Janet Jackson’s janet. could not have come out at a more critical time in my life. It was the summer of 1993 (the album was released 25 years ago today, May 18), and I was 11 years old going on 12, and puberty was having the time of its life in my body. Since this was still a few years before the internet would be widely available and I had no access to skin magazines or movies, my options to entertain the hormone party raging inside me was whatever television had to offer.
As it turns out, that summer, television offered me a lot, and most of it was courtesy of Ms. Jackson and the multiple videos she released in support of her self-titled album.
janet. was one of the rare albums I could own that was also popular at the time. Most of the music my friends were listening to came with a parental-advisory sticker, which automatically made it a no-go under my mom’s roof. janet. did not have such a sticker, but it probably should have.
The amount of sex Janet was selling on janet. can make us blush even as adults. My mother bought the album, but I knew after one listen that I couldn’t listen to janet. around her. The messages essentially boiled down to two things: She wanted you (e.g., “If”) or you wanted her (e.g., “You Want This”), and both of you all definitely wanted sex (e.g., “Anytime, Anyplace”). On record, these messages were clear, but for the songs that would have videos, they were explicit.
“That’s the Way Love Goes” was the album’s first single and first song to have a video. One of the most vivid memories I have is the beginning, where Janet and her friends (who were also her backup dancers and just as beautiful as she) are chilling, looking like they don’t have a care in the world. It was an idyllic depiction of young adulthood and made me wish I could grow up so I could have beautiful friends over at my house without having to worry about when my parents came home.
Then the song begins, and from the very first words of Janet Jackson’s verse, I knew “love” was a metaphor for sex. I’m gonna make you crazy, I’m gonna give you the time of your life. How I knew these words were about sex was not through any experiences I had had of my own but the look on Janet’s face when she was singing them. There’s an intense longing in her eyes, a yearning that is hard to mistake for anything else but carnal.
The next video I remember was “If,” a song that I knew even back then was about forbidden desire, but which also confused me. Here was Janet Jackson, looking as good as we had ever seen her in that video, practically begging for a man to choose her, and all I could think about was, “What idiot would turn her down?” I was also jealous of that man she dances with in the video.
For those who have seen the video, you know the one: On his knees, his bald head being pushed into Janet’s crotch or being forced into place to watch her sway her hips, and occasionally his crotch being grabbed. I wanted to be him when I grew up. And the choreography during the breakdown was the slam dunk at every talent show in America that year. If a group could pull it off, they were probably winning all the awards.
Whether it was the uptempo teasing on “You Want This” or the sultry urgency of “Anytime, Anyplace,” janet. was Janet’s sex album before it was anything else. There’s no greater proof of this than “Throb,” Janet’s spirited take on soulful house. Even though “Throb” was also a single, it’s still one of janet.’s deeper cuts, and a song I often skipped until one afternoon I let it play while I was doing my homework. At around the 3:20 mark, the moans that are in the background come into the foreground and take over the entire track. From that point on, I listened to “Throb” often, by myself, while in the shower.
But for all the talk about sex on janet., Janet herself had a lot to say about love, which captivated a young man like myself just as much. On “Because of Love,” she sounds like an angel at a party dancing with the person of her dreams. On “Again,” both in the video and in song, Janet is cautiously falling in love with a man from her past. And on “Where Are You Now,” Janet’s crooning for an ex was so genuine and believable, I would occasionally cry while listening to it, which made no sense because I didn’t even have a girlfriend to leave me or search for.
From the music to the videos, janet. was more than my soundtrack to puberty; it was a teacher educating me on the joy and pain of sex and love and made me feel more ready for all of those things than I actually was.
Janet and janet. made a man out of me.