Janet's Sexual Healing - A heart-to-heart with Miss Jackson, whose new record reflects her liberation
Before now, Janet Jackson never smiled on one of her album covers.We've seen her show defiance ("Control"), righteousness ("Rhythm Nation"), sensuality ("janet.") and introspection ("Velvet Rope.") But never has she displayed the kind of open-faced grin that spreads
like a welcome mat across the front of her new LP, "All For You." "This album comes from an 'up' space," Jackson explains. "It's hopeful and optimistic. I'm experiencing things that are all new to me."
Like dating and sex outside of matrimony, for starters. Having previously been married to singer James DeBarge for seven months, Jackson was secretly married to her manager/co-writer René Elizondo Jr. for eight years. Their union only became public when they announced it was over in 1999. Last year, the divorce hit an acrimonious peak, when Elizondo filed a still-unsettled $10 million lawsuit claiming Jackson reneged on promises to split property
and royalties accrued before their 1991 prenuptial agreement.Ditching the relationship and experiencing the ensuing legal woes rattled Jackson for a while. But now she feels reborn."I'm just entering my teenage years," says the 34-year-old with a giggle. "I'm experiencing things most people my age are over and done with. But I've always been a late bloomer. We were Jehovah's Witnesses, so growing up, we were very sheltered. Then I missed out on my
childhood [by working all the time]. Then I was with René for 13 years. I feel like a kid again and I'm having a great time."
Not that "All For You" expresses only joy and sexual liberation. In fact, two tracks, clearly placing Elizondo in their crosshairs, contain the angriest outbursts of Jackson's career.
"Thought you'd get the money too/Greedy motherf----r/Try to have your cake/And eat it too," she sneers in "Son of a Gun."
In another track, windily titled "Truth," Jackson sarcastically sings, "I had a career before you now didn't I?/I had lots of friends before you now didn't I?/I had my fans before now didn't I?/And I had my family before now didn't I?"
While Jackson will not talk about the lawsuit, she expresses pain at the collapse of the relationship and surprise at its nasty aftermath.
"I never in a million years thought this would happen," she says with a sigh. "I thought we'd be friends to the end. He was my best friend, someone to grow old with. We don't talk. That hurts very much."
Jackson claims it was she who ended the relationship: "I saw it coming. I don't know if he saw it. It was just a matter of time. We decided to say [the parting] was mutual. I did that for René. I won't get into why it had to end, but it was unfortunate that things couldn't change. It was for the better."
She still loves him, she says. "There were times when I wanted to choke him, but I will always hold a special place in my heart for him. [My friends] say I'm nuts because of the things he's trying to take me through. But my mother always taught me to forgive. I don't forget. But I do forgive."
No wonder Jackson's album features far more giddiness than griping, and it will surely get just as much, if not more, attention for its explicit sexuality than for its few strident outbursts. At times, the songs veer into Prince territory. "I grew up on the 'Dirty Mind' album," she offers.
While Jackson has often played a sex-kitten role in the past, on "All For You" she sustains an aggressive eroticism. In "Love Scene (Ooh Baby)" her sex talk has a new candor, while in "Would You Mind" she provides the listener with enough long and slow details of a randy encounter to make Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" seem like lunch with Laura Bush.
"Some of these things are so good, I have to sing about them," she says, laughing. "It's not like I haven't done this in the past."
But never with such verve. In fact, such torrid songs — as well as past numbers that have addressed S&M and lesbianism — have earned Jackson accusations that she is being sensationalistic.
"It's just what I'm feeling," she says. "I didn't do these things because I want to shock people or have them talk about it. I have never done things for shock value and never will. Mooning the public is the easiest thing to do. I think I'm [expressing sexuality] in a classy way, not a crass way."
Either way, Jackson undercuts the effect by laughing at the end of the sexiest track. Indeed, giggles and teasing remarks caught in the studio are something of a Jackson trademark. "It brings an audience closer," she says of the add-ons. "I love it when you feel an artist is sharing their life with you. That way I feel I get to know them, not just a song they've written."
Toward that end, her songs make up a kind of autobiography. "I was never one to keep a journal or a diary like normal girls do. My music, that's my journal."
Accordingly, she holds a special place in her heart for confessional singer-songwriters of the '70s: "My brother Randy loves all the folk stuff. He brought to me into that whole world, with Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon and Joan Armatrading."
It began to show on Jackson's last album, "The Velvet Rope," on which she prominently sampled Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi." On the new album, she sings an entirely new version of Carly Simon's "You're So Vain."
Simon herself raps (!) on the track, although Jackson sees the contribution more as "a spoken-word piece than rapping." And it was Simon who had the idea to add the fresh verses.
"She said, 'You can use it or not,'" Jackson reports. "She made it a whole new song. And it worked."
With this version of the 1972 classic, Jackson says she isn't pointing the finger at Elizondo alone, but "other people in the music business, too. And I'm not going to tell you who, so please don't ask me," she laughs.
Clearly, Jackson has no trouble drawing the line on what she will and won't divulge to the press. Despite a willingness — some would say an eagerness — to discuss aspects of her personal life, she managed to keep something as basic as her marriage a secret for eight years.
"I wanted to have a successful and normal relationship, to protect it and make it precious. The best way to do that was to keep it a secret. Not all my friends knew. Not everyone in my [extended] family knew. How many times in this business do you hear that so-and-so is getting married and you say, 'I wonder how long that will last?' And they don't last. You're lucky if you have a year. So for us to have had 13 years together, eight married, that's
Jackson's most enduring relationship may be with her producers, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. At this point, their connection is as deep as Burt Bacharach's with Dionne Warwick, or Phil Spector with his girl groups. For the first time on the new album, they brought in an outside hand to help out on some songs: Rockwilder (who has created tracks for Jay Z, Mos Def, and Lil' Kim). But Jam and Lewis still rule the roost.
When asked about their collaboration — or about music in general — Jackson turns curiously vague. Unlike most music stars, she's more articulate about personal matters than sonic ones. Her most relevant musical comment in our talk is her explanation for why her records all sound different and why they defy categorization: "It's because of all my brothers bringing so much music into the house when I was growing up. They all exposed me to different
genres and sounds."
Jackson would just as soon talk about such tabloidy affairs as her weight issues. Lately, she has become defensive about her sexy, toned, yet very thin figure. "Everybody has their thing. It makes me happy [to be thin]. If that means a bit less to eat, I accept that. I'm comfortable at the weight I am."
In fact, she says she's reached her most comfortable point yet in every aspect of her life. And she is determined not to let her sour experiences curdle her. "I've applied what I learned in therapy and dove into my work," she declares. "I learned to deal. And I'm moving full speed ahead."