The second single from Janet Jackson's third studio album, Control, "Nasty" peaked at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, and became one of her signature songs. It ushered in Jackson's new, empowered persona and is remembered for the lines, "No, my first name ain't baby, it's Janet... Ms. Jackson if you're nasty." This was an early retaliation against a hip-hop culture that was showing signs of misogyny, and Jackson made it clear she wasn't going to take it.
Jackson told the UK music magazine NME that the song was inspired by a real incident when some abusive men tried to flirt with her. She explained: "When I was working in Minneapolis, I was walking from the hotel to the studio, and there were all these guys hanging around, shouting seriously sexual stuff, some really dirty stuff. I went in and started working on the song right after that. So many men call women, 'baby.' It takes away your dignity. I've got a name and if you don't know it then don't shout at me in the street."
Like most of the tracks on Control
, Jackson wrote this song with her producers, Jimmy Jam
and Terry Lewis, who were architects of the New Jack sound of the late '80s and early '90s.
Paula Abdul choreographed the music video and also appeared in it as one of Jackson's friends. When Abdul started her singing career, she looked for the Minnesota Funk sound similar to what Jackson was doing with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. This led her to Oliver Leiber
, who wrote the title track to her debut album Forever Your Girl
The song won Favorite Soul/R&B Single at the 1987 American Music Awards.
Jimmy Jam fired back at a critic who misinterpreted the meaning of this song. He remembered: "[The reviewer] said, 'One minute she's singing, 'Let's wait awhile' and the next minute she's talking about, 'Let's get nasty.' And I wrote back to him and said, 'You're a reviewer. Have you ever listened to the lyrics of the song? She's saying 'I don't like nasty boys.' That's what the song is saying.' And of course he printed in the paper that I'd written him back... Now he gives us good reviews."
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."
This song made its way onto several soundtracks on the big and small screens, including the movies Tough Guys (1986) and How To Be A Player (1997) and the TV shows Moonlighting, Nip/Tuck, Everybody Hates Chris and Glee. It also made the rounds on reality competition shows like Dancing with the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance and Ru Paul's All Stars Drag Race.
Panic! at the Disco's single "Miss Jackson
" was inspired by this song, and references its title in the chorus with the lyrics "Miss Jackson, are you nasty?"
A modified version of this song was used as the title theme for Nasty Boys, a short-lived 1989 TV series about undercover cops working the narcotics unit in North Las Vegas.
"Weird Al" Yankovic parodied this song in the chorus of his polka medley "Polka Party."
Britney Spears, who performed covers of "Nasty" and "Black Cat
" during her Baby One More Time tour, paid tribute to this song on her single "Break The Ice
." She stopped mid-song to croon "I like this part. It feels kind of good," much like Jackson's "I love this part."
People started going nuts for this song after Donald Trump made a dismissive comment about his opponent Hillary Clinton during their third and final presidential debate on October 19, 2016. Spotify reported that streams of "Nasty" spiked by 250% overnight after Trump was heard to utter, "Such a nasty woman," in reaction to a crack Clinton made about him not paying federal taxes.