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Paula Abdul

Paula Abdul, Janet Jackson and influence

I went on a bit of a nostalgia kick last weekend and it got me thinking about how the women who I grew up loving have been mostly forgotten (or at the very least their influence has been forgotten.) I'm talking Paula and Janet. I'm getting to be an old lady for sure, but when I was a kid these two women were two of the most important women in music. Paula especially was a huge deal because she had her own career and helped shape Janet by choreographing some of her most memorable routines. Paula wasn't the best singer. I knew that even when I was four, but she could dance and had mastered that sweet yet sexy thing that a female pop star needs. She's one of the big reasons I took my first dance class. I'd dance around to Opposites Attract, Cold Hearted and Straight Up until my parents took my mixed tapes away. (See, old lady!)

When I went back and watched some of her videos, it was like a smack in the face. I saw Britney all over it. Between the Slave 4 U dancer orgy in Cold Hearted, the Knocked Out wood floor dance referenced in ...BOMT or moving to Janet, Britney has acknowledged that Stronger is a Janet tribute but there are moments in Me Against the Music that make me think of Miss You Much. It totally makes sense, Britney's only a few years older than me. She would have grown up listening to both these incredible ladies. So why, when people talk about Britney do they compare her to Madonna? I love Madonna, but she and Britney never had much in common beyond blonde hair. Madonna is a personality. Very little dancing, whereas Britney always showed off her moves. Somehow the women making music in the 80s and early 90s have been reduced to Madonna, maybe Whitney and Cyndi Lauper if someone is willing to stretch their imagination but Janet and Paula have been forgotten.

Except they haven't. No one is name checking them, but their influence is there. Beyonce's Pepsi commercial with the mirrors makes me think of The Pleasure Principle. Probably because they're the same. Bey's epic Run the World performance a few years back at the Billboard Awards is Rhythm Nation. Can't even argue about it.

Gaga gets the Madonna comparisons all the time too and I get it. She theatrical in the same way and BTW is Express Yourself with different (weaker) lyrics (sorry Gaga.) But again, Gaga can dance. All Janet's adorable hand dancing in Miss You Much makes me think of Bad Romance. Rhythm Nation and Alejandro comparisons are obvious. What Have You Done For Me Lately recalls the diner scenes in Telephone except no one dies on Janet's watch. Ke$ha's Take It Off reminds me of a dirtier Escapade. Rihanna's overt sexuality owes Janet a debt. Love Will Never Do Without You feels like a precursor to We Found Love.

I guess the point of my ramble is that these two women were icons and stars and now one is remembered for judging Idol and the other for Nipplegate. It blows my mind. These are the women who shaped modern pop music. If and Cold Hearted could exist in the music scene today if you updated the wardrobes a bit yet these Janet and Paula aren't part of the conversation when we talk influence. It's wrong and it makes me sad.


I hadn't thought about it before, but I see what you mean. Lady Gaga and Madonna share that practical view of their careers, purposeful control over what they do, which Madonna was better at because she was more artistically flexible (better training as far as I can tell).

As for Janet and Paula, I guess it's another example of white singers co-opting African American artists, which pretty much sums up the history of rock and roll generally.