Rhythm Nation

Album: Rhythm Nation 1814 (1989)
Charted: 23 2
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Songfacts®:

  • As was the case with many of her hits of this era, Janet Jackson wrote "Rhythm Nation" with the songwriting and production team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. The trio got the idea for the song after seeing news stories about the Stockton playground murders, when Patrick Purdy shot up a school playground in California and killed five children before turning the gun on himself. They wanted to write a positive song focusing on the "Nation" of people they came across in New York dance clubs. These people came to the clubs from many different backgrounds and were united in their love for the music.

    "I was reading about all these clubs and I thought it would be great if we could create our own nation," Jackson told the Los Angeles Times. "One that would have a positive message and that everyone would be free to join."
  • The distinctive bass groove was based on Sly & the Family Stone's "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)," which Jimmy Jam told Songfacts is one of his favorite songs of all time. Describing how he came up with the idea to use it, he said, "I was actually at a restaurant, I might have been with Janet, I can't remember who I was eating with. But I remember they were playing music in the background, sort of ambiance. And I remember all of a sudden just hearing the guitar lick on the break of 'Thank You,' which is 'da jing da jing jink.' I heard that, and I've heard that a million times, but it was the first time I heard it kind of out of context where I wasn't really listening and all of a sudden that part just grabbed my ear. And I immediately said, 'I'm going back to the studio because I'm going to loop that part and make a song out of it.' I had no clue that it was going to be 'Rhythm Nation' or anything like that. I just knew that that track, that was fine. That that was going to be just beyond – that was the spark of the idea."
  • The video created a new look for Jackson and introduced her military-style dance moves she became famous for. The video won the MTV Video Music Award for Best Choreography and the Soul Train Music Award for Best Music Video.
  • In an interview with Michael Jackson, he said that Janet called to ask if she could use the military-style dance she saw in Michael's short film Captain EO in her video for this song. Michael refused at first since he wanted to do a video with all the dances in military style, but he eventually let Janet use it. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Ming-Sum - Sunnyvale, CA
  • Pink covered this song for the animated movie Happy Feet Two in 2011.
  • When she headlined the Super Bowl halftime show in 2004, Jackson transfixed the crowd with a rousing rendition of "Rhythm Nation" that was forgotten two minutes later when Justin Timberlake, brought on to perform his hit "Rock Your Body" with Jackson, tore away part of her outfit, revealing her breast. This "wardrobe malfunction" was big news and put Jackson in the doghouse with Viacom because they owned MTV, which produced the show, and CBS, which aired the Super Bowl. Viacom retaliated by banishing Jackson from MTV and their many radio stations, and disinviting her to the Grammy Awards, where Timberlake performed and took home two awards.

Comments: 1

  • Luke Lee from London, UkJanet really went to another level of artistry with the album and the title track. The video was great too. Her brother was certainly paying attention. After three mega selling albums with Quincy Jones, Michael opted to work with Teddy Riley on Dangerous, just a year after Rhythm Nation, and went for a harder, hip-hop flavoured sound. That's not coincidence.
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