Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation Compilation DVD contains seven videos from the Rhythm Nation 1814 album, which was arguably the definitive work in Jackson’s always exciting career. With Rhythm Nation 1814, Janet proved herself to be more than just Michael’s little sister, and more than just a honey with enough money to pave her way to funky pop stardom.
At first it’s fun to watch the Rhythm videos and revisit a time when stars like Jackson were realizing the opportunities presented by the music video medium. But then the Rhythm Nation Compilation DVD starts to feel a little like a rip-off to anyone who has ever seen the short film. The collection contains some of Janet Jackson’s most fun-loving moments, but most of the videos on the disc can be seen from time to time in nostalgic retrospectives of the VH-1 variety. And without footage from arguably the most relevant, distinctive tune on the album—“The Knowledge”—you begin to realize that this DVD is missing more than just a song.
The “special features” on the disc are not what you might expect—just options for controlling the audio delivery. The DVD does contain the rarely-seen extended version of “Alright”, Janet Jackson’s tribute to the forties, with its rap cameo by the charismatic “overweight lover”, Heavy D. Other than that, there is not a whole lot of the kind of bonus footage that consumers expect from DVD.
The producers of this project did not put much thought into enhancing the disc. They just added a couple of seconds of blurry raw footage at the beginning of each video as introductory clips and included a prologue and epilogue that attempt to unify the disc as whole.
The opening prologue is a fast-paced collage of clips from the music videos on the disc, set to music edited from “The Knowledge” and “Black Cat”. The piece includes selected interviews with movers and shakers who worked with Janet on the project, like producer Jimmy Jam and photographer Herb Ritts, who give their insights into the visionary talent of Ms. Jackson. While their opinions are both valid and sincere, they are also obligatory and trite. We already know how wonderful Janet is, so just get to her videos, please. I can’t imagine that anyone except the most fanatic of fans will view the prologue more than once.
The epilogue consists of a couple of minutes from the tale of two sisters who claim that RN 1814 inspired them to pursue their educations. The sobbing sisters tell Janet how her lyrics motivated them to return to school and graduate. Janet tells how meaningful their story was to her, and the disc wraps on that inspirational note. Since even the two girls specify that the song “The Knowledge” was the one that changed their lives, it becomes even more puzzling (and disappointing) that Janet’s performance to the song as seen on the RN short film was not included on this compilation. The meat in the middle of this digital video sandwich is simply the five videos from RN, all of which can be seen on Jackson’s other DVD, Design of a Decade.
There is much more digital bang for your hard-earned buck on this one, since it contains all seven of the songs on the Rhythm Nation Compilation, as well as a few from Jackson’s previous album, Control, plus the post-Rhythm videos “That’s the Way Love Goes” and “Runaway”. There is also a little-seen bonus video, “Whoops Now”, produced by Jackson herself. As did the CD of the same name, the Design of a Decade DVD gives a panoramic view of Janet’s contemporary career, and it’s definitely a satisfying package.
“Shot, like an arrow through the heart”, Janet serenades in “Miss You Much”. She could be describing the effect she had on fans during this decade of her design. The singer really was lovely during those years: an attractive young woman growing in confidence and obviously enjoying her craft. You can’t look at her without smiling, and when you see her dancing with her friends (a major theme in many of Jackson’s videos), you wish you were one of them.
Janet Jackson has always had a special appeal that translates both visually and vocally. She delivers her musical message via carefully controlled, crystalline vocals laid over hard-hitting R&B rhythms. Yet the power of Janet Jackson’s voice does not lie in her pipes. She doesn’t blow, she whispers, yet consistently delivers a musical message that hits home with her loyal fan base.
Jackson’s confectionary vocals are masterfully complemented by gentle harmonies and balanced out by pulsing rhythms, so she’s never unpleasant to listen to. But as a dancer, and veteran actress, Jackson’s strengths have always been more clearly defined in the visual medium. She’s an energetic and fearless entertainer who is unafraid to try new things, and she does it all with a dazzling smile. It really is enjoyable to wind back the clock to watch the newly grown-up Janet Jackson hit the screen and start dancing.
