Though her last two albums were commercial disappointments, there are more good times ahead for Janet Jackson, proving that a controversial “wardrobe malfunction” doesn’t really matter in the long run. Taking back control with the dance club–friendly Discipline, her 10th studio album and first with Island Def Jam, the 41-year-old triple threat sounds off on closeted celebrities, her nasty pleasure principles, and which new track is all for you.
By Brandon Voss
The Advocate: In April the GLAAD Media Awards will honor you for your contributions to the LGBT community. What have you done for us lately?
Janet Jackson: I’ve always loved the gay community, and I think they know that. I’m always involved in projects concerning AIDS, and I’ve just always tried to make myself available. We all have a job in this world, and I think that my job that God has given me is to help people. I don’t think I do enough. I want to do a lot more.
Do you specifically keep gay fans in mind during your writing and recording process?
For certain songs, yeah, for sure I do. I was thinking about ’em when I was making “Rock With You” on the new album — it just has that feel, that beat to it. I kept stressing that I have to have something for the kids, I need to have something for the children! I talked about doing the song on the last album, but it wasn’t quite completed by the cutoff date. I felt badly about it, so I wasn’t about to let that happen again.
Growing up as Jehovah’s Witnesses, how was the subject of homosexuality treated in your household?
Well, it’s something that would be considered a sin for the religion. But the one thing I absolutely love about my mother is that she’s so open-minded. We had our friends that were gay growing up, and she didn’t have a problem with them. She never said “No, you can’t hang out with this person” or “This person can’t come over.” They would call her “Mother” as everyone else did and does, and she embraced them just like everyone else.
But how might it have gone over had, say, Tito or one of your other siblings come out as gay?
I honestly don’t know. But one thing I do know is that she wouldn’t have kicked them out of the house. Would it have crushed her heart? Maybe it would have, but I know she never would’ve treated them differently than the rest of us. That’s just how Mother is.
You’re notoriously secretive when it comes to your love life. Do you ever feel like you’re in the closet?
I hear you, but I never really set out to keep my relationships private — except for when I got married the last time [to René Elizondo] and I didn’t tell people, only because I wanted to keep something for us. I felt that if the world were to know that we were married, it wouldn’t have lasted as long as it did, and I was married for a very long time. It is my life, and there are certain things that should be kept to oneself.
Do you think gay celebrities have a certain responsibility to the community to be open about their sexuality?
I think every little bit obviously makes it easier for those coming up, just the way it does in the music industry; Diana [Ross] held the door open long enough and wide enough for me to come through. It would be nice for it to happen, but at the same time, I don’t think they should be forced. Everybody has their own timing that’s right for them for whatever reason.
Have you ever advised a closeted celeb to come out?
No, I never have. But if I did see that, I would, because I think it would make their lives a lot simpler. But they still have to do it at their own pace.
As season 7 of American Idol heats up, I wonder why no contestant has ever sung one of your songs. Are you withholding the rights, or are you on the outs with your old choreographer, Paula Abdul?
You know, I haven’t seen or spoken to Paula in years. I ran into her at someone’s concert at the Forum [near Los Angeles], but that’s been about, oh, my God, maybe 12 years ago? No, they’ve just never asked, but if they do, I’d be more than happy to see my songs performed by one of the kids. “I Get Lonely” would be good. “Together Again” would be fun to hear and one they could have a lot of fun singing.
Tell me about some of the friends you honor in “Together Again,” 1997’s tribute to AIDS casualties.
The first friend that I lost to the disease was one of the kids that I danced with on Fame, Derrick, and then Gene Anthony [Ray] and a couple of other dancer friends. And there was José, a makeup artist that I worked with every time I would go to Europe, and he was such a sweetheart.
As suggested by your guest-starring role in the 2004 Will & Grace episode “Back Up, Dancer,” do you think that conflicts in the real world should be settled with a dance-off?
[Laughs] Well, a lot of the street kids used to. You’d have these gangs, but instead of fighting they’d battle it out by dancing. I hear that some of the kids still are doing it to this day with krumping, so it would be nice if it stays that way.
Which move would you pull out to guarantee victory?
Oh, my God. Well, we kid around a lot in rehearsals and we fall out — the way the kids do in the balls — just flat on your back, but you keep your legs in the air, completely extended, with your toes pointed. We’ll dance around and out of nowhere just fall out.
In 1993’s Poetic Justice your character asked Tupac Shakur’s character if he wanted to smell her “punani” before letting him take a whiff of her girlfriend’s breath. Have you ever pretended to be a lesbian to make a scrub leave you alone?
[Laughs] That’s funny, but no, I never did.
Lesbian rumors have followed you, though. Have people left you alone about that yet?
I don’t know if they’ll ever leave me alone. I’ve always gotten that, and I really don’t know why.
Settle another long-standing rumor: Did you really ask Tupac to take an AIDS test before you’d kiss him?
No, and I think John Singleton, the director, has actually talked about it [and set the record straight] that it was a joke or prank that someone had pulled on Pac. So, no.
In Discipline’s title track you ask a “daddy” to dominate you. Do you like men to take control in bed, Miss Jackson?
Yeah, I definitely have my moments, but there are times when it goes the other way around. My friend asked me the other day, “Are you a T or a B — a top or a bottom?”
Straight people use that terminology?
Well, he wasn’t straight!
The Advocate, March 2008 issue.