My initial (and, to date, just about only) listen to Janet Jackson’s 20 Y.O. had me thinking about celebrity sex tapes. You see, their massive disappointment stems from the fact that many of the subjects are usually at least a decade older than your average porn star, and even the ones that aren’t that old lack the professional stamina of porn’s trained sides of beef. I’m not taking potshots at Janet’s age, but the dance icon doing hip-hop strikes me every bit as misguided and desperate. Enter Rodney Jerkins. “Feedback,” the lead-off single from Janet’s forthcoming album, Discipline, shows Janet the 4/4 we assumed she lost, though the beat whomps so relentlessly here it’s hard to know how she could’ve ever misplaced it. This is the “for the clubs” monster the half-written “Come on Get Up” wanted to be back in 2001 before giving up entirely, only this one drops Jam and Lewis’s incongruously cute synth bells and whistles in favor of a claustrophobically spare itch-and-scratch. (Incidentally, Discipline also drops Jam and Lewis entirely. If there’s even so much as one other song with as much octane as “Feedback” on the album—perhaps the similarly Jerkins-produced “Roller Coaster,” though the sugary-cute title gives me diabetes—it will have been for the best.) Instead of writing lyrics that insist she’s all about having fun, here she presents a series of ridiculous couplets (which she tellingly didn’t write) that simply are fun: “Light skin, dark skin, my Asian persuasion.” It’s the difference between telling and showing, to use a hoary writers’ workshop cliché, and by the time she claims that her “swag is serious, something heavy like a first-day period,” she’s also accidentally discovered the essence of hip-hop for good measure. The video is comparatively only a minor revelation (dancing with sperm? That’s so Rihanna!). But I gotta give her credit for a) juggling CGI in a skin-tight red jumpsuit during what appeared to be the middle ground of her yo-yo weight swings, b) whipping up cosmic dust with that ponytail (how’s that for an entrance?!), and c) not making another damned video in which she just hangs out with her dancers:
This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.