“Like a moth to a flame, burned by the fire. My love is blind, can’t you see my desire?” Janet Jackson cozily coos in the opening line of “That’s the Way Love Goes.” The slinking mid-tempo track marked a new era for the singer. The sultry tone gave fans a glimpse at what was to come next. The accompanying video solidified Jackson artistry and image transition.
As she rocked her hips in a mid-drift baring black cropped vest and low rise pants set, it was evident that Jackson was using her agency to express her latest evolution. This video represented an evolution in her sexuality and personal style. It showed the world who she wanted to be as a then 27-year-old woman. Now, the album still stands 30 years later as a representation of personal evolution.
Upon its release on May 18, 1993, the “Janet” album had spawned a chart-topping hit and was a commercial success. The album had a No. 1 debut on the Billboard 200 album chart. It also topped the Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums chart. With 350,000 copies sold in its first week, it set a record. It was the highest first week sales in history for a female artist.
The album also launched the highly acclaimed Janet World Tour. It received a Best Rhythm and Blues Song at the 1994 Grammy Awards for “That’s the Way Love Goes.” Beyond the commercial accolades, the album carried more important impact. The “Janet” album era marked the creation of several iconic moments from Jackson. Each stamped a major evolution in her personal and creative life. Some of these moments include her iconic album cover, her thumping ode to 90s house “Throb” and the legendary topless Rolling Stone cover.
The Album Revolutionized Her Sound
The “Janet” album also found Jackson pushing the boundaries of her sound. She largely abandoned the industrial sound that had largely driven her previous two chart-topping projects. With her production partners, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Jackson swapped those industrial influences for a mashup of jazz, hip hop, pop and R&B. The mashup completely expanded her sonic reach through a blend of genre-fusing tracks.
The self-titled album ushered in the next phase of her artistry. She entered a journey to reshape exactly what she wanted her narrative to be. She used the album to reinforce the evolution of her personal truth. Jackson openly celebrated her sexuality through her outfits and lyrics. She explored topics like love, heartbreak, sex, and betrayal and delivered highly quality music videos and live performances. It flexed her artistic prowess and defined the pinnacle of 90s pop music creative.
Jackson reveled in the beauty of completely reworking her public image and aligning with who she understood herself to be.
The Impact of The “Janet” Album
As a Black woman in a music industry that devalues the contributions and cultural impact of Black women, Jackson refused to allow the truth of her self-discovery to be hidden or minimized. Her openness to share her artistic evolution publicly in this era was an inspirational act for Black women and the members of the Black queer community who saw themselves in her artistry and commitment to take up space.
With her “Janet” album, Jackson crafted a decade-defining era that continues to be a touchstone moment in music history and pop culture. Three decades later, the era stands as a celebrated example of the power of trusting your personal evolution, celebrating your truth and never being afraid to show up authentically in the world.