In the backstage area of the McNichols Arena in Denver, elevation 5,280 feet (light head, anyone?), I'm led into a room unlike any other. It has black curtains covering the black Sheetrock walls, throw rigs over the nondescript industrial carpet, to black leather couches, lights on dim, scented candles everywhere and a sound system playing something sweet and low.
I've just entered the world of Janet Jackson. It's nothing like the one you and I live in. Janet's is carefully constructed and choreographed-her daily two-and-a-half workouts, her nightly performances, the meals prepared by her personal chef, the custom-made tour buses, the interviews...
Oye, the interviews. "If I want you to know what's going on with me," says Janet, "I'll put on my album." Okay, so what's going on with Miss Jackson, If You're Nasty? The Velvet Rope, her latest album, goes from upbeat pop on "Together Again" to "Rope Burn," an R&B slice about, well, getting tied up, to "What About," a rant on realizing that your guy is a dog of the lowest order. To go with the music, there is the visual-tattoos, piercings, scarlet hair. So...Miss Janet is going through her highly emotional, super freaky phase?
Well, she might be out of it by now. There's no tree-stalk hair: It's black, wavy and done up in a Pebbles Flintstone topknot. Her makeup is natural brown, and there's lots of it (she is about to go onstage, after all). She's dressed in a white shirt and black pants-nothing flashy. Her voice is as soft as powdered cinnamon, and when she talks, she looks at you from underneath her brow, chin close to her chest, her whole body leaning forward. Eek. She's the queen, and you're Kenneth Star come to grill her.
What's the point? Everything that can be known about Janet has been written thousands of times in hundreds of languages. Any anything that can't be known won't be-the 32-year-old is too smart to let things just slip out. She shows more of her boobs than she does of herself. I wanted to figure out a way to get her to open up, so on the way here, I asked everyone I came across for help-people I met on the street, at starbucks, on the plane out of Denver. When I tell her this, she looks intrigued and amused. Like maybe this won't be so bad, after all.
SUZAN: What do you look for in a guy?
JANET: I am so attracted to an incredible sense of humor. I love intelligence. That's just, like, such a turn-on for me. [A journalist] asked me the other day, "Are you a size-queen?"
SUZAN: Hah! That was my friend.
JANET: [Giggles]Really? I had to be honest and say yes. But you don't know that until you see someone. A lot of my friends, that's the first thing that they look at. I just can't do that. If I were to get caught, I'd be very embarrassed.
SUZAN: How do you manage to look so good in your videos? Are you going to do more movies?
JANET: I have a team of people that really help me get it together. I have the makeup people, the hair person, the wardrobe people, the trainer....I workout six days a weeks for two hours and a half a day. I lift for an hour and a half, then do cardio for an hour, boxing....I used to run, but I don't anymore because it can be tough on the knees, especially being a dancer. Now I walk or cycle. I used to cycle 25 miles a day.
SUZAN:You were your own Tour de France!
JANET: I know, right? And I'm definately going to do films after the tour. It's funny-after I committed myself to the tour, I had three offers that I did not want to say no to, but I had to. I was really bummed out about that. But I'm definately going to get back into it.
During her show, while Janet sings "Special," from The Velvet Rope, baby photos of her are flashed up on the video screens. Aside from the collective "Awwww!" for a photo of little unpierced Janet, the picture that gets the biggest cheer is one of her with her brother Michael.
SUZAN:Are you still close with your family? Do you get together once a year for reunions or any specific events?
JANET: We don't get together for reunions. we used to, once a month-we called it Family Day. But it's really difficult for us because everyone's all over the place. And are we close? We are, but in a different way, not like we're constantly talking to each other on the phone. Like, we all check in with Mother, that's how you find out how everyone else is doing. And if someone needs you and you call them, they're there for you. A lot of times we'll leave messages for each other saying, "I love you, I miss you," and things like that, just to let them know we're thinking about one another. I wish we would talk more, but again, it's really difficult.
SUZAN:Are you going to have a baby, and when are you going to get married?
