Rhythm Nation

We are a nation with no geographic boundaries,
bound together through our beliefs.
We are like-minded individuals,
pushing toward a world rid of color lines.
– Janet Jackson, ‘Interlude: Pledge’ (Rhythm Nation 1814)

I always like to describe the best music as being timeless, all-consuming, and inspiring. Janet Jackson’s 1989 album, Rhythm Nation 1814, perfectly fits that description. I wasn’t even born the year it was released, but the fact that it is one of my all-time favorite albums is a testament to how iconic the music is. Produced by the dynamic duo Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Rhythm Nation addresses social injustice before segueing into love/relationship songs.

At only 23 years old during its release, Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 was the perfect follow-up to her album, Control. It paved the way for socially-conscious pop music. In fact, the “1814” in the album’s title carries a double connotation: the first, referring to “R” as the 18th letter of the alphabet and “N” being the 14th letter. The second (which is genius to me) refers to when Francis Scott Key penned “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Funny enough, Janet released Rhythm Nation on the same week but 175 years after the “The Star-Spangled Banner.” 

The first three songs, “Rhythm Nation,” “State of the World,” and “The Knowledge,” touches upon topics such as racism, drugs, and homelessness. Lyrics in “State of the World” such as, “Drugs and crime spreadin’ on the streets, people can’t find enough to eat” inform listeners of the world’s current events. Whereas “The Knowledge” provides a call to action: “If we’re gonna change the way the world is run, the way to start is to rid the children of prejudice and ignorance.” Simple, yet direct in her delivery, Janet emphasizes the kind of world in which she wants to live. She continues the album with more dancefloor and love anthem such as “Miss You Much,” “Escapade,” “Love Will Never Do (Without You),” and “Black Cat,” which all rightfully dominated the charts.

Janet Jackson took a risk upon releasing songs that addressed the world’s social issues, which is why Rhythm Nation is such a groundbreaking hit. Not only that, but the vocals, instruments/production, and visually appealing music videos were the blueprint for women in music. The iconic outfits and choreography still shake me to my core this day, and she is arguably one of the greatest female artists of our time. We all dream of a world with unity at the forefront, and given recent events, Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 is the national anthem we all need to hear right now.

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