The promotional campaign for Janet Jackson’s latest album ‘Discipline’ continues, with the star appearing on the cover of the latest issue of Billboard magazine. In the no-holds barred feature, Janet speaks on the poor performance of her last two albums, the difference between Virgin and her new label Def Jam , what we expect from ‘Discipline’, tour plans and more. Check out the comments section to read the article.
Interestingly, MTV have added the recently released ‘Feedback’ video to their schedules for the week beginning January 14th (next week Monday). MTV’s lack of support for Janet since ‘the incident’ has been well-publicized and hotly debated. It’s worth noting that the network did add ‘So Excited’ (from Janet’s last album ’20 Y.O) to their video schedule – only opting to play it at graveyard times. Whether the video for ‘Feedback’ gets the same treatment will be interesting to see.
Having only been on the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks, ‘Feedback’ currently sits at #52. With the video having debuted this week, as well as the song having officially gone for ads too, one can expect the song to continue to rise.
TOGETHER AGAIN: JANET JACKSON
January 19, 2008
by CLOVER HOPE
Breezing past a table of talking suits, Janet Jackson makes her way to the not-entirely-private backroom of New York’s Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar, with her chef, Cheo, in tow. The narrow rectangular wooden area boasts two slits for doors, and a bench lines one wall. Jackson sits with her back facing the entrance.
On this brisk January afternoon, a charcoal gray peacoat keeps her cozy and black thigh-high Yves Saint Laurent platform boots keep her chic. As is her custom, she has slimmed down quite stunningly (and rapidly) in time for the release of her 10th studio disc, “Discipline,” her first project since defecting to Island Def Jam (IDJ) from Virgin last summer.
You could call it a you-know-what. But don’t.
“I think a comeback is when you leave and then you . . . come back,” Jackson says with a laugh, requesting a few packets of Splenda from the waiter for her green tea. “People are always quick to use that word ‘comeback,’ but I never went anywhere, really.”
Arriving Feb. 26, “Discipline,” Jackson insists, does not put her in the same camp as Mary J. Blige or Mariah Carey—it’s not her “Breakthrough,” nor her “Emancipation.” But given the commercially disappointing sales of her preceding Virgin sets—2004’s “Damita Jo” moved 999,000 units in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and 2006’s “20 Y.O.” stalled at 648,000—there was a vanishing act of sorts that warrants all the comeback talk.
“There’s a great anticipation for the record,” says IDJ chairman Antonio “L.A.” Reid, who executive-produced “Discipline” with Jackson. “I feel that there’s a welcoming from people in general, whether it be in the radio community or in the media. We would be wrong not to note that there’s a different level of excitement going on with Janet right now.”
The excitement comes courtesy of her new Rodney Jerkins-produced lead single, “Feedback.” After a round of underwhelming singles from her past two albums, the song has been gaining momentum at urban and pop formats, thanks to its robotic bassline and voice-modulated effect tailor-made for the clubs. It debuts this week at No. 42 on Billboard’s Hot Digital Songs chart with 44,000 downloads and at No. 52 on the Billboard Hot 100.
” ‘Feedback’ is reminiscent of the drum pattern of ‘Rhythm Nation’ but it doesn’t sound like it. It’s a 2008 version,” says Def Jam A&R director Shakir Stewart, who worked on “Discipline.”
The record was leaked to blogs in late December, after which radio quickly picked up the scent. “Janet is one of those timeless artists. She’s capable of making songs for a wide variety of audiences,” says Deon Cole, music director of urban WPEG Charlotte, N.C. “I think this single kind of takes you back to what Janet normally does. She’s an artist that can make those songs that can make you dance. This song is definitely one of those feel-good, make-you-get-up-out-your-seat, maybe dance-on-the-table-a-little-bit type songs.”
This is exactly the reaction that IDJ was banking on. “When you look at blogs and critics that didn’t favor her previously, they’re loving her now, citing the return of Janet,” IDJ VP of marketing Ashaunna Ayars says. “We’re getting adds at top 40 urban and rhythmic stations without even sending out a physical piece of product.”
If “Feedback” breaks into the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100, it will be Jackson’s first such hit in that region of the chart since 2001’s “Someone to Call My Lover” peaked at No. 3. “Nothing sells music better than good music, so I think ‘Feedback’ has done a good job getting people’s attention. And then she looks amazing, so that visual’s been helping,” says Ayars, whose marketing team followed up the Internet chatter with photos of Jackson looking as svelte as ever in a futuristic black latex catsuit. “Dancing is a popular thing and she’s the architect of that, so we’ve given fans a song that they can dance to. They can create their own choreography.”
Heavier on dance tracks than seductive jams (Jackson’s other forte), “Discipline” is classic Janet. The title track is one of her typical frisky bedroom cuts, featuring lyrics like, “I need some discipline tonight/I’ve been very bad” and “Daddy, make me cry.”
