Thursday, January 15, 2009

Janet: After Discipline and Def Jam

I really tried to avoid this post for several reasons: It's lack of timeliness, lack of originality, and my obvious bias (see archives)...But given Jermaine Dupri's recent dismissal from Def Jam and the Essence interview that has surfaced since, I feel inclined to throw caution to the wind and publicly question Janet's sustainability in the wake of the worst decade of her career.

Since Discipline's failure, both Janet and Jermaine have been quick to point fingers at Def Jam for lack of sufficient material, promotion and communication. If that sounds familiar, it's because they did the same thing when Janet's 2006 effort 20 Y.O failed to take flight when she was signed to longtime label Virgin. Janet has even been quoted as saying "the material just wasn't that good," in reference to the latter, while later claiming that the former suffered from poor single choices. Huh?

If nothing else, more than 20 years as one of the top selling artists in the music industry, across any genre, should give Janet enough sense and agency to recognize bad material and pass on it before it even reaches our ears. While I'd venture to say that 2004's Damita Jo was far better than '01's All For You, despite it's sub par sells, I'll agree that 20 Y.O was misguided and disappointing. Still, the album was better than the attention it garnered, and Discipline was an honest return to form for the singer. That is to say, I don't agree that "the material just wasn't that good," and poor single choices are acceptable excuses for Janet's commercial shortcomings. But, if that's the road she wants to take, I'll go there with her.

Of the six singles that Janet has released in the past four years, I would only concede that "Call On Me" was a poor choice. Ironically, it was the most successful. 2004's "I Want You" and "All Nite (Don't Stop)" should've been hits, likewise 2006's "So Excited" was the best R&B dance song Janet had released in years. Finally, last year's "Feedback" should've been the song to bring Janet back to the front of the pack, while "Rock With U," though not as enaging as "All Nite," was the house song her fans had been craving for years. The fact that none of these singles managed to garner attention in either radio or video form comments more toward Janet herself, and audience attitude toward her than it does actual quality of material.

While Janet will cite lack of label commitment to her projects as another reason for their lack of success, I'd say she's half-assing it too. That fact that she consistently refuses to properly promote new material until just a few days preceding its release is questionable at best. A few official website updates and an occasional label-induced track leak does not a platinum plaque encourage. With Discipline, Def Jam tried more in terms of promotion than I think Janet gives them credit for; holding several listening events for the writers of major blogs and inciting a heavy internet buzz for the album months before its actual release. Still, Janet didn't do a single live performance until the day of the album's release, and at that point it had already become clear that "Feedback" was fading. Hell, the video for the single didn't even surface until 3 months after the song, and that's just poor timing. To add insult to injury, Janet's publicity tour more or less ended just a week into the album's release, with her cancelled SNL performance due to sickness, which resulted in her being replaced by labelmate Mariah. Seriously Janet?

Actually, that Mariah incident was just as tacky on Def Jam's part...but Janet knows damn well her ass should have popped a Dayquil and used a backing track to get through that SNL apperance once she got that MiMi memo.

Add to that a world tour with only 12 dates (give or take) satisfied, and it's clear Janet is just going through the motions.

Realistically, Janet is 42, and at this point new fans are going to be hard to muster. The most that she can hope to do is win back her waining fanbase, and half-hearted attempts at a comeback just aren't the way to do it. She'll walk away from a project (and a label) after just two underperforming singles, and that's disappointing. B'Day was far from a runaway success, but Beyonce rode that shit like walking away would've meant splitting another paycheck with Kelly and Michelle, and it paid off. Janet needs to rediscover that sort of drive, as she's clearly been lacking it of late. I'd love to see her stay committed through a third video; something she hasn't done since 1997's Velvet Rope.

Outside of that, people want to see Janet fail, and that's not something she can help. I suppose that given her legendary history paired with the increasing level of professional embarrassment she's experienced in the past few years, her downfall has become fun to watch for the same people that supported her while she was on top. In that respect she's like any other celebrity who happens to fall from grace, and I suppose it was inevitable. Still if Britney can go backwoods crazy and spend a year looking like a pre-op circus Tranny, and still manage to move more than 500k in her first week, then I honestly believe anything is possible.

Still, for that to happen she has to stop looking for places to lay blame and handle her business as best she can. The rest should come; and if not, she's a legend. Weak chart performances or not, that won't change.

And because I look for any reason to post a Janet clip, here's one of my favorite live performances.

Ms. Jackson gets SO much better with age...and she knows it.


Ellington 51 said...

I'm sorry, I love her just as much as the next kat, but ... she's JANET ... is she REALLY supposed to NEED all that promotion? At this stage in the game for her, the mere mention of a forthcoming album is SUPPOSED to inspire sales. BUT, probably what has happened is that with successive generations, the public has become a lot more demanding. They woke up and realized she never was a GREAT vocalist but she's a helluva performer. So people are not knocking the doors down to buy albums anymore; they have resigned her to the category of "the one I'll kill to see in concert." She's not an artist people pay to HEAR anymore, she's the one they pay to SEE. They gotta stop complaining and making excuses and make better music instead. I actually liked the last album but admittedly a lot of the material sounded like stuff we've already heard from her. But, how much longer can she realistically do this?

BFloyd86 said...

Eh..I think Janet can sing...not that she tries too much anymore, but I'd pay to hear her I guess. People pay to hear Rihanna...So I don't know if people have woke up to the fact that she was never a great vocalist...or have just stopped caring about her in general.

And realistically, I don't think anyone in today's industry is automatically bankable. I need a reason to buy your cd, instead of downloading it from one of 20 blogs making it available 2 weeks before you've even finished recording it.