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She's in 'Control'

[whitespace] Janet Jackson Velvet Rope in an Iron Will: Janet Jackson rallies the rhythm nation at Shoreline Amphitheater.

Janet Jackson is more than
Michael's sister

By Nicky Baxter

JANET JACKSON'S rhythm nation may no longer rule the soul system, but Michael's little sister still commands attention, thanks to her devout attention to style and an ever-evolving public persona. Jackson first hooked pop fans with her cherubic looks and songs full of coquettish charm and little-girl whimsy. She has long since graduated to an image at once naughty and nice. Few expected it, but throughout the 1980s and early '90s, Janet Jackson has been--along with Madonna--the diva all the beat-girls wanted to emulate.

After modest success under the stern guidance of her father, Joe Jackson, an independent Janet Jackson emerged in the mid-'80s. The title of her 1986 album, Control, said it all. It was a pivotal career move, kicking off what could be called the "You go, girl" movement. Not coincidentally, the album marked the commencement of a creative partnership with ex-Time players Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Ironically, Jam and Lewis themselves were itching for an opportunity to escape the artistic dictatorship of the artist then known as Prince. The Jackson/Jam/Lewis collaboration proved fruitful from the start. Thanks to the duo's studio smarts, their protégé's weaknesses could be turned into strengths.

Jackson did not boast the vocal powers of, say, Whitney Houston; she possessed a breathy, almost delicate singing voice with limited range. Rather than trying to overcome her vocal limitations, Jam and Lewis smartly exploited them. Whether Jackson was intoning the enchanting dreamscape of "When I Think of You" or cooing the soft-porn pop of "Nasty," she sounded, well, in control.

Rhythm Nation 1814 and janet found the singer solidifying her position while simultaneously expanding her sonic palette. Rhythm Nation displayed a more mature and eclectic feel, and tunes like "Come Back to Me" and "The Best Things in Life Are Free" showed a growing mastery of the ballad form.

There was another reason for Jackson's vertical ascent to the top of the charts: she is extraordinarily videogenic. Videos from each of her albums are exceptionally well-produced, designed to show off Janet's tack-sharp dance moves. Moreover, videos have helped establish new looks for the singer. Compare the video for "When I Think of You," in which she comes across as the cutie-pie next door, to her later MTV offerings, which reveal an apparent penchant for leather and studs. Besides being the 32-year-old artist's most sexually provocative album to date, The Velvet Rope also delves deeply into her painful past as a Jackson. Like her videos, Jackson's in-concert appearances are glitzy, smartly choreographed affairs. Supported by a chorus line of nimble-footed new-jack dancers, banks of lights and lasers, Jackson's live performances are larger-than-life extravaganzas.

Janet Jackson appears Sunday (Aug. 16) at 7:30pm at Shoreline Amphitheater, Mountain View. Tickets are $25/$75. (BASS)

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From the August 13-19, 1998 issue of Metro.

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