Happy 30th Anniversary, ‘Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814’

It was a soundtrack of a generation. That’s the best way to describe the album that changed many lives, that taught a generation how to use its voice for both activism and entertainment. For music and a movement. From the all black everything outfits to the innovation that gave the concept of a music video its signature, this project is the very definition of true artistry. It wasn’t Janet Jackson‘s first album, but it was easily her most definitive. And honestly, as much as the album did when it was released and as much as it’s meant to so many over the years, it’s still hard to believe that Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 turns 30 years old this year.

Yet, here we are.

Rhythm Nation was Janet Jackson embracing her womanhood, a concept album that gave her a platform to speak on social issues that most mattered to her. Collaborating exclusively with legendary producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Jackson gave the people what they wanted, and told them what she needed to say. Every track was a statement. Every video was a message. Every move was strategic. It was a master class. No, for real.

It was a protest album when protest albums weren’t en vogue. The label wanted Jackson to record an album similar to her previous project, Control, and she said Nah. I’m good. Instead, she, Jam, and Lewis put their heads together and came up with this masterpiece. The title Rhythm Nation was Jackson thinking how powerful it would be to create her own nation, one where anyone was free to join in order to form a common identity. Even the use of the number 1814 was purposeful, since it was the year the “Star-Spangled Banner” was written. Throw in the fact that the letters R and N are the 18th and 14th letters in the alphabet, and Jackson was even on point by coincidence. Listen…

Noted for its use of sample loop and utilizing swing note and synthesized percussion throughout its production, the album encompasses a variety of musical styles, such as new jack swing, hard rock, pop, dance and industrial music. The songs range from mechanized dance rhythms to soft balladry, giving it appeal across multiple radio formats. It became Jackson’s second consecutive album to top the Billboard 200 albums chart in the United States. 

Certified six-times Platinum, it became the country’s best-selling album of 1990 and has sold an estimated 12 million copies worldwide. Due to its innovative production and lyrical exploration, critics have come to regard it as the pinnacle of Jackson’s artistic achievement. It’s the only album in Billboard 200 history to have seven singles sit at some point in the top five: “Miss You Much,” “Rhythm Nation,” “Escapade,” “Alright,” “Come Back to Me,” “Black Cat,” “Love Will Never Do (Without You),” and “State of the World.” It’s also the only album to have top five hits in three different calendar years (1989-91). 

The videos for the singles were also must-see, well-produced events. The videos for “Escapade” and “Alright” were influenced by Broadway. “Alright” was an homage to choreographer Michael Kidd and featured Heavy D.Cyd Charissethe Nicholas Brothers and Cab Calloway. “Come Back to Me” was filmed near the Eiffel Tower in Paris. “Love Will Never Do (Without You)” featured Jackson as an individual instead of with a dance troupe, and featured Antonio Sabato, Jr. and Djimon Hounsou.  

It won seven Billboard Awards and a GRAMMY for Best Music Video Long Form (“Rhythm Nation 1814″), and went on the become Jackson’s ” personal manifesto,” according to writer Lucy O’Brien, becoming the female counterpart to Marvin Gaye‘s “What’s Going On.” It pushed her into superstardom, rivaling her big brother Michael. Even as recently as five years ago, on the album’s 25th anniversary, music critic and scholar Joseph Vogel called Rhythm Nation 1814 “a complete artistic statement” and a “stunning achievement.” The success of the album spurred Jackson to the national spotlight, claiming the MTV Video Vanguard Award in 1990 for her contributions to the art form. That same year she received her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in recognition of her impact on the recording industry and philanthropic efforts.

This year is a huge year for Jackson, with the legendary artist finally getting inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this week! Which is wholly appropriate, with this month being Women’s History Month. Janet Jackson is definitely, or even the definition of, a #WomanMaking History. And on the occasion of Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814‘s 30 anniversary, we salute Janet Jackson for everything she’s meant to so many for so many years.

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