Control, by Janet Jackson
By the time she had released her third album, Janet Jackson was a pro in the music industry. She had performed as an actor, had developed her musical chops, and had built a loyal audience in R&B and had made some solid music that included pop and dance. But her previous albums had been strongly molded by her overly controlling father and had not been popular with the wider general audience of Americans. All of that would change with Control, which started a series of immensely successful albums that demonstrated Janet Jackson was an artist to be reckoned with. Does the album stand up more than thirty-five years later, though, as an artistic statement and not merely a personal one?
Control begins the album with an autobiographical song about her search for control over her own life and her own career, a statement of artistic independence that resonates even now. Nasty then follows with a catchy ode that expresses her own desires for good music and sexuality. What Have You Done For Me Lately? then follows with a call to a partner to show attention and care and concern for the relationship in an atmosphere of concern about staleness and complacency. You Can Be Mine is a lovely song where Janet appeals to someone that she wants to be hers. The Pleasure Principle provides a picture of Janet Jackson’s desire for pleasure rather than material wealth. When I Think Of You is an ode to a successful love and expresses Janet’s happiness with her relationship. He Doesn’t Know I’m Alive reflects a shy and timid person who struggles to communicate with someone she is in love with, a relatable situation to be sure. Let’s Wait Awhile calls on a partner to take it slow on trying to push for physical intimacy because she is uncomfortable with going too fast. Funny How Time Flies (When You’re Having Fun) begins and ends with some lovely French dialogue before going into a cute song about Janet’s enjoyment of a good experience where time just flew by, like a wonderful vacation to Martinique or somewhere like that.
By any measure, this album is a smash that deserves to be remembered fondly. Fully six of the nine songs on the album were smash hits, and the rest were certainly not filler. My own favorite songs from the album reveal my own personality and biases, perhaps, with songs like “Let’s Wait Awhile,” “When I Think Of You,” “You Can Be Mine,” “He Doesn’t Know I’m Alive,” and “Funny How Time Flies (When You’re Having Fun),” but the whole album is a gem. The title of this album may seem a bit misleading at first, but throughout the album there is a consistent theme of a desire for control–control over one’s own life, one’s own image, one’s own body. Janet shows herself struggling with how to communicate herself and her desires with partners and potential partners, even as the album shows her seeking control over her art and expression. She is not seen as wanting to have control over others, but rather avoid others trying to exploit and take advantage of her, and it’s hard not to be rooting for her, even in the knowledge that these would be consistent problems throughout her entire career.