Sunday, April 3, 2016

"Nasty": And The Winner For "Best Anti-Sexual Assault Song Of The '80s" Goes To ...

For years I missed the point of Janet Jackson's "Nasty." This is an error I'm blaming entirely on Janet's peers. See, I thought that, in the universe of '80s pop, "nasty" was a good thing. Didn't Prince write, in Vanity 6's "Nasty Girls," "Tonight, don't you wanna come with me/Do you think I'm a nasty girl?" "Nasty girl" being a desirable trait, yes? And in the same exact year as Janet's song, didn't Gloria Estefan declare, "Bad, bad, bad, bad boys/You make me feel so good"? So was Janet saying she liked nasty boys? I was all mixed up. Were these Terminator time travel rules, or Back To The Future time travel rules?

It turns out Janet meant "nasty" as in "unpleasant," "mean," "hostile." It was not a compliment. According to Wikipedia, she was walking around Minneapolis during the recording of Control when she came across an undesired element:
The danger hit home when a couple of guys started stalking me on the street. They were emotionally abusive. Sexually threatening. Instead of running to Jimmy or Terry for protection, I took a stand. I backed them down. That's how songs like "Nasty" and "What Have You Done for Me Lately" were born, out of a sense of self-defense. Control meant not only taking care of myself but living in a much less protected world. And doing that meant growing a tough skin. Getting attitude.
Or maybe getting some ... mace? I heard brass knuckles are good too. The message is slightly ironic considering Janet's eventual slide into the kind of sexual explicitness that would make even Madonna reach for her cone bra. Then again, Janet isn't saying she doesn't have a raunchy side: "I'm not a prude, I just want some respect/So close the door if you want me to respond." I dig it, I dig it. There's a time an a place for it, guys. Then she whips out the most brutal retort since "I know you are but what am I":
'Cause "privacy" is my middle name
My last name is "control"
No my first name ain't "baby," it's "Janet"
Miss Jackson if ya nasty!
Here is what I love about this put-down: it establishes separate tiers to her dismissiveness! If you're good, you can call her "Janet," but if you're extra-special bad, you're relegated to the painfully formal "Miss Jackson." By the way, just to clear things up, my blogger first name isn't "Dude," it's "Little" - "Mr. Earl" if you're nasty.

The song itself sounds like a pinball machine that came to life and started playing dance-funk. The keyboard has been programmed to this heavily processed "horn blast" effect, and it shouldn't be the main riff of anything, but according to Jimmy Jam, that was the appeal:
It [had] a factory sound that was in there... more of a sound-effect type of sound ... I've always been - probably from being around Prince - interested in using unorthodox types of things to get melodies and sounds. That was a very unmelodic type of sound, but we found a way to build a melody around it.
And the end result is a backing track that feels a bit ... what's the word? Dirty? Grungy? Grimy? Help me out here, Janet: "The only nasty thing I like is a nasty groove." A-ha! See? Even Janet herself is a culprit in my semantic confusion.

Fittingly, the video for "Nasty" is a nasty piece of work. I am no expert in the art of body movement, but "Nasty" has to feature some of the finest dancing ever seen in an '80s music video, Jackson or otherwise. Of course, the choreographer and former Laker Girl responsible for these moves can be spotted sitting next to Janet in the movie theater, but it's one thing to be given imaginative choreography, and it's another thing to get out there and do it (but is that really Janet doing the back flip at 0:10?). Also, conveniently, all the quasi-rapey street scum in the world of this video are capable of matching Janet move for move - even the liquor store clerk in the spandex top! Now that is one nasty outfit. And I don't mean the good kind of nasty.

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