Yet, there is an air of newness to the album that is partly the result of Jackson creatively straying from her longtime go-to production team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.
“I was hoping we could do something together, but sometimes you have to explore and kind of kick yourself out of the nest,” Jackson says of her decision to escape her production comfort zone. “It was something that I needed to do for myself, but I think [Jam and Lewis] felt it coming, too, ’cause I kept working with a different producer here or there.”
Stewart agrees that Jackson was in need of a fresh direction. “She’s made a career of going to the same two producers and whatever environment she’s been going to, it’s become routine,” Stewart says. “More than anything, I was excited that she was open to working with people that she hasn’t worked with. The producers have come together and taken it retro, but also fast forward to the future.”
In addition to production by Jackson’s longtime boyfriend Jermaine Dupri, Island’s head of urban music, “Discipline” also features tracks by newcomers the-Dream and Tricky Stewart (“Umbrella,” “Bed”), Lil Jon, Stargate and songwriters Ne-Yo and Johnta Austin. The beats and lyrics that these contributors initially presented to Jackson were, serendipitously, true to her choreography-based roots.
“I never had to tell them, ‘No, this is what it should be,’ ” says Jackson, who stopped rehearsing for a tour in support of “20 Y.O.” to focus on the album. She was also in the middle of shooting her third starring film role, in Tyler Perry’s “Why Did I Get Married?,” which opened at No. 1 at the box office last year. “I felt like they really did their homework and whatever they felt a Janet song was—rock, pop or urban—they hit it right on the nose.”
“It sounds like songs that were written for her, and I think that’s a beautiful thing,” Dupri says. “You could tell that these records were made for Janet.”
With “Discipline,” the aim was to innovate without totally reinventing the wheel. “There’s so much that I’ve done, from ‘Black Cat’ to ‘I Get Lonely’ to ‘That’s the Way Love Goes’ to ‘Together Again.’ I have never stuck to one style of music ever,” Jackson says. “There are some things that maybe I’ll try for right now and some things I’ll wait later on to try. It’s [about] sticking to who I am. Even lyrically, something that I’ve experienced or someone that I know has experienced, it has to relate to my life and myself.”
STARTING FROM SCRATCH
Starting her musical career at age 16, Jackson released her first five albums through A&M, including her self-titled 1982 debut and her 1986 breakthrough “Control,” on which she first started collaborating with Jam and Lewis. But it wasn’t until 1989’s “Rhythm Nation 1814” that multiplatinum sales started becoming a norm. For 1993’s “janet.,” which has sold more than 7 million copies, Jackson relocated to Virgin and revealed a sexier image, with more sensual music to boot. The reinvention yielded her most successful single, “That’s the Way Love Goes,” which topped the Hot 100 for eight straight weeks. Subsequent albums “The Velvet Rope” and “All for You” each sold more than 3 million units.
While Jackson’s record sales have gradually declined through the years, the most drastic dip occurred in the aftermath of her infamous “wardrobe malfunction” during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show. This is, of course, another hurdle—perhaps the hurdle—from which Jackson has been struggling to recover.
Though the incident is a bygone, it is still the elephant in every room she enters. Its aftershocks were felt not only in the FCC’s crackdown on censorship, but also in her album sales.
Despite bowing at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, “Damita Jo” was largely overshadowed by the Super Bowl fiasco. According to Jackson, the project was poorly handled.
“Not to badmouth Virgin, ’cause it was my family for a very long time, but they kind of just lost touch,” she says. “To only have support of the urban department and for [those two albums] to sell what they did, there’s a lot to say for that. [At Island] they all come together, and one department knows what the other department is doing. You need that to really move forward. It’s teamwork, and that’s what Virgin lost.”
Back when Dupri was president of urban music at the label, he’d expressed similar sentiments of nonsupport, which was part of the reason he left once the dust of “20 Y.O.” had settled. According to him, the label felt it was the music that was the barrier. “It was described to me that the music wasn’t appropriate and that’s what was making these outlets or certain places that usually would support her not willing to play the record,” Dupri says. “I know better than that. In the music business, you at least get a shot.”
But sources close to “20 Y.O.” note that since Dupri was president of Virgin’s urban department at the time of the album’s release, he controlled virtually every aspect of the marketing and promotion of the project. (Virgin did not respond to a request for comment by press time.)
Regardless, in February 2007, when Dupri was appointed to head IDJ’s urban music department, Jackson followed close behind. But while Dupri and Reid worked together on “Discipline,” Dupri, who executive-produced “Damita Jo” and “20 Y.O.,” willingly loosened the reins this time around, although he ended up producing all the vocals for the album.
