Janet Jackson: One on 1's
Iconic singer/actress and five-times Grammy-winner Janet Jackson this month returns to the UK for three dates at London’s prestigious Royal Albert Hall as part of her current ‘Number Ones: Up Close And Personal’ tour. Which, as her biggest-ever world tour, sees her perform in a much more revealing, personal and intimate setting while featuring music exclusively taken from her highly-acclaimed ‘Number Ones’ album. Whose total of 35 Number One hits coincides with the tour itself being staged in 35 global cities, with each show around the world offering something different in terms of Janet’s performance.
Born Janet Damita Jo Jackson in May 1966 in Gary, Indiana, bona fide global megastar Janet is respected worldwide for her sonically-innovative, socially-conscious and sexually-provocative records, in addition to her elaborate stage shows and successful television and film roles. All of which has led to her remaining a prominent force in global popular culture for the last 25 years, and in turn being ranked by Forbes magazine as one of the richest women in entertainment.
The youngest child of the Jackson family, Janet actually began her entertainment career in 1976 with the TV variety series ‘The Jacksons’ before going on to appear on various other television shows through the late-Seventies and early-Eighties -including ‘Good Times’ and ‘Fame’. However, it was after signing a record-deal with A&M Records in 1982 that she would become an international pop icon - following the release of her third LP for the label, 1986’s 14-million-selling ‘Control’, which also marked the first of her ongoing album collaborations with R&B super-producers Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. A chart-topping musical partnership which would continue with 1999’s equally-successful ‘Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814’ - where the groundbreaking blend of R&B, funk, disco, rock and industrial beats not only led to worldwide crossover appeal but also to Jackson being acknowledged as a role model for her thought-provoking, socially-conscious lyrics.
1991, meanwhile, found Janet signing the first of two record-breaking, multi-million-dollar contracts with Virgin Records. Which in turn established her as one of the highest-paid artists in the industry, while concept-wise her first album for the company - 1993’s 20-million-selling ‘janet.’ - found her beginning to explore sexuality in her work; prior to its follow-up - 1997’s l0-million-selling ‘The Velvet Rope’ - becoming Jackson’s most introspective work to date. Meanwhile, the Nineties additionally brought forth Jackson’s first starring film role - 1993’s ‘Poetic Justice’, which featured her emotive international hit ballad 'Again’... All of which would ultimately lead to her becoming the second-most-successful recording-artist of the decade. Since which time Janet’s ensuing albums have comprised 2001’s ‘All For You’; 2004’s ‘Damita Jo’; 2006’s ‘20 Y.O.’; and 2008’s ‘Discipline’.
Indeed, having amassed total sales of over l00 million records worldwide (via a catalogue of iconic hits like 1986’s ‘Nasty’; 1989’s ‘Rhythm Nation’; 1993’s ‘That’s The Way Love Goes’; 1997’s ‘Together Again’; and 2001’s ‘All For You’) Janet Jackson is without question one of the best-selling artists in the history of contemporary music, and is in addition cited as an inspiration by numerous contemporary performers - including such modern-day female superstars as Beyonce and Britney Spears.
… All of which adds even greater significance to the charming Ms. Jackson now taking time out of her ultra-busy schedule to answer ‘Blues & Soul’ Assistant Editor Pete Lewis’ questions relating to her aforementioned current tour; her iconic past album releases; her recent acting roles in both Tyler Perry’s ‘For Colored Girls’ and the film ‘Why Did I Get Married Too?’; plus her new, first book ‘True You’ - which chronicles her lifelong struggles with weight and self-esteem.
PETE: Can you please tell me how the idea came about for your upcoming ‘Number Ones: Up Close And Personal Tour’?
JANET: “I was asked to perform at a private date in New York last year. It took place at Radio City Music Hall and it was amazing. I could see the faces of everyone in the audience. All I could think of during the show was, ‘This is how I want to do my next tour… up close and personal with my fans’.”