JANET: Do I want children? I'm not sure. When I was a teenager, I wanted 12 kids. Then, as I got older, I wasn't so sure a big family was such a great thing. It's a tough job, and I'm not talking about all the hours you put into it. It's raising the child, when do you let them fall, when do you pick them up-you know? I have this fear of not being a good enough parent. I know there's no such thing as the perfect parent, but I'd want to be as close to it as possible.
And I don't know if I will get married. We like it the way it is [that would be Janet and Rene Elizondo Jr., her song-writing partner, co-producer, and boyfriend of 13 years]. We feel like we're spiritually connected. When someone in the public eye gets married, there's a feeling of...putting negative energy in the air. Like, I wonder how long it's going to last? It's like getting the person's name tattooed on your body. A friend said, "Why don't you get a tattoo of Rene's initials?" I go, "No, I never will." The minute I do, we'll break up, and I won't be able to get rid of that shit.
SUZAN:What's up with the orgasmic interlude on that song "Speakerphone"? Are you exploring some sexuality thing?
JANET: You know what's funny? People just don't understand that. [Starts to get emphatic] The thing is that I'm already in the act before calling her. See? It's not me thinking of her, saying, "Oh, she's going to make me climax." And there's nothing that she's saying that's very sexy at all. It's like when you do stupid things with your friends. The other day my friend goes, "Sh, sh, quiet," and we're listening, listening...and she passes gas. We cracked up. It's that kind of thing.
That same girl called one day and asked what I was doing and Rene' goes, "Well, she's sitting on the table getting her coochie pierced." And she goes, "Put her on speakerphone, I want to hear this!" She's talking to me, and I'm laughing so hard, I can't stay still, and the guy's trying to center the thing. At the same time, I'm getting excited 'cause he's touching me down here. So all this is going on at the same time, and Rene' says, "I've got to get the video camera." I'm going, "Don't you film this! If you lose this tape, I'm in trouble!"
SUZAN:Hello, Pamela Anderson?
JANET: I know, right?
But a lot of people think-I did an interview a couple days ago with a guy who said, "You say you haven't told everything. So what's the other stuff?" And I said, "Well, there's got to be something left for one's privacy." And he said, "Does it have to do with your homosexuality?" I said, "I'm not gay." He goes, "Okay, you're bisexual. Why else would you cover 'Tonight's The Night?'" I did the song not just because it's been one of my favorites since I was 2 years old-and I never changed the gender of the lyrics when I was a kid-but more than anything, it's reality for a lot of women. I have a lot of female friends who are gay. It's not that I'm trying to come out.
SUZAN:Does the adoration you get from the gay community affect your music?
JANET: The adoration from the gay community is great-just like it is from anyone else. But it doesn't have any influence on me. I do what I feel. Like, I wrote "Together Again" for friends I've lost to AIDS. I wanted something rejoiceful to reflect their personalities. I didn't write that song thinking, "This will win me some brownie points."
Someone asked me, "Why at this point in your life?" I said, "Why not?" People always question things. [Exasperated] I've never done anything-I can truly say that I've never done anything for shock value. [Getting really worked up now] If I wanted to get on the news tomorrow, all I'd have to do is walk into a 7-Eleven and have sex right there in front of a video camera.
SUZAN:All you'd have to do is walk into a 7-Eleven, hon.
JANET: [Laughs] True! It's that simple. Then they're going to show it, blur whatever parts out, it'll be on the news, I'll get arrested, and it'll be the next thing in all the papers. I mean, it's so easy for me to moon the public. But it's not what I do on purpose.
JANET: I'm not patting myself on the back. But showing your true self means leaving yourself open for people to take shots at you. For a quick second, I said, "Oh, why did I ever put 'Rope Burn' on the fucking album?" On MTV, that was the first thing they mentioned, and there's only one song like that on the album. Not all that I had gone through since the last album and what I had discovered about myself, and looking inward, which is what the album is about. No Bondage. And I'm not even into bondage!
