Janet Jackson
Janet Jackson, photographed by Patrick Demarchelier for the cover of her fifth album Janet.

When I was 11 years old, if you had asked me to name my favorite pop star, I would almost certainly have said it was Janet Jackson. And this was based entirely on my adolescent devotion to her 1993 album, Janet. I’m not sure I had much awareness of, let alone any meaningful engagement with, her previous work. I don’t even think I really understood that Janet. was essentially a mid-career album, her fifth to be exact, and not, in fact, her breakthrough. “Escapade”? “Nasty”? “What Have You Done for Me Lately”? I can’t tell you exactly why none of these songs registered in my wee brain as part of Ms. Jackson’s cannon, except to say that I was a child. And it was with a child’s myopia that I listened to Janet. over and over and over again, the way that little kids can watch the same movie a million times without ever considering that there might be other films in the director’s oeuvre.

Actually, I think this sense I had that Janet. was a breakthrough album, that it was the one that finally put her on the map, had a lot to do with the fact that it represented a turning point in her career. Control and Rhythm Nation 1814 were, of course, massive hits, but Janet. was her first record to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. But more than that, the album signaled a shift in her public persona. If Rhythm Nation was Jackson’s message album, Janet. was her bedroom album. To be clear, this is some of the horniest music ever made! (I cannot believe that I listened to some of these songs in the car with my mother and younger brother when I was a kid!) According to FX and The New York Times’s recent documentary Malfunction: The Dressing Down of Janet Jackson, this made Janet a lightning rod during the ’90s culture wars.

Not that I had any idea any of that was going on when I was 11. I just…really liked Janet Jackson!

The cover art for Janet Jackson's fifth album, <i>Janet.</i>
The cover art for Janet Jackson’s fifth album, Janet.

Janet. was one of the first albums I ever owned—other highlights included Ace of Base’s The Sign, Des’ree’s I Ain’t Movin’ and Madonna’s Bedtime Stories. I would probably describe this as the VH1 period of my still-developing musical taste. Then came Alanis Morissette and Garbage, and by the time The Velvet Rope was released in 1997, I considered myself someone who listened to “alternative” rock—whatever that meant—as opposed to pop and R&B. That’s an oversimplification, of course. I mean, obviously, I’ve enjoyed Janet’s hit singles over the past 20-odd years. “Together Again,” “Go Deep,” “All for You,” “Feedback”—I’m not a monster! But the upshot is I can say, definitively, that not only have I not listened to a full Janet Jackson album since the mid-90s, I also haven’t listened to Janet., an album that was a major part of my adolescence, start-to-finish since I was probably 12 or 13. Which seems wild.

The final two installments of Jackson’s new four-part documentary are set to air on Lifetime and A&E this weekend. Episodes 1 and 2 covered the singer’s childhood through her rise to fame as a pop star in her own right in the late ’80s. Episode 3 promises to pick up in the early ’90s and cover the recording and wild success of Janet. This seems like as good a time as any to revisit the album for the first time in over 25 years.

Note: Half of the album’s 28 tracks are seconds-long interludes. They add some lovely texture to the record’s narrative, particularly those featuring Jackson’s spoken-word contributions. But I’m not going to cover each of them individually. I just don’t think anyone needs my reaction to an 11-second recording of wind.

“That’s the Way Love Goes”
As buttery smooth as I remember. I seem to remember seeing the video for the album’s lead single when it premiered on MTV, all golden light and that ’90s southwestern vibe. The song itself doesn’t have any of the strife or conflict you expect from a love song, or any of the smarminess you often get in libidinous slow jams. Honestly, if anyone has recorded a sexier song in the two-plus decades since, I haven’t heard it.

“You Want This”
Fun! Fun! Fun! Takes me back to every middle school dance I ever attended!

Hands-down, my favorite track on the album. The guitars rip, the beat is propulsive, the delicate little twangs give it this echo of distant melancholy longing that undercuts the bravado. And Janet just sounds to badass, so intimidating! God, I love it. Of all the songs on Janet., this is the one that I’ve definitely listened to consistently in the years since the album came out. It’s found its way onto many a playlist.

“This Time”
I guess it’s worth noting that even the most forgettable tracks on the album are pretty bangin’. Like this one for instance.

“Throb” and “What’ll I Do”
Is there anything in the world better than an authentic ’90s house track? I’m embarrassed to admit that when “Throb” came on, my first thought was, Wait, I thought this was a Madonna song! Then I cringed at the realization that I listened to lyrics like “Boom boom boom until noon noon noon,” and “DJ make me wet” in the car with my mother when I was 11 years old!

But the wildest thing about “Throb,” is that Jackson follows it up immediately with “What’ll I Do,” a straight-ahead blues track. Like, there’s not even an interlude to transition from dance floor realness to dirty dancehall blues! Hell of a choice, Ms. Jackson!

“Funky Big Band”
I have this vague memory of the girl who lived across the street from me being super entertained by this song. I think it was something to do with misunderstanding the lyric, “You’ve got to be real if you want to hear the funky big band.” Like, “You have to be a real person who exists to hear this band.” Also, maybe we just thought the words “funky big band” were really funny. Because we were 11.

“Racism” and “New Agenda”
I know I said I’m not covering interludes, but this one is lovely: “To a world sick with racism: get well soon.” Still working on it, unfortunately.

“Because of Love” and “Whoops Now” (hidden track)
I guess I’d forgotten how much dance music there is on this album! This is another one of those tracks that makes me really miss, in our age of isolation, going out dancing! Also, when I remember Janet., I have this sense of Jackson always having this consistent group of friends surrounding her in all the videos from the album—presumably because she utilized the same cast of back-up dancers as extras. And because of that, there’s this sense that the album isn’t just about making love, but about making a community; that the love amongst friends is just as valuable what you experience with a lover. That playful camaraderie comes through most on “Because of Love,” obviously, but also on the hidden track “Whoops Now.”

“Again” and “Where Are You Now”
The funny thing about these two love songs is that while I was obsessed with one as a kid, I have no memory of ever hearing the other. When I was a literal child, I thought “Again” was the saddest, most beautiful song I’d ever heard! Two and a half decades later…it is not for me. If I was feeling less charitable, I might describe it as cloying and syrupy. But I’m not coming for Janet today! On the other hand, I am so psyched to rediscover “Where Are You Now”!

“The Body That Loves You” and “Any Time, Any Place”
Another song that I totally blocked from my memory: “The Body That Loves You.” It’s it too harsh describe it as having sexy elevator music vibes? “Any Time, Any Place,” meanwhile, remains the sexiest of all sexy songs on this sexy album. Light the candles, pour the wine, draw the bubble bath—all of that!