PETE: The press release states you’ll be “performing in a much more up-close and intimate setting”. What are the reasons for that in particular?
JANET: “This tour is a thank-you to all my fans that have supported me over the years.”
PETE: The tour will be performed in 35 global cities. How are the cities being selected, and which ones have been confirmed so far and why?
JANET: “I have been asking my fans to help me select the cities that I will perform in. They have had the opportunity to let me know where I should take the tour by visiting my website janetjackson.com. It has been interesting to see what they want.
I started the tour in Asia, performing in Manila, Singapore, Jakarta, Hong Kong and Taipei. The fans there were amazing! Then we went to The United States. I was happy to go back to Radio City Music Hall in New York for three nights, Houston, Chicago, Los Angeles… There are so many incredible cities that we are going to.
I am really looking forward to getting back to London and performing at The Royal Albert Hall. It is such a beautiful concert hall.”
PETE: Your upcoming shows will see you performing at The Royal Albert Hall in London - described as “a magical venue with an incredible history of live performances”. Does this venue hold some personal significance for you, and if so what and why?
JANET: “Sure it does. I’ve performed at The Royal Albert Hall before, for The Queen. Not only is it one of the most beautiful and historic buildings, it has been host to amazing artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Liza Minnelli, Frank Sinatra and The Beatles. Nelson Mandela even gave a speech there. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that incredible history?”
PETE: The press release states “each show around the world will offer something different to Janet’s performance. So no show will be the same”... Can you expand on ways in which - or give examples of how - the shows may differ in different cities and countries?
JANET: “No, not really. It depends on what I am feeling. I can say that I will be dedicating some of my Number One songs to each city that I perform in. I am not sure which song I will dedicate to London yet.
I have been making changes throughout the tour though. I have changed some of the costumes, added songs and videos to the line-up... I love to create so it has been a lot of fun.”
PETE: In terms of the actual performances of the songs themselves, what can we expect in general, and it what ways will they differ from your previous performances of the same songs in the past?
JANET: “Well, this is the first time that I have ever performed only my Number One songs. So the concept for the tour itself is different for me. I can’t sing ALL of my Number Ones or we’d be there all night - not that I would mind!... LOL
This tour is not about special effects; it is just my fans and me. I had to add a few dancers though... I love to dance!... LOL”
PETE: How do you feel this upcoming tour will represent a difference, or a possible progression, for you as a performer in general?
JANET: “I am always looking to grow as an artist. Sometimes, it is helpful to stop and see what you have accomplished before moving to the next creation. I am having fun looking at these songs and seeing what I can do with them and letting them inspire me.
When creating this tour, I wanted to tell a specific story in each section of the show. It has been very rewarding so see the fans reacting to the effort we have put into the show.”
PETE: Looking back over the periods in your career that have produced the songs you’ll be performing on your upcoming tour, I’m interested in hearing how the relevant albums came about, their general concepts, and how you now look back on their musical and cultural significance. So can we start by you expanding on your first two albums produced by Jam & Lewis - 1986’s self-assertive ‘Control’ and 1989’s more socially-conscious ‘Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814’?
JANET: “’Control’ was about just that... Control. I was at a point in my life that I needed to take control of my career. I wanted to explore musically what it meant to me to be a young woman coming into her own. When I made that record I wanted to talk about my life. It was the ‘Control’ album that was really about what I wanted to do.
I am always inspired by what I am going through in my life... That and what I see going on around me. Social injustice is something that I will always fight. We are all the same in complete darkness. Our knowledge and wisdom, or lack of it, is what separates us. That is what ‘Rhythm Nation 1814’ was about for me.”
PETE: Can you then expand in a similar way on your two Nineties studio albums - 1993’s ‘janet.’ and 1997’s darker ‘The Velvet Rope’, both of which revealed a more mature, sexual side to your personality and artistry.
JANET: “’janet.’ was sexual. ‘The Velvet Rope’ was very introspective, very vulnerable. To allow people in and see what was really going on with me took a lot, but I wanted to DO that. I wanted the fans to really know ME.”
