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Janet Jackson – This Time

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Has there ever been a greater pop star than Janet Jackson? I’m not certain there has. While others – though not many – have sold more records, few – if any – have been as interesting as the tenth, final and best Jackson kid.

By the time Janet was a toddler five of her brothers were the most famous people on the planet, and she was put to work by father Joe Jackson almost as soon as she could walk. Providing the cuteness factor once Michael hit puberty, she became a regular on American TV screens in sitcoms like Good Times, A New Kind of Family and Diff’rent Strokes, eventually ending up basically sleepwalking her way through a role on Fame at the point when no-one was watching it any more. Along the way Joe had nabbed her a record deal with A&M, the results of which were two fairly by-the-numbers pop albums which entirely and quite rightly failed to interest anyone at all.

What followed is now pop legend: Janet rebelled, sacked her father, eloped with James DeBarge, swiftly realised what a terrible mistake that was and dumped him, and wound up in Minneapolis with on-the-rise producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Come to think of it, it’s a bit like the premise of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

The result of all this was 1986’s Control, which harnessed all Janet’s experiences and frustrations and placed them squarely on the dancefloor. Its effect was instant – Janet became a superstar. After that there was no stopping her, with 1989’s Rhythm Nation 1814 – a What’s Going On? for the 1980s – giving her even greater success. By the time 1993 rolled around Miss Jackson was ready to unleash Janet, which functioned as her Got To Get It On i.e.) her sexy album. Arriving six months after Madonna had attempted the same trick with Erotica and its companion book Sex – both under-rated but not actually sexy in any way – it was a risky move from an artist who’d become synonymous with more heavyweight issues.

We needn’t have worried, for Janet possessed an uncanny knack of knowing exactly which buttons to press and when to press them. Janet became her biggest ever hit, selling 20 million copies and yielding seven UK top 20 hits. Yet shockingly the song we’re here to discuss isn’t one of them. For me, This Time was the dark heart of the album, a swirling, threatening, masterpiece of operatic pop. God help whoever this was written about:

 
Once you’re so successful that no-one dare say no to you, you can do things like rope in opera sopranos (Kathleen Battle in this case) and add car horns and helicopters to your record, but unless you’re very very clever the whole thing can quickly become a preposterous mess. Janet, it’s fair to say, is very very clever. This Time veers wildly close to being overblown, building constantly until it threatens to collapse under its own weight – but it never does. It’s an angry but danceable triumph which ends with a very firm “You’re DISMISSED,” and many’s the time I’ve felt my cheeks redden when it finishes, with a strange sense of having been shamed. Epic.

Janet has been missing in action for the last few years, but if the rumours are true she’s about to return to the fray in 2015. It’s a very different world to the one she previously ruled, but if anyone can conquer it Janet Jackson can.

Entered chart: was not released

Who could sing this today and have a hit? J-Hud please.

Edit: Popvoid contributor Rod has pointed out the striking similarities between This Time and Dirty Water by rubbish girl group Made in London. It made no.15 in 2000 and it makes Blurred Lines look like a work of staggering originality. They should have brought this out in court.

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