During the show, Janet and her female dancers pick a guy from the audience, tie him to a chair and do a little striptease to "Rope Burn." You can see him on the video screens; he's babbling, "I love you! I love you! I love you!" to Janet, who, unlike her dancers, gets to keep her pants on.
JANET: There are certain things that I find sexy. To me, there's nothing wrong with being blindfolded and having your hands bound and anticipating your lover's every move. To me that is...it's very sexy. It's about experimenting and exploring, as opposed to having the same mundane thing night after night. That's what "Rope Burn" is about.
This one kid we took up onstage, he was so adorable [laughs]. He's saying, "I'll do anything for you, anything!" He's mouthing this to me, and the crowd's going crazy, and he's flicking his tongue out-I haven't even touched him yet!-and the next thing I know, his shorts just started rising...he was a good size [starts crackling now].
SUZAN:For that famous photo where you're wearing your nipple ring outside your clothes, did that actually go all the way through?
JANET: Yeah. It didn't hurt at all. But there was another outfit where they made the hole too small and put it in the wrong place. So sombody said, "Screw it, let's just cut a hole in the outfit, pull your nipple through and paint it." And they did.
JANET: No. And then they airbrushed it. But one photo wasn't airbrushed, and I was totally looking at my nipple painted black. It was so funny.
JANET: A while ago, Rene' took a picture of me, and, you know, him being my boyfriend, I can trust him, right? Well, in the photo, which ran in a foreign magazine, my whole ass is hanging out. Everyone thinks the dress is black in the center, which is my G-string. And then it's brown.
SUZAN:And that's your butt.
JANET: [Screams] Yes! I was laughing so hard. If people only knew that was my ass hanging out! I guess they do now.
SUZAN:Do you believe in God?
JANET: Yes. Very much so. I believe in having a one-on-one relationship with God, not necessarily through organized religion. I think a lot of organized religions talk about, "Oh, he's going to save this religion, not that one." I don't think God has that in his heart. I think he looks at the individual person.
SUZAN:What do you do in your spare time?
JANET: I love being with my friends-they're the dancers, really. We're very good friends. I when I say good friends, I mean friends who tell you when you're doing wrong and also happy to tell you when you're doing right, that don't kiss your ass. I don't have alot of friends, but the ones I do have are good friends. We love going to clubs, and we stay at home a lot. My chef, Ricardo, will cook, and we'll play games and watch a movie and eat. Oh, and we workout together.
SUZAN:Growing up, did you always want to become a singer, or was it something that was expected in your family because of the Jackson 5?
JANET: When I was a kid, I thought I was going to be a horse-racing jockey. I started riding when I was 7 years old and fell in love with it.
SUZAN:Then you got too tall, so you figured you'd sing?
JANET: [Laughing] I don't know about that, but when I started in this business, I was acting, which was how I supported myself. Then I wanted to go to college for business law. But instead I took a job because my father wanted me to be on a show called Fame, and it went on from there. I never went to school, but I want to. I think it's going to be very exciting when I do.
After we talk, I go outside to watch Janet's show, which is not so much a concert as a performance: There are a lot of elaborate sets, like the one where the dancers are dressed as flowers and jesters, and they slide down a giant storybook and a big smiling clock wiggles in the background; there are those video screens flashing cheesy graphics ("Nasty!" "Boys!" in black-and-white shatter type) while the songs play; fire-works, blah blah blah.
The Jackson family has always believed in big productions, but Janet is a special effect by herself. At the start of the show, she stops singing and, with her face set on fierce, she stares down the audience for, like, five minutes. The longer she stares at them, the louder they scream. Finally, when everyone's ready to pass out from her sheer magnetism, she breaks out with, "If I was your girl!" Hysteria.
Saying that Janet Jackson, queen of her own universe, is a regular person underneath all that star-booty is like saying Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean ride is an accurate portrayal of a visit to the islands. She's pure fantasy. And we like her like that.
By Suzan Colon for Jane magazine
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