PETE: Can you then expand in a similar way on your three 2000’s albums - 2001’s ‘All For You’, 2006’s ‘Damita Jo’ and 2006’s ’20 Y.O.’? I’d be particularly interested to know how each one reflected where you were in you life at the time, and any subjects you particularly wanted to touch on in them.
JANET: “The ‘All For You’ album was the first album that I had created since my divorce at the time. It was my first time actually crafting an album being single. I touched upon a few things that related to my divorce, my relationship, and also to me as a single woman for the first time in my life creating an album… Hence the single ‘All For You’.
‘20 Y.O.’, that was actually the anniversary of the ‘Control’ album, 20 years prior. I wanted to celebrate my life in music at that moment. I also was in a new relationship at the time, so I was singing about that as well.”
PETE: Can you please expand on your two recent film projects - Tyler Perry’s ‘For Colored Girls’ and ‘Why Did I Get Married Too?’? I’d be particularly interested to know your reasons for doing both films, your ideas on the characters you played and what you brought to them, plus the main ways in which the two projects differed.
JANET: “I actually got to play Patricia in ‘Why Did I Get Married?’, so when Tyler asked me to be a part of the sequel, I was excited to do it. My character played a much bigger part in the second movie. She, like me, is the person that everyone would come to for advice, but was never great at letting people in. There is a big price to be paid for never expressing your hurts. Patricia takes a long journey in this film and it was fun to bring more to her this time.
‘For Colored Girls’ is based on the play ‘For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf’ by Ntozake Shange. I wanted to be a part of this movie because it speaks to what women - not just women of color, but women of ALL colors - deal with. Yes, we have made progress since the play came out, but these issues are not gone.
My character, Jo, works hard and is successful. I have enjoyed success, but I have had pain in my life as well. I tried to make her a real person. Everyone experiences many dimensions of the emotional range, sometimes in the same moment. I hope that I was able to capture that with Jo.
One movie is about four couples and the progression of their lives together as partners and friends. The other is about social issues like rape, abuse, betrayal... ultimately, survival. They are very different.”
PETE: Can you please tell me more about your new book ‘True You’ - described as “a self-help/esteem book”. I’d be particularly interested to know your reasons for writing it, a brief description of its content, and the main things you hope the book will achieve?
JANET: “I really wanted to write ‘True You’ so that people who read it, especially the kids, know that they are not alone and that they are perfect just the way they are. It has been a long road for me, but I am happy with my life. I wanted to share with people who are struggling with self-esteem issues my journey to finding and loving myself.
‘True You’ is not an autobiography, but it does have antidotes from my life. I felt it would be helpful it people could see some of the things that I just don’t share. If there’d been a book like this out when I was a kid, I would have read it. It would have been very helpful to me.”
PETE: What are your plans in terms of recording new material? Can you please let me know what musical and lyrical directions you’re now hoping to go in, the people you would like (or intend) to collaborate with and why, plus what record-label we can expect it to be released through?
JANET: “I will be going back into the studio later this year. I am not sure what direction it will take yet. I like to be inspired by what’s going on in my life. I’ll let you know… LOL!”
PETE: Can you fill me in on other current and future plans in general? For example, I understand you recently signed a film production contract with Lionsgate “to select, develop and produce a feature-film for the independent studio”. Can you tell me what we may expect from that, in addition to any other upcoming activities you’re currently working on or planning?
JANET: “It seems you know my plans... LOL! I will record a new CD, plus we have started to work on ideas for the film. I will be going to Cannes Chair the amfAR event as well as the Life Ball for them in Vienna. While in Cannes, I hope to meet with a few writers and directors to see where we will go for the film. It’s going to be fun!”
Janet will be bringing her ‘Number Ones: Up Close & Personal’ tour to the Royal Albert Hall, London on June 30; July 2; and July 3
Words PETE LEWIS