sexually empowered songs and lyrics on the album. (Hello, “Throb.” Look that one up too.) I was an early bloomer though, and looking back, it sure makes sense that this album had a lot of influence on shaping my identity as a woman.

Last night, revisiting all my favorites as an adult, it made me smile to see Janet thrusting away and caressing her power source all through the show. That behavior, so commonly accepted and normalized for men, being so strongly, and might I add completely normally and confidently, seized by a woman just gets me excited. (You can read into that all you want. I’m so over feeling ashamed of my sexuality as a woman.)

Fast forward a few years to 1997. I’m 13, and The Velvet Rope was released. Now this was my album. Even more sexually charged and socially conscious than janet., Control, or Rhythm Nation 1814. An overarching concept of introspection, and the human need to feel special. Themes of not only sexuality, but homosexuality, depression, self-worth, and domestic violence. As a teenager, that shit was powerful. I mean, I was smack in the middle of formative years. “Together Again,” my favorite song on the album, was a tribute to friends departed from AIDS, and I sang it as my choir final that school year. It’s not lost on me that I didn’t pick up as much on the themes of homosexuality, as again, I had no concept of gay people or exposure to them. But at this point, I was picking up most of what Janet was putting down, and it was just as influential as ever.

And this stuff loses absolutely zero power over the years. As Janet sang “What About” last night, it was even more powerful and relevant than it was 20 years ago. I stood indignantly with tears in my eyes. Look that one up too. Now.

All this time, I’ve followed Janet’s career. As I was just a bit too young to really understand Control or Rhythm Nation 1814, I went back there over the years too. Do you know that “Nasty” and “What Have You Done for Me Lately?” are inspired by sexual harassment incidents? When is the last time you HEARD the lyrics to Rhythm Nation? That song came out in 1989. Almost 30 years ago, and here we are. And here Janet is, still singing, still fighting for us to hear.

“This is the test
No struggle no progress
Lend a hand to help
Your brother do his best
Things are getting worse
We have to make them better
It’s time to give a damn
Let’s work together come on, yeah”

I danced and sang my way through two magical hours with one of my idols and biggest inspirations last night. And all I could think of was the remarkable impact this woman has made on the world. Yeah, we love her music – it’s always been inventive and creative, skilled and passionate. But what about this woman’s influence? What about the conversations she has been leading for over 30 years? What about just how many barriers she has broken for women, and for people of color? What about being the highest paid recording artist in history several times, even ahead of her brother? What about being one of the most awarded artists of all time?

No celebrity icon is above reproach, or completely unproblematic when it comes to setting examples for things like feminism and social justice. I get that. But as personally influential as Janet has been for me throughout my lifetime, I just smile thinking about the fact that there is no one else, no one better, no one I would have rather looked up to so much. We still don’t have a lot of strong women icons – for speaking up, for being creative leaders, for paving the way for us to do business, for finding our power, sexual and otherwise – but she’s one of the biggest and most important to ever grace us with her gifts. Talk to me about feminism and empowerment and success and confidence and doing what’s right – Janet is it. Talk to me about Beyonce, and I’ll respond as one fabulously astute writer put it in 2010: she, and all the others, live in the house that Janet built.

And it’s the house I want to live in too.


For more musings on music, feminism, business, and more, sign up here for weekly emails from me.

share this:

Previous post:

Next post: