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Janet Jackson's 'Unbreakable': A Lesson On Progression

The legendary and iconic singer, dancer, actor, writer and inspiration Janet Jackson has released her first album in seven years, befittingly entitled Unbreakable (iTunes). A departure from the 2008 hypersexual Discipline, Janet delivers 17 truthful and uplifting tracks. Returning to her roots of deep introspection, Janet's roller coaster of the last few years (with the death of her brother and then later her new marriage) has solidified what she sang on All for You, that there will always Better Days in the end.

Unbreakable is a mix of an ode to fans, a breezy love letter to her husband, a meditation on loss and acceptance, and a dance track for the clubs. She mixes genres, sounds and themes and in the process never loses her footing. This versatility is reminiscent to her critically acclaimed and deeply personal 1997 Velvet Rope. The parallels are undeniable, with some fans on Twitter and Instagram noting that even the album covers are in conversation with each other. Velvet Rope was written in a time of depression and self-doubt for Jackson and explored themes of sadness, longing, loneliness, domestic violence, sexual exploration and loss. The cover art matches this, with Jackson’s head bowed and tight red curls covering her face.

Unbreakable, however, was obviously created in a time of happiness, self-assurance, love and gratitude. No longer held down by low self-esteem and carried by the support of fans, family and musical duo Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Janet’s head is raised proud and her curls are longer, bigger and most importantly off of her face. Unbreakable doesn’t offer answers to every problem and it doesn’t portray Janet as a woman who has it all figured out. Instead, it features a woman who accepts the things she cannot change but rests assure that everything is Gon’ B Alright. The genre fluidity of Velvet Rope is matched on Unbreakable with Jackson oscillating between R&B and pop and even Bossanova (like on Promise and Lessons Learned) and Country (i.e. Well Traveled). Despite this genre change, Janet remains in the forefront of the music with her voice as melodic and pure as her earlier records.

There is a multitude of themes on this album too, but where Velvet Rope took a turn towards the dark, Unbreakable unabashedly heads towards the light. Even though she sings of the loss of her brother and the state of the world, she remains hopeful that things will work out in the end and that she and her brother “Inshallah” will see each other again. Never one to miss out on a party, Janet has some club bangers on here too, like the Missy Elliott-assisted BURNITUP! and 2 B Loved, Janet even ventures into the current DJ Mustard-LA sound with Dammn Baby. She sings to her lover on No Sleeep and coos a lullaby-like After You Fall. Janet gives us everything she has and leaves no question as to why she has maintained a fan base since the 1980s. This album is not about being a “come back” as it is a contemplation of progression. The young, confused and unsure Janet of Velvet Rope has grown into the powerful, Black Eagle, self-assured Janet of Unbreakable and the beauty of it all is that there is still so much for Miss Jackson to do.

Written by Mercedes D