Friday, 26 June 2009

Keltner analysis of undiscussed Rock Hall Artists: Janet Jackson

The site A List of Things Thrown Five Minutes Ago, discusses various artists' credentials for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

After finishing my analysis of the Rock Hall backlog, I always intended to analyse artists who have never been discussed by the Nominating Committee, but still might have credentials to justify induction. The aim of the process is to find out whether, on the basis of the Keltner list for a Hall of Fame, the Nominating Committee really is completely ignoring artists who have undeniable credentials to be in the Hall.

I do admit that there are some problems with the criteria, especially given known biases of the Nominating Committee and how they effect who is already in the Hall, but still I cannot see any better alternative.

I have already done three Keltner tests on undiscussed artists:
My next artist, first eligible in 2007/2008, is Janet Jackson. Janet Jackson is mentioned in Using the Billboard Hot 100 All-Time Top Artists as a Predictor for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or: Why the Charts Don't Matter as proof that her tremendous commercial success does not makes for likely induction.

She began with two albums of the typical MOR pop style of the 1980s, Janet Jackson and Dream Street, which however sold very poorly. It was only with her 1986 album Control that she attracted public attention. The album topped the US charts and reached the Top 10 in UK, in the process generating six singles and attracting attention for Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis' production work, which was to become a critical part of Janet Jackson's career. Her next album, 1989's Rhythm Nation 1814, set a record with its seven Billboard Top Five singles, including "Miss You Much", "Escapade", "Black Cat", "Love Will Never Do (Without You)", "Alright", "Come Mack To Me" and "Rhythm Nation". Though the album was not universally praised, Robert Christgau admired the way she made her music into a message.

After Rhythm Nation 1814, Janet Jackson took a much more sexually assertive attitude with her fifth album janet. and made her film debut with Tupac Shakur in Poetic Justice. Her next full album, 1997's The Velvet Rope, was a concept album about her disillusionment with celebrity, but continued to sell in enormous quantities with its sexually explicit lyrics and guest appearances from cutting-edge rapper Q-Tip. 2001's All For You and 2004's Damita Jo showed Janet becoming more assertively sexual than ever, in the later case having to have a "clean" version issued in addition to the regular one. 2006's 20 Y.O. was her last album with longtime collaborators Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, and came simultaneously with a return to acting, whilst 2008's Discipline was marred by record company problems.

An evaluation of Janet Jackson's Rock Hall credentials based on the Keltner criteria, which actually come from the Baseball Hall of Fame follows.

1) Was Janet Jackson ever regarded as the best artist in rock music? (Did anybody, while Janet Jackson was active, ever seriously suggest Janet Jackson was the best artist in rock music?): Most likely not. Unlike preceding pop megasellers (Donna Summer, brother Michael, Madonna), Janet reached her peak whilst the pop charts were turning away from the synthesised pop of the 1980s towards more guitar-driven music like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and 1990s Metallica and Red Hot Chili Peppers, who took over from Michael as the premier artist on radio.

2) Was Janet Jackson ever the best artist in rock music in her genre?: Well, if we exclude Madonna, she could qualify in several genres, but having to do that would probably exclude her from any of them.

3) Was Janet Jackson ever considered the best at her instrument?: No, she was never highly regarded for her singing, which was often criticised even by sympathetic critics. However, as a dancer and stage performer, Janet might qualify because her dance routines were influential in the pop world of the 1990s.

4) Did Janet Jackson have an impact on a number of other artists?: Yes. Control and Rhythm Nation, though by no means the first albums of the New Jack Swing genre, were vital in popularising them and influenced such artists as Bobby Brown and Paula Abdul. They also were critical influences on established artists like brother Michael (Dangerous), Whitney Houston (I'm Your Baby Tonight) and Sheena Easton (What Comes Naturally).

5) Was Janet Jackson good enough that she could play regularly after passing her prime?: Yes, most definitely. Janet Jackson has been continuing to record at an unusual rate for one with so much experience, actually increasing her productivity with age even as her commercial and critical fortunes fall off. Even Madonna could not manage that so well, nor did previous pop megastars like Elvis Presley and Elton John. (Brother Michael's death will prove a test for her I think).

6) Is Janet Jackson the very best artist in history that is not in the Hall of Fame?: No, unless you define "best" as most commercially successful. However, as outlined above Janet's artistic impact is too small for such a claim to be valid even compared to the few above her in terms of chart success.

7) Are most singers who have a comparable recording history and impact in the Hall of Fame?: Definitely. The nearest in terms of commercial impact who are not would be Olivia Newton-John or perhaps Dire Straits, and none who are not had anything like the non-musical impact Janet had over the years. I recall hearing on one news show that Janet was the second most hated artist after brother Michael by Chinese censors, and I know other megasellers who have never been discussed are accepted even by despotic dictators.

8) Is there any evidence to suggest that Janet Jackson was significantly better or worse than is suggested by her statistical records?: The fact that, despite the assertively sexual tone of many of her records, Janet Jackson not had the same public controversy of her rivals for "Billboard's biggest-selling artist" (Elton John, Madonna, Michael Jackson) might be taken as in her favour because it suggests Janet knows how to cope with the pressure of fame - which are notorious for bringing pop stars down - better. Otherwise little to say.

9) Is Janet Jackson the best artist in her genre that is eligible for the Hall of Fame?: Yes, there is little doubt that she is the most significant artist in the pop and dance/pop genres who is eligible for the Hall of Fame, and importantly will remain so for a long time yet.

10) How many #1 singles/gold records did Janet Jackson have? Did Janet Jackson ever win a Grammy award? If not, how many times was Janet Jackson nominated?: Janet Jackson had a total of ten number one pop singles and nine number one r'n'b singles. Every album she recorded from Control to Damita Jo has gone multi-platinum and to the top two positions, with six reaching the pinnacle. She won a total of five Grammys, only one of which was for a song.