The Control album was Jackson’s surprising return to pop music after lukewarm sales of two earlier albums. The video for “What Have You Done for Me Lately” was a new twist for viewers, with its loopy, driving music and its pretty star exuding much attitude while dancing up a storm in a diner with the likes of choreographer Paula Abdul.
The Design of a Decade DVD also contains the video for the title song “Control”, on which producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis appear, symbolically ushering this “little sister” into the stardom she was destined to achieve. The video features Jam and Lewis, Jackson’s master producers, and other former members of the Time in a “live” stage performance that hints at what’s in store for the singer’s future. All eyes remain on Janet, as she bounds joyfully across the stage, shimmying, shaking, and tossing her head in what were to become her signature moves.
The DVD also features the video for “Pleasure Principle”, an exciting tune produced by former Time member Monty Moir. The music exemplifies the way the Minneapolis sound blends with Jackson’s California-girl sass, producing a unique groove that others have tried to imitate ever since. This is the first video in which Jackson appears alone, with a sleek new hairdo and unleashing a repertoire of exciting new moves. “Pleasure Principle” is followed up by “Nasty Boys”, a video that saw Janet leaping into a movie screen and schooling a gang of horny males on the ABC’s of sexual respect.
“Let’s Wait a While” and “Come Back to Me” are the only ballads on the Design of a Decade DVD, and they show a more reflective, dramatic side of Janet Jackson. The song “Let’s Wait a While” showcases Janet’s ability to combine a gorgeous melody with a meaningful message, and the video tells a lighthearted, accompanying story of a couple in love. “Come Back to Me” also tells a little story, but the video is more of a vanity piece for director Dominic Sena and his camera, having their way with scenic Paris. Together, the two tunes demonstrate how surprisingly alike songs can be, and how the mastery of studio production can work to create new products from old content.
The videos for “When I Think of You” from Control and “Alright” and “Escapade” from Rhythm Nation expand on Jackson’s love for film noir and musicals. They are all big budget productions featuring bright colors and costumes, in which a coiffed and buttoned-up Jackson executes some of the most intricate choreography ever seen in the world of pop music. But then Janet surprised viewers with the video for “Love Will Never Do”, also included on this DVD, by showing off her curvy, sculpted figure in tight, revealing clothes. The video highlights Jackson’s physique via the classic lighting and imagery for which director Herb Ritts is famous. But, once again, its her smile and not just her anatomy that stands out in this video—it really feels like Janet’s having fun.
The video for “That’s the Way Love Goes” once again showcases Janet and her friends, but this time the portrait is much more sensual and relaxed. When this video was released, Janet had been out of the public eye for several years. The video gave hungry fans a fresh eyeful of a radiant, sexy-looking Janet, murmuring a tribute to the joys of physical love.
The bonus video “Whoops Now” features a fresh-scrubbed Janet Jackson, out for a day of sailing with her usual crowd. It’s a bouncy, nondescript little tune that was never released as a single, but the video does offer a different look at Janet.
“Runaway” is another bonus tune from the Design CD. The song represents another period of growth for Jackson, with its waterfall of tinkling international sounds, and a video that takes a technological edge that has become expected from this artist. “Runaway” is followed up by a “making of” video in which Jackson explains the challenges of riding an elephant and dancing on the wing of an airplane. It’s a nice turn, and a nice way to wrap up the collection.
It is interesting to watch the many ways in which Janet Jackson’s radiant energy is manifested in each of the clips on this DVD. The collection also demonstrates the intelligence with which this star has embraced technology over the years, using special effects to enhance rather than upstage her work. From somersaulting out of a movie screen in the early days of “Nasty Boys” to literally leaping around the globe in “Runaway”, irresistible Janet Jackson consistently found new ways to delight her fans while remaining the glowing center of her videos.
It is hard to believe that it has almost been another decade since this artist celebrated ten years in the music business with Design of Decade. The DVD is a wonderful way to reflect on Janet’s magnificent career.