Janet Jackson's Damita Jo: how that album defined for her post-nipplegate career
27 March 2018
I promise: we'll talk about nipplegate this one last time and be done with it! But there's aso good reason for bringing it up now. Damita Jo, Janet Jackson's eighth studio album was released 14 years ago this week (30 Mar. 2004). That's two full months after nipplegate took place on 1 Feb. 2004. So what kind of album should a black female pop star release after her boob is exposed to the whole of America live on television?
The album's title is actually Janet's second name: she was born Janet Damita Jo Jackson. The album's title track aims to explain why the album was named after Janet and why specifically her second name.
There's another side that I don't hide But might never show (You're Damita Jo) If you wanna get close, baby, you can't 'Til you get to know (You're Damita Jo)
So simply, if you want to get to know Janet, you've got to get close enough to know her, and close enough means knowing Damita Jo. But if the pun alarms are ringing in your head right now, that's for good reason.
Janet was aware that this album came after an incident that rocked her career and indeed the US. The early part "Damita Jo" goes:
Do you like me Do you want me Just for what you see (You're Damita Jo) Do you think that I'm that person You watch on TV (You're Damita Jo)
It's a brave move to not shy away from the incident but address directly in the first song ("Looking For Love" is an opening interlude) of the album. But bravery is everything that this album was about. Just look at the album cover. Janet stands half naked, with her arms clutching her breasts as she smiles over her shoulder. An obvious clapback at how an actually trivial situation was made to be a big deal.
Speaking of big deals, Janet continues to explore sex and sexuality on this album quite explicitly - again a bold move, considering the whole of the FCC forced her to make an apology. The track following "Damita Jo" is a song called, "Sexhibition." In case you're a bit awkward about the subject matter, all you need to know is that the song opens with the lyric, "Ah, coz I wanna sexplore you" (no typo).
By the end of "Sexhibition," Janet closes with a few words: "Relax, it's just sex." That may come across as a natural ending to a song like that but it's also another response to nipplegate. Why are we so concerned about a woman's breast, or better yet, why do we crucify her for its exposure and not the white man who was instrumental in exposing it? We'll never know but it certainly isn't anything to go to town about so there we go - "relax."
Of course, she wasn't going to spend the entire album talking about something she's now made apparent in the opening is a trivial issue. From "Strawberry Bounce" to "Island Life," Janet details just how much she loves love and how she prefers it when it's enjoyed on an island with her lover. "All Nite (Don't Stop)" kicks in and switches gears to dance-Janet and even though that video sees her fully clothed, the sexual innuendos are inescapable.
By her next album, 20 Y.O., Janet Jackson will release, "So Excited," perhaps her most obvious response to nipplegate. The video uses CGI to make Janet and her dancers appear naked each time they put their arms over their breasts. But that video and song could not have happened if it wasn't for Damita Jo. Even the sound of it sounds very much like Damita Jo era, almost as if it was a demo that never made the final cut.
"R&B Junkie" kicks off the (you guessed it) R&B section of the album as Janet looks back to the genre that has been so influential to her sound. From "I Want You" to "Thinkin' Bout My Ex," issues of relationship instability begin to show. Straight after that, she slots in a binary of bedroom bangers in the form of "Warmth" and "Moist" and these are important too. Where "Warmth" is about pleasing your man via fellatio, she allows herself to be pleased as she segues into "Moist" by saying, "Now, it's my turn."
The rest of the album continues on its search and details its discovery of love before closing off with some jams to dance to in the form of "Slo Love" and "Just a Little While."
When nipplegate happened, Janet Jackson was still in the process of wrapping up the recording of Damita Jo. She obviously could not have anticipated what would happen on 1 Feb. 2004 but it shows strength that she didn't shy away from it on this album but instead, addressed it with grace and strength and straight in the opening.
I want to end with the intro to the album which is the "Looking for Love" interlude. Her interviews surrounding the nipplegate scandal never veered off into fingerpointing and that's still the case with this opener. So, if you ask Janet Jackson about why people behave in the ways that they do - good or bad - she'll tell you it's because they're just in a desperate search for love.
We're vulnerable We're sensitive And we're complicated people, too So many people rolled into one We contain so much So much creativity So much energy So many contradictions So much confusion So much clarity So many moments of faith and fear So many different characters live within us All looking for love
20 Y.O.'s "So Excited" would be the last time Janet Jackson ever addressed nipplegate publicly or creatively as she worked to get her career back. She took a break from songwriting for the first time in her career on 2008's Discipline, and returned in 2015 with Unbreakable showcasing a newer energy and commitment to hold on to her agency (she started her own record label and funded the production of the album herself). Janet Jackson will always be Janet Jackson and the last 14 years of her career have taught her that. If she was ever going to bounce back with a No. 1 album at the age of 50 in the face of newer R&B princesses, it was going to take a groundbreaking album like Damita Jo.
Stream Damita Jo via Apple Music below.
Rifumo Mdaka is an audiophile and technophile. When I’m bored, I watch iPhone keynotes and commercials. Read my website FDBQ Music and follow me on Twitter, @rifvmo