11) How many Grammy-level songs/albums did Janet Jackson have? For how long of a period did Janet Jackson dominate the music scene? How many Rolling Stone covers did Janet Jackson appear on? Did most artists with this sort of impact go into the Hall of Fame?: Janet Jackson had only one Grammy-level song, "That's The Way Love Goes", but she dominated the music scene for almost two decades, as noted above in her six number one Billboard albums, which must be a major recommendation. Janet Jackson was certainly a prominent figure on Rolling Stone covers, as shown by her appearance here from its limited archives. Despite her limited Grammy success, the way in which Janet Jackson dominated pop music for so long means one would have to answer this question in the affirmative.

12) If Janet Jackson was the best artist at a concert, would it be likely that the concert would rock?: Most of the Grammy's Janet Jackson won were for her videos rather than for her music and her live performance, especially its choreography, was the most influential part of her work. Thus, one would probably give this a "yes".

13) What impact did Janet Jackson have on rock history? Was she responsible for any stylistic changes? Did she introduce any new equipment? Although the SOS Band with the production of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis was the truest inventor of New Jack Swing, Janet certainly changed black popular music in the late 1980s to a quite standardised sound. She could be credited with popularising portable microphones on stage, but they have hardly been a significant innovation.

14) Did Janet Jackson uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?: There seems very little to say here.

Verdict: Janet Jackson was really an extraordinarily solid hitmaker with great skill at adapting herself to cultural trends she did not start, and as such has not been surpassed in popular music. Her longevity and the sheer number of hits leads to a verdict of induct. (It would I think be unfair for Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis not to get in as a Non-Performer if Janet does).


Tyler said...

i realize that you're a white male and probably arent as well-versed in R&B as some. but janets influence is very evident in this genre. if you looked at the careers of britney spears, ciara, and numerous other pop and R&B starlets, they used the same formula that janet used with control-on. the exact same formula, in fact. while madonna has garnered lasting success with a similar blueprint, her staying power is due mostly to the amount of controversy she can generate. when janet attempted controversy, it backfired. it's ridiculous that you say rhythm nation wasnt universally praised. it's considered one of the 500 best albums of all time. i think it was rolling stone that deemed it so. in fact, janet had two appearances on that list. madonna and beyonce (another imitator) had one. In fact, if you did some research on miss jackson, I'm sure you would find yourself respecting her work more. just look at a video like scream, where she more than holds her own against her brother michael. honestly, i dont see a mariah or madonna having that same presence. and, yes, janet is sometimes lazy vocally, but there are good performances to be found. maybe they're not always singles...but they exist. in summation, you bring up some good points. but reading this posting, it's evident that you arent familiar enough with janet's work to make this call. much respect, though.

Tyler said...

oops...i was wrong. although rhythm nation appeared on the rolling stone list, madonna made three appearances to janet's two. it mustve been another publication i was thinking of.

jpbenney said...

Thank you, William - I always appreciate feedback because I so seldom receive any! I have had the same point made to me about Janet Jackson by another commentator on the Rock Hall.

One point which I did not mention in the text, but will do so is that even those critics who do praise Rhythm Nation and Control admit that producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis had a central role and that those albums' later influence is to a very considerable extent that of Jam and Lewis rather than Jackson. One might go far enough to say that it would unjust to them if Janet gets in without Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis getting inducted as Non-Performers.

JoeJoe said...

You are definitely trippin' if you think Janet has hardly had influence on Pop culture. She's even the only black female to ever have a song hit no.1 on the Rock Charts "Black Cat." and won a songwriting award for it at 24 and yes she wrote the whole song herself. Get up on your research bud cause from what I see in your analysis its like you're downplaying Janet's credibility. Jam and Lewis have tried the same formula with other artists that they've done with Janet and failed. There's only one Janet and she's definitely a trendsetter as much as Madonna. I don't know where you get off saying she's a trend follower. You got alot of learning to do about Janet.

Tyler said...

no problem jpbenney. it was a compelling read. what i dont understand 100% is what you meant by Michael's death being a "test" for her. did you mean that that would interfere with her ability to get back to work and release albums as frequently as she lately? also, i think it's a misconception that janet isnt in control of her sound, that she is just an outlet for a producers talent. since control, janet has co-produced and co-written all of her material with the exception of the last album. she's the only black female to be grammy-nominated as a producer. it's incorrect to think of her as someone who is just propped in a recording booth (a'la britney) to sing a song written by someone else.

jpbenney said...


a lot of my knowledge, I will confess, comes from what I read in The MOJO Collection which said that Jam and Lewis had developed their distinctive sound before they ever worked with Janet. The book listed Control as "further listening" after a record by the S.O.S. Band called Just the Way You Like It and because I generally respect the book as very knowledgeable, I based my judgement upon what it said.

Penelope Pitstop said...

I actually read this in its entirety....ummm, do you even know what the hell you're talking about?

Anonymous said...

Mr white guy you don't understand it at all. Janet Jackson is the queen of African American Pop.

Anonymous said...

Janet Jackson deserves this nomination. Hands down!

Unknown said...

Jam & Lewis should definitely receive credit for "Control". They had many of the beats created prior to linking up with Janet. Janet provided the storylines, though, and a dream team was born.

Jimmy Jam has mentioned on numerous occasions that Janet is much more havily involved in the creative process than many think. She scratched that surface with "Control", but really stepped it up with "Rhythm Nation 1814" and even moreso with "janet." and "The Velvet Rope".

Janet deserves a nomination. It's LONG overdue.