We will use Janet Jackson’s career as a case study to examine how race, gender and politics play a role in how media content is created, marketed and consumed.
The Super Bowl XXXVIII (2004) Halftime Show which featured Janet Jackson as the headliner and resulted in what became coined as a “wardrobe malfunction,” was a turning point for the global pop icon and touchstone for discussions about race, gender and politics and popular culture.
Considering that her ascent as an artist took place during a time in popular music when radio playlists were still largely segregated (MTV once limited the number of videos of Black artists it would play, for instance), her success as an artist and her impact are worthy study, on its own. Compounded with her steep decline, in terms of public opinion and sales following the Super Bowl incident; her career is a case study in the power of media in the 24-hour news cycle, digital age.
Despite her enormous success and her place among the most revered artists in pop music, she was blacklisted for the Super Bowl incident. Radio stations banned her music, MTV stopped promoting her videos, album sales dropped, etc. Meanwhile, Justin Timberlake, the featured performer during Janet’s Super Bowl performance, became one of the biggest stars in the world. His career did not suffer at all; despite his being an EQUAL participant in the mishap.
This course will examine how pop music iconography is crafted and maintained under systemic structures that disempower women, Blacks and other marginalized groups. We will gain an understanding of power and how it functions in the media. We will look at the social/cultural implications of Janet being blacklisted, while Justin Timberlake’s career flourished. We will also examine Janet Jackson’s recent return to prominence as a respected legacy artist and how modern protest movements via social media helped revitalize her career and image.
In the end you will see that entertainment is about more than a song, a dance or an image. It is all about control and in order for the system to function, someone has to wield it and others yield.
Weekly Schedule ·
On Janet Jackson and Black Music Crossover Success
I will need to take my pressure pills for this episode. This whole thing still pisses me off.
Guiding Questions: What does the halftime show represent and how has that changed over time? How does the roster of artists who have headlined halftime reflect cultural shifts in the country? What does the response to Justin Timberlake highlight about gender disparity? Was the response unfair? What explains Les Moonves alleged targeting of Janet?
It is hard to choose, but this one might be my favorite Janet album just by a hair over Control. It’s a story. The imagery was on point. The tour was fire. I saw it three times. Best deep cut - “Empty.”
Guiding Question: What is forgiven and what isn’t...and why?
On the Slow Jams
We are just going to get into the slow jams - singles and album cuts. Gather ‘round and catch these harmonies.
“We always wanted Janet to do her own backgrounds, we wanted her voice to be the dominant voice no matter what. She would have to work really hard. We’d do it so that it would be like a warm up, like, "Let’s do these backgrounds first to warm up your voice for the lead. By the time you get done with the backgrounds, you’ll be so happy to do the lead vocals" I stacked maybe a four or five part harmony and we’d do it four or five times on each note, so we’d end up with twenty tracks of just backgrounds, It could be oohs and ahhs. It’s patience, discipline, but it’s also trust. I would throw a note at her on the keyboard and it would sound like that note’s not gonna work. After maybe the second song we did, she trusted me. When it was done, it would be this great harmony. There would be a few dissonant notes in there, but somehow it would just work. The only other person I’ve worked with who can do this as well as Janet is Ralph Tresvant. A lot of singers don't want to do it and we don’t even try it. Those harmonies are something special.” - Jimmy Jam
Janet released the Unbreakable album in 2015, it debuted at #1 and launched a successful worldwide tour. The album was critically acclaimed and it seemed that the world shifted in its response towards her work. This period ended any notions about whether Janet’s legacy would remain intact. It also offered an opportunity for journalists, critics and scholars to look back and reflect on the decade or so since the SuperBowl incident.
What does it all mean?
Guiding Thoughts: What have we learned about media, audience response and ourselves?