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The 35 Best Janet Jackson Songs

We’re looking at Janet Jackson’s fabulous discography to celebrate her birthday. Most of these songs are pop classics and define ’80s/’90s pop and dance radio.

10. “Together Again” (1997)

Finding inspiration from the cornerstone of queer culture, Janet Jackson looks to dance and disco culture to pay homage to her late friends. Instead of writing a sad and elegant ballad for her loved ones who died of AIDS, Jackson honored her fallen friends by crafting a swirling, stately disco song. The song is a joyous reminder of her friends’ lives, a celebration of their memory, and an optimism, deep belief, and faith that they will be reunited. “Together Again” is probably the most beautiful and poignant song about AIDS because Jackson uses the music to channel her grief into a merry salute to people with AIDS. As mentioned earlier, Jackson’s true musical ancestor is Donna Summer, and one can hear the influence.

9. “Got Til It’s Gone” (1997)

The brilliance of “Got Til It’s Gone” should not be a surprise. By 1997, Janet Jackson had been making great music for over a decade. Yet, when she debuted the first single from her classic album, The Velvet Rope, fans and critics alike were gobsmacked by the thoughtful, moody, soul song. Jackson and her collaborators bring pop, trip-hop, downtempo, and soul elements. Her vocals are hushed, understated, pinched, mannered, and subtle. Though the song’s primary force is its rumbling instrumentation, Jackson’s presence looms large. Rapper Q-Tip joins Jackson, as does her idol, Joni Mitchell, who haunts the song in a sample of her hit “Big Yellow Taxi”.

8. “If” (1993)

Screeching heavy-metal guitars, see-sawing violins, and thick, industrial beats pound relentlessly on this brilliant track from Jackson’s janet. album. Diana Ross and the Supremes’ elegiac “Someday We’ll Be Together” appears via a sample of the iconic violin riff, but instead of a sweet soul tune like the Motown classic, this song is a dance-rock explosion of swinging beats, crashing guitars, and shredding strings. Jackson’s multi-layered vocals cut through the sonic boom, spitting out the verses at a breakneck speed while sweetly crooning the chorus. It’s a large, loud, messy track – the disparate elements crash gloriously into a jagged, rough dance song, showing off Jackson’s modern side.

7. “Rhythm Nation” (1989)

Inspired by hours of watching cable news, Jackson, Jam & Lewis wanted to write an album of social relevance, akin to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going OnRhythm Nation was built around the theme of addressing political and cultural problems. On the album’s title track, Jackson pleas for a world of tolerance and racial unity. Though the lyrics have been accused of naivety – particularly the assertion that music can “break the color lines” – Jackson addresses her concerns of social betterment with refreshing honesty and straightforward candor; her lyrics are direct, and her intent is clear. Though she would later sing in Unbreakable’s “Shoulda Known Better” that “Rhythm Nation” wasn’t enough, the emotional power of this song sustains.

6. “What Have You Done for Me Lately” (1986)

The dialogue that proceeds the song is priceless. Janet Jackson is lamenting the state of her relationship with a wise girlfriend. Seeing a mopey Jackson, the sage asks, “What’s up, girl?”, “He stood me up again,” Jackson answers tersely. “Well, what’s up with this guy? Do you really like him that much?” Affronted, Jackson responds, “Yes, honey, I love him. He is fine; he does a lot of things for me.” Jackson reconsiders her boyfriend’s commitment when faced with this truth bomb: “I know he used to do nice stuff for you, but what has he done for you lately?”

Control was all about growth and liberation, and “What Have You Done for Me Lately” is a surly anthem for the outraged: women who are taken for granted. Jam & Lewis create a thumbing, strutting beat for Jackson to upbraid her wayward boyfriend. This song has become a pop-feminist classic and an ’80s update to Aretha Franklin‘s “Respect”.

5. “When I Think of You” (1986)

When Janet Jackson went to number one on the pop charts for the first time, she and Michael became the only siblings to have number one pop hits on the Billboard Hot 100. Written by Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, this pulsing dance number is all pop gloss and synth-sheen: drum machines rumble in the background as shiny keyboards and gleaming synths pop. Jackson’s breathy vocals are gorgeous as she giggles, sighs, shouts, and sings of the joy of love.

4. “Any Time, Any Place” (1994)

Arguably Janet Jackson’s sexiest hit, “Any Time, Any Place”, is a languid, luxurious slow-jam hit that undulates sensually to a jazz-flecked beat. Jackson’s vocals are gorgeous; she can strategically guide her thin voice over the sultry beat. It’s one of the greatest ballad moments in her career and is a classic ’90s quiet storm.

3. “Nasty” (1986)

The brightest and smartest hit from Control, this tune was inspired by Jackson’s experience with street harassment. Instead of relying on a male suitor to save her, Jackson takes her outrage to the song, insisting on equality on her terms. It’s a brilliant song that targets incels, “nice guys”, and misogynists by belittling them. It’s quite a shocking moment in pop music and an assertive one: despite the sweet softness of her voice, she’s a powerhouse, demanding respect, unwilling to compromise.

2. “Miss You Much” (1989)

One of Janet Jackson’s biggest hits, this love song from Rhythm Nation, was an explosive disco-funk dance song. The loud, pounding soundscape perfectly accompanies Jackson’s light, girlish vocals. The song is prime Jam & Lewis at the duo’s best: there are some fantastic industrial, sampled beats, and best of all, there’s a fabulous funky wah-wah guitar near the end of the song during the last chorus. A brilliant dance song, a high-energy workout that became a monster hit for Jackson, perched at number-one on Billboard Hot 100 for four weeks, becoming the longest-running number-one hit for 1989.

1. “That’s the Way Love Goes” (1993)

Janet Jackson’s greatest hit is one of her most unlikely. When looking to introduce audiences to her fifth album, janet., which was going to be released four years after Rhythm Nation, Jackson chose to unveil a new sound. Instead of a dance song, she released this beautiful, jazzy soul number. “That’s the Way Love Goes” is a lovely, autumnal record with smooth, silky sounds that groove easily over the lite-funk beat. There are some muted hip-hop influences on the song, too.

Jackson’s lusty vocals are exquisite as she purrs seductively. There’s a lovely, gossamer delicacy about the song, its laidback quality is a welcome change to the more high-octane performer, and it shows the singer at her sexy best. She was rewarded for her risky decision to make this song the first single for janet., with the biggest hit of her career – eight weeks at number one on the pop charts – as well as a Grammy for Best R&B Song.



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