The sex- and body-positive beginnings of janet.— Janet Jackson’s first album under a then-record-setting $40 million contract with Virgin Records—can be traced back to the video for “Love Will Never Do (Without You),” the seventh and final single from her blockbuster 1989 album Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814. After being buttoned all the way up in military fashion for most of the Rhythm Nation era, Jackson served up midriff and cleavage in the “Love Will Never Do (Without You)” video, directed by Herb Ritts. And by the time of the release of janet., with its provocative album cover, Jackson’s transformation from soldier to sexpot was complete. In the same way that Marvin Gaye had followed up his conscious-raising What’s Going On with the temperature-raising Let’s Get It On, Jackson traded social salvation for libido liberation on janet. She wanted to make it clear that she was a 27-year-old woman, and no longer Michael’s little sister. And you can sense that desire in the sensual, moth-to-a-flame seduction of the album’s first single, the chart-topping “That’s the Way Love Goes,” which sounded unlike anything Jackson had ever done before—and introduced a whole new vibe to R&B, bridging the gap between new jack swing and neo-soul. Gone were the hard-edged beats of Rhythm Nation—although some new jack grooves remained (see “You Want This” and “Because of Love”)—as the industrial sound gave way to the intimate, as evidenced by the horned-up house of “Throb” and the slow bump-and-grind of “Any Time, Any Place.” But janet.—which again dream-teamed the singer with producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis to make her best-selling LP—isn’t all about her erotic awakening. Jackson’s leading role opposite Tupac Shakur in 1993’s Poetic Justice inspired not only the Oscar-nominated love ballad “Again”—the album’s other chart-topper, and one of six hit singles—but the Black female power anthem “New Agenda,” featuring Public Enemy’s Chuck D. The latter includes a Stevie Wonder sample—from 1972’s “Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You)”—that connects Jackson to her family’s Motown legacy. But while janet. digs into her roots, it’s more notable for setting the blueprint for Jackson’s future—and leading the sexual revolution for generations of R&B divas to come.

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