Interesting article over on Billboard this week about how Janet Jackson is starting her “Rock With U” tour, even with her label deal in jeopardy at Island Def Jam. It really brings up some interesting questions about how an artist like Janet positions herself in the music marketplace going forward, with the model changing almost daily.
First off, let me clarify my biases. While many of my contemporaries have been riding on the Madonna and Mariah bandwagons since the 80s and 90s, Janet has always been my girl. Even with her insistence on turning every record into “Sexy Time”, I still find her very relevant. She does bring an interesting perspective to her music, and she definitely knows how to hop on pop trend. The problem she’s run into on the last few CDs is that she’s been behind the pop curve, instead of leading it. Whether it’s losing some confidence in her instincts, or just trying to play it safe, I believe that’s where she’s gone wrong…
…which is why the whole Discipline fiasco is so frustrating to me. This one jumped AHEAD of the curve in some respects, or at the very least, was running parallel to current trends. The synths on “Luv”, the percolating beat that drives “Rock With U”, and the futuristic, vocoder-ish “Feedback”…on paper it should be a winner, and yet it didn’t connect.
In watching it all go down, I think there are two issues here. First off, I blame radio for not hopping on an obvious hit with “Feedback”. When Discipline was released, the individual sales of “Feedback” sent the track racing back up the Hot 100, showing that there was some demand for this track in the marketplace. The song started to move back up some playlists a bit, but the scattered response to the track had already doomed any impact that the song would make on the charts. With one failure under her belt, the album had “flop” written all over it, and the second singles (“Rock With U” for pop, “Luv” for R&B) became non-starters.
Flash forward a couple of months later, and Janet made comments that reveal culprit number two. Janet talked about not knowing what was going on with her label, and that fans would probably not get a third single off the record. For a label releasing the first album of an established artist, it really seems like internal forces put the brakes on promotion a bit prematurely. Granted, Janet’s not going to sell records like she did in the early 90s, but there’s got to be some effort there. The record was her best-reviewed work in years, and (once again noting my bias) it definitely deserved a better promotion than it got. If anything, the promotion Janet got should make Kylie Minogue fans feel better about how her record was promoted. Not that I’m justifying it.
So how does Janet take a career that’s clearly on the decline and at least minimize the damage, if not reverse it? First off, she needs to do everything under the sun to fill every seat at every show of this tour. You’ll notice that she’s playing more second-tier cities this time around (NYC JUST was added to the itinerary a week ago or so). That will show that she still has the fan base to support her career going forward. Next, when IDJ releases her from contractual obligations (and you KNOW they will), Janet needs to negotiate a contract where the label invests in the promotion first, and she gets paid on the results. Seriously…is the girl hurtin’ for money? This has to be an “I give, you give” type of scenario. Plan B would be for her to attempt a Prince-like alternative for distributing new music, and finding ways to tie in releases, tours and merchandise into a self-perpetuating circle that will keep her fans happy long-term.
There. Problem solved. I’ll just sit here now wait for her handlers to come pick me up in the limo. While I’m waiting, though…any other ideas for what Janet needs to do from here?