Opening statements don’t get more deliberate: “This is a story about control: my control. Control of what I say, and control of what I do.” Subtle, Miss Jackson (if you’re nasty) was not. But subtlety is overrated, especially if you’ve spent the overwhelming majority of your life abiding by the strict decree of pop’s most famous family. Not yet 20 years old, Janet Jackson had the résumé of an entertainer twice her age; she related to approximately none of it. So she annulled her marriage to loose cannon James Debarge, fired her overbearing dad-manager, and moved from Hollywood to Minneapolis, where she’d hole up with creative soul mates (the production team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis) and record her third album and first masterpiece: 1986’s Control, released 30 years ago today.
I’ve always been more magnetized by Janet’s catalogue than by Michael’s, though it took until I got older to pinpoint why that might be. My junior high dances were soundtracked by the super-sexy hits from All For You; it wasn’t till later that I got my hands on Control, after a curious investigation of the No. 1 records from the year of my birth. I didn’t know much about Jam and Lewis, the songwriting and production duo formerly of Prince-affiliated band The Time, whose peerless fusion of funk, rap, house, and R&B would shape decades of pop music to come. All I knew was that this, right here, was what female fearlessness sounded like. Control was a direct translation of the moment you conquer your existential vertigo: When you’re scared shitless, say “fuck it,” and do it anyway.