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Janet Jackson - Nasty (1986)

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  • 80's Score80's Score 80's score: 1.87
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“Nasty” is a song by American singer Janet Jackson from her third studio album, Control (1986). It was released ...

“Nasty” is a song by American singer Janet Jackson from her third studio album, Control (1986). It was released on April 15, 1986, by A&M Records as the album’s second single. It is a funk number built with samples and a quirky timpani melody. The first and last 30 seconds incorporate the emphases from “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine” but in a different key. The single peaked at number three on the US Billboard Hot 100 and number one on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, and remains one of Jackson’s signature songs. The line “My first name ain’t baby, it’s Janet – Miss Jackson if you’re nasty” has been used in pop culture in various forms.

The song won for Favorite Soul/R&B Single at the 1987 American Music Awards. It ranked number 30 on VH1’s 100 Best Songs of the Past 25 Years, number 45 on VH1’s 100 Greatest Songs of the 80s, number 79 on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Pop Songs, and number six on LA Weekly’s Best Pop Songs in Music History by a Female. It has been included in each of Jackson’s greatest hits albums: Design of a Decade: 1986–1996 (1995), Number Ones (2009) and Icon: Number Ones (2010).

Britney Spears covers a medley of Janet Jackson’s hits, including “Nasty”, and “Black Cat”, during her …Baby One More Time Tour, and has paid homage to the song and video several times. The song appears in video games DJ Hero 2, Dance Central 2 (as DLC), and Lips (as DLC).

Background

After arranging a recording contract with A&M Records in 1982 for a then-16-year-old Janet, her father Joseph Jackson oversaw the entire production of her debut album, Janet Jackson, and its follow-up, Dream Street (1984). Jackson was initially reluctant to begin a recording career, explaining, “I was coming off of a TV show that I absolutely hated doing, Fame. I didn’t want to do [the first record]. I wanted to go to college. But I did it for my father …” and elaborated that she was often in conflict with her producers. Amidst her professional struggles, she rebelled against her family’s wishes by marrying James DeBarge of the family recording group DeBarge in 1984. The Jacksons disapproved of the relationship, citing DeBarge’s immaturity and substance abuse. Jackson left her husband in January 1985 and was granted an annulment later that year.

Jackson subsequently fired her father as her manager and hired John McClain, then A&M Records’ senior vice president of artists and repertoire and general manager. Commenting on the decision, she stated, “I just wanted to get out of the house, get out from under my father, which was one of the most difficult things that I had to do, telling him that I didn’t want to work with him again.” Joseph Jackson resented John McClain for what he saw as an underhanded attempt to steal his daughter’s career out from under him. McClain responded by saying “I’m not trying to pimp Janet Jackson or steal her away from her father.” He subsequently introduced her to the songwriting and production duo James “Jimmy Jam” Harris III and Terry Lewis, and Jackson and the duo started working on a third studio album for Jackson, titled Control, in Minneapolis. “Nasty” was Jackson’s autobiographical account of confronting abusive men. She said,

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.

Jimmy Jam built the melody for this song around a sound from his then-new Mirage keyboard: “It [had] a factory sound that was in there… more of a sound-effect type of sound”, he recalled. “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.”

In August 1999, Missy Elliott revealed she was working with Jackson on an updated remix for the song; its working title was “Nasty Girl 2000”. The following year, Elliott’s close friend Aaliyah was added to the track, however due to undisclosed reasons the record was never released.

Composition

“Nasty” is set in common time, in the key of F minor. Jackson’s vocals range between approximately E?3 and C5. The song is in a medium dance groove tempo of 100 beats per minute. At the beginning of the song, Jackson shouts, “Give me a beat!”. The song is about respect as she tells all her male admirers “better be a gentleman or you’ll turn me off”. For the Los Angeles Times, Jackson’s approach is hard and aggressive in the song.

Critical reception

Billboard’s reviewer Steven Ivory called “Nasty” a “hard-funk” song, along with other tracks from Control. Rob Hoerburger from Rolling Stone remarked that “on cuts such as ‘Nasty’ and the single ‘What Have You Done for Me Lately’ Janet makes the message clear: She’s still basically a nice girl but ready to kick some butt if you try to put her on a pedestal”. William Ruhlmann of AllMusic picked the song as one of the album’s highlight. Website Scene 360° commented that it was a confident, sassy song and influenced pop music in the following years of its release.

Music video

The accompanying music video for “Nasty” was directed by Mary Lambert and choreographed by Paula Abdul, who also made a cameo. Abdul won an MTV Video Music Award for Best Choreography.

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