Single Review: Janet Jackson “I Want You”

I Want You
Album: Damita Jo
Year: 2004

Months after the Super Bowl, Janet Jackson was still dodging questions about it. On David Letterman’s Late Show, he repeatedly asked her if it was planned or not. She replied with short, polite answers and said no each time. With one failed publicity stunt, Jackson found herself only being identified with the Super Bowl and not her new album, which was barely mentioned during the show.

For today’s teenagers, Jackson is a fossil. They hear “All For You” and think, “why is this old woman trying to sound like Britney?” For those who have grown up listening to her music, she’s a shadow of herself. For Janet, it’s a matter of reinventing herself and fighting to stay relevant.

“I Want You,” the second single off her album, Damita Jo, Jackson is vying for the neo-soul audience. Like 70s soul, the music is focused on orchestration rather than beats. Sampling from BT Express’ “They Long To Be Close To You,” and using it as is, Jackson is opting for an understated, refined sound. In the past, samples like this had been used alongside a tougher music arrangment backed with a pounding bassline (i.e. “Free Xone” from the Velvet Rope.) However, it’s an unusual genre choice, considering she has kept her distance from it.

In the single, she sings about a man she is in love with, but she can’t admit her feelings to him. Written by Kanye West, and her usual songwriting/producing team Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. The lyrics depend too much on similes to sell her emotions. The first simile works (“Feels like I’m going in circles/you’re like I can’t get through/Should I go left/Should I go right/Should I let you /stay for the night.”) But the second simile is stretching the idea too far, causing it not to make much sense without any clarification (It’s like a seesaw/when it comes to your love/boy when you’re up/this girl is down.”) Why is she depressed when he’s happy? Is is that she can’t share in it? Is it because he’s with someone else? Instead of her stating her confusion again, a reason should’ve been given. The rest of the lyrics are the standard descriptions an unrequited love. That one guy is the only one person who can understand her, please her, etc.

After the hypersexualized “Just A Little While,” it’s refreshing to hear Jackson sing something tasteful. She’s incorporated sex so much into her image now, it’s easy to forget that once upon a time in the late 80s she was known for cute, innocent pop songs.

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