“It’s a crazy role for me, because I want the right things for her as my girl. I also want the right things for her as a label, but I also am the label president,” Dupri says. “So, I had to kind of let this be L.A.’s situation, because there’s so many different ways I could get caught up in this project. I also wanted her to feel the love from a real record company and a whole bunch of people other than myself giving her the yeses, so I kind of stood back so she could get a vibe of what she used to have when she first signed to Virgin.”
Two years ago, Dupri masterminded Mariah Carey’s comeback effort, “The Emancipation of Mimi.” Beforehand, Carey was in the throes of flat-lining sales, an abysmal movie endeavor and an emotional breakdown following her IDJ debut, “Charmbracelet.” With Jackson, a similar opportunity presents itself.
“Janet is one of the few forever artists in the business,” Reid says. “I felt that if she was inspired and if she felt excited and if there was some adventure, along with the magic of working with the right people, that we should have a good shot of having success.”
Def Jam COO Steve Bartels thinks the key is to reinvigorate Jackson’s fan base through an arsenal of diverse urban and crossover records rather than targeting one lane. “Her appeal was to everybody when she was at her height, and I think that the people out there still want that from her,” Bartels says. “On the last few albums, something had changed.”
Despite inheriting another reputable vet, Stewart is realistic about the challenge of overturning the results of Jackson’s last two efforts. “Any time you work with a superstar, there’s pressure, especially when they’ve had such an illustrious career,” he says. “It was important that we deliver to her fans classic music to make them fall back in love with Janet.”
“I never put pressure on myself,” Jackson adds. “It’s just, to me, about going in the studio, having fun, enjoy what you’re doing and do it to the best of your ability. You have to be happy with the work that you do.”
As with “20 Y.O.,” where fans got to design their own album covers, Jackson is offering another DIY promotional campaign for “Discipline.” In January, her official Web site (janetjackson.com) launched a contest for fans to create their own homemade videos for “Feedback” and post them on her YouTube channel, Destination Discipline.
In mid- to late summer, Jackson hopes to tour in support of “Discipline.” She continues to avoid endorsement deals, instead using acting to supplement her musical pursuits.
“I like more the creative aspect of things as opposed to coming home with a headache every night with stress up to here,” Jackson says. “It feels great, because I still love what I do, and I’m not about to stop. It’s nice to be able to do it but even nicer that the people still yearn for you after 20-plus years—that they still want to know what’s to come.”
I’m glad u brought that point out Sam. It needs to be addressed. MTV and VH1 blacklisted Janet since that superbowl incident. But when it came to Justin they did not blacklist him being that he played a part in that well publicized scandal. BET did not show such ignorance towards Justin as MTV did Janet. I wonder if their was to be a famous black singer that displayed such actions (as shown by the superbowl) towards Britney Spears or Madonna for that matter, would MTV have black listed them?
Why are superstars so arrogant that they can’t accept when the music-buying public decides that they don’t much care for their latest product? It’s always the record label’s fault, but they can never just admit, “Ooh guess we missed the mark on that one cause you guys weren’t feeling it.” As a huge and enduring fan of Janet’s music, I’m not too optimistic about this new cd. I thought Damita Jo was a much better album than 20 YO, and I believe its lack of sales had to do with Janet’s refusal to take responsibility for the Superbowl incident. Now four years later, she still isn’t willing to and music has moved on. She will sell, but only to core fans. It’s a new day now people.
…I believe its lack of sales had to do with Janet’s refusal to take responsibility”…SHE HAS!!!!!!! WTF. What else do you want her to do, su$$ all the !!cks of the corporate heads at CBS, what? (Maybe Lance Bass taught Justin that trick…I digress)
Now true, the album material may not have been up to par as pass work (i.e. “Janet,” “Velet Rope”) and the influence of JD didn’t help with him pushing her to be more R&B instead of an Hybrid which has worked in the past (i.e. “I Get Lonely,” “That’s the Way Love Goes,” “You Want Me”). If JD had allowed J&L to do what they do, the material would have been better for “20 Y.O.” I’m encouraged by the new song, “Feedback” (love the song, hate the video…concept should have closely aligned with the lyrics of the song). I’m in a wait and see mold but I think any artist can make a resurgence with the right material. Let see how the entire CD sounds before we write her obituary.
It’s nice to see her on a magazine cover again but, MTV can’t be trusted and Billboard definitely can’t be trust! Janet has to do everything in her power to protect her career and promote her album (this time around), so she should be wise with whom she associates and negotiates with.
Besides the Justin topic, Janet also took the fall for the war on terrorism. For some odd reason the “Superbowl” incident became more of a big deal than the war did at the time. Anything to distract the minds of the people. I actually thought 20 Y.O. was a solid CD. Totally has my support, love “Feedback”.
thanks for posting the article. 🙂 i’ve never been the biggest janet fan or anything, but i love “feedback” and eagerly await the album. which is exactly what the article mentioned, actually. lol.