Janet Jackson is imploring us to “keep the conversation going” with the recently launched marketing campaign (hashtag: #ConversationsInACafe) for the upcoming album and its first new single, “No Sleeep.” The tune was released June 22 on Jackson’s new imprint, Rhythm Nation Records, in a distribution deal with BMG records. Janet is launching her new world tour next month to further promote the album and (hopefully) remind us why she is considered one of the greatest recording artists and entertainers of the past 30 years or so.
Unfortunately, as the first release from this superstar artist in over 7 years, “No Sleeep” has done anything but that. It debuted inauspiciously at No. 67 on the Billboard Hot 100 on the chart dated July 11, and entered the R&B chart at #18. Both entries came courtesy of 38,000 downloaded copies of the track on iTunes and other music stores, plus moderate audio streaming of the single on sites like Spotify, Pandora and others. The song has no video yet.
The Hot 100 début makes “No Sleeep” her 40th chart hit, tied for 12th among women. But it likely won’t be her next top-40 single, as it will probably peak at its #67 début position. Based on numbers I’m seeing, it may not even be on the Hot 100 next week, as it has dropped out of the top 150 iTunes chart – which is a major feeder to Billboard’s charts via Nielsen tracking.
So why the dismal performance and outlook for the first single release from this pop icon’s next project – her first since 2008’s Discipline? Here are five reasons Janet’s new song – while received favorably by her most die-hard fans – landed with a thud on the record charts…
1. It’s not first-single material. At least not for an artist whose last album was nearly a decade ago and an artist who hasn’t sold more than a million copies of any album in over 10 years (since 2004’s Damita Jo). People have compared this “mid-tempo summer groove” to “That’s the Way Love Goes,” the first single release from her biggest-selling album janet. in 1993. But the circumstances surrounding “No Sleeep” and “That’s the Way…” couldn’t be more different. In 1993, Janet was coming off of two consecutive blockbuster albums (Control and Rhythm Nation 1814) that had sold nearly 15 million copies in the U.S. alone and made her one of the biggest pop stars on the planet. At that time, she could have released a remixed version of herself and her brother Randy doing their childhood Sonny and Cher routine from the Jackson family’s ’70s TV variety show and it likely would have topped the charts. That’s how hot she was then. And while her most loyal followers are showering the current song with praises like “the Queen is back,” and “another Janet classic!” in iTunes reviews, the truth is “No Sleeep” could lull the biggest insomniac into the deepest of slumbers.
2. It’s not being promoted well. Janet has used social media to advertise the upcoming project, certainly appropriate in the 21st century. Social media is a great way to create a buzz and generate curiosity about an artists’ latest projects or other news – just as Janet did when she announced her new label, upcoming tour and album project a few weeks back. However, that medium usually caters to the artist’s fans – i.e., those people who are already converted.
What would’ve helped? Releasing a music video for the track, for starters. And a perfect – and likely more beneficial – promotional opportunity would have been a performance of the song at the recent 2015 BET Awards show, where Janet was being paid a much-hyped tribute. Instead, following a pretty good performance by other artists who recreated her famous dance routines from videos past, Janet gave an acceptance speech that lasted all of two minutes, in which she gave the obligatory thank-yous to her parents, fans and God…then walked off.
To compensate for the lack of a music video and any known performances of the song to-date, there is this lyric video…
3. The Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis factor. For the record, I’m a HUGE Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis fan. The fact that Jam & Lewis were commissioned to produce the new track is commendable and certainly a nod to their enduring relationship with Janet. Loyalty – especially in an industry that is otherwise (to borrow a famous title written by the trio) a “what have you done for me lately?” kinda business, is certainly something to be celebrated. However, their time – like Janet’s – has passed. No other evidence is needed than the fact that the duo’s last #1 production was Usher’s “U Remind Me” fourteen years ago…just a few months after Janet’s last #1 (“All For You”). Music has changed five-fold since then. I knew when I heard the familiar-but-dated rain and thunderstorm sound effects in the opening to “No Sleeep” that Jam & Lewis had gone to that sound file – likely the same one that was used in 1986 for Janet’s “Funny How Time Flies” or many of her other slower tracks since then – one too many times. A producer like Timbaland or Pharrell Williams would have no doubt given her a fresher, more contemporary sound.
4. The wrong audience loves her. Let’s face it, how many 35-to-50-year-olds (arguably the biggest constituents of Janet’s fan base and the group I happen to be part of) are going to run to iTunes and buy her singles in droves? Taking this further, how many of us are going to be streaming her music repeatedly on services like Spotify, Pandora or Apple Music? How many of us even know what Spotify is? Even if Janet’s older fan base were to launch a revolutionary, tech-savvy campaign for “No Sleeep” and it went viral, there are still exponentially more people who are likely to plop down dollars for a newer artist like Nicki Minaj, Fetty Wap or the Weeknd than there are of us Janet-era music lovers who’d be willing to make similar purchases.
5. Janet has reached the age of irrelevance. At least in pop music. Janet’s last three albums, 2008’s Discipline, 2006’s 20 Y.O., and 2004’s Damita Jo, each had diminishing returns as the backlash from her Super Bowl XXXVIII (38) “wardrobe malfunction” continued to (unfairly) impact her career. In fact, each one of her last five studio albums has sold fewer than the one before it, with her high-water mark being 1993’s janet. (20 million copies worldwide). She was 27 when that album was released – just a year-and-a-half older than today’s biggest artist, Taylor Swift, is now. Heck, even Britney Spears – who is all of 33 – is experiencing age-related pop irrelevancy as her last album – released in 2013 – has barely sold 250K copies.
Let’s face it, Janet Jackson today would be the equivalent of Diana Ross trying to make a comeback in the mid-1990s during the age of TLC, Lil’ Kim and Brandy. It just ain’t gonna happen…at least not the way Janet and her people have gone about doing it. As a sort-of elder statesman in popular music culture at 49, Janet’s days of topping the pop charts – or even coming close – may be long behind her.
However, there still may be hope for her project and her legion of fans. In a weak 2015 album-sales market, where the #1 album usually sells in the 100k range during its first week of release, Janet’s new album – when it is issued – could easily top the Billboard 200 album chart. This would give her a seventh #1 album on the Billboard pop charts and place her among the top 3 women in that category. Only Barbra Streisand (10) and Madonna (8) will have had more.
There’s also the prospect of the world tour, which has been known to extend the lives of artists’ current projects. With highly successful performances and word-of-mouth rave reviews, the new album could become the surprise hit of the fall.
The chances of that happening, however, will be greatly enhanced by a second single to wake us from the quiet slumber that “No Sleeep” has lulled listeners into.
P.S. See where Janet Jackson ranked among my list of the 100 Greatest Black Musicians of All Time by clicking here.
You can also see how Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis fared on my list of the Top 20 Black Producers/Songwriters of all time by clicking here.