Earlier this year, a missing person poster depicting a 49-year-old African American woman with brown hair and brown eyes went viral on Twitter. The missing person in question? None other than pop icon Janet Jackson, or Miss Jackson if you’re nasty.
The poster was obviously a hoax, and the star herself tweeted back at the poster with a hearty “LOL. Too funny, too sweet.” Yet the sentiment behind the viral prank was more than justified. A fixture in the music industry for almost 30 years, Jackson’s fame skyrocketed in the 1980s with the release of “Control” (1986). She eventually escaped from the shadow of her older brother, Michael Jackson, in the ’90s as she continued to define the R&B/pop template that many pop stars lay claim to today.
— Janet Jackson (@JanetJackson) April 18, 2015
However, the ’00s were not kind to the younger Jackson — see the now-infamous Nipplegate incident — and after the commercial failure of her last studio album, “Discipline” (2008), she largely retreated from the public spotlight. During her absence, the extremely private star weathered the shocking passing of her brother and quietly married her third husband, Qatari fashion magnate Wissam Al Mana, in 2012.
After such an extended break from releasing new material, Jackson certainly had a lot to address on “Unbreakable” (2015), as both the music industry and world around her have changed quite a bit. Luckily for her fans — and for the music-consuming public at large — “Unbreakable” is a triumphant comeback that lives up to her stature in the industry.
Clocking in at a little over an hour over 17 tracks, Jackson’s 11th studio album is divided into two “sets.” The first half offers more standard pop music, while the second contains more experimental songs that are largely devoid of standard song structure. The album also sees Jackson reunited with longtime collaborators Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who co-produced and co-wrote the majority of her iconic albums. “Unbreakable” proves once more that the trio is one of the most enduring and successful partnerships in pop history.
From the opening track, Jackson makes it clear that she’s recording this album for her fans, greeting the listener in her signature whisper voice with a warm “Hello / It’s been a while/ Lots to talk about / I’m glad you’re still here / I hope you enjoy.” She wastes no time in kicking the album into overdrive, as “BURNITUP!” comes blasting through the speakers with a fun yet all-too-brief Missy Elliot appearance. “Dammn Baby” is one of the best bangers of 2015 so far, as the track’s DJ Mustard-type beat shows Jackson’s keen ear for modern production. She also throws in a reference to the roots of her career, as the song uses a sample from her own 1999 hit “I Get Lonely.”
“The Great Forever” continues the album’s winning streak. The mid-tempo anthem has classic Michael Jackson written all over it, from the song’s message of universal love to Janet’s own voice, which she drops in register to sound eerily like her late brother. Janet lets her guard down to speak about his death for what may be the first time in “Broken Hearts Heal,” but she mourns in an uplifting manner, with her faith and reported conversion to Islam being referenced throughout the song as she sings “Inshallah” or “God willing” in Arabic.
Lead single “No Sleeep” marks the midway point of the album and is a classic Janet slow-jam that eschews the hyper-sexuality of her recent output. With sensual lyrics and a hazy tempo, the song leads the album into its second half, signifying Jackson’s willingness to experiment. While this section is a little bottom-heavy, “Black Eagle” stands out. The track is a love letter to Jackson’s downtrodden fans, the ones she’s supported throughout the years, and contains a powerful reference to the Black Lives Matter movement with the lyrics “Because every life matters / (We all need to do better).”
“Unbreakable” is a breath of fresh air in 2015, as Jackson demonstrates the ease with which a pop star can sound modern and assured after a nearly three-decade-long career. This joyous ode to her fans feels genuine in its discussion of mature subjects and its refusal to give into ageism, which so often disproportionately affects female pop stars.
Welcome back, Ms. Jackson. Now don’t go disappearing again.