(February 6, 2024). In the social media-driven 21st century, the combination of a rabid fan base and a viral spark can be a powerful cocktail for today’s recording artists… and sometimes even yesterday’s.
Janet Jackson fans are putting that theory to the test in 2024 with a unique marketing push to get her 20-year-old album Damita Jo — without an official re-release or deluxe version on the market — not only back onto the Billboard charts, but all the way to the top this time around at No. 1.
In other words, Jackson’s fans are seeking — to offer a pun here — Poetic Justice.
That’s because, when it was released in March 2004, the album bearing the superstar’s middle name as its title debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 — the weekly all-genre ranking of the most consumed albums in the U.S. — failing to match the No. 1 status of her previous five studio sets (Control, Rhythm Nation 1814, janet., The Velvet Rope, and All for You).
Fans and astute pop culture followers will recall that Damita Jo’s release came just over a month after her halftime performance during Super Bowl 38 (February 2004) and the infamous wardrobe malfunction that nearly torpedoed her career.
While the album’s opening week tally of 381,000 copies (before streaming was a factor, mind you) was nothing to sneeze at, it was only good enough for runner-up status that week behind Usher’s Confessions, which was in its second frame at No. 1 with 486,000 copies sold (down from the R&B record-setting one million copies sold in its debut the previous week).
Moreover, Damita Jo saw a significant drop from Jackson’s previous album’s opening-week tally (All For You scored more than 600,000 copies sold in its debut three years earlier).
While every artist eventually sees a decline as his or her career enters its later stages, Jackson was still an A-list performer in 2004, one whose Super Bowl exposure alone was expected to generate much bigger opening week numbers for the very album her halftime appearance was setup to promote.
Instead the then-37-year-old Jackson, who was singing on stage with Justin Timberlake when her right breast was famously exposed in front of hundreds of millions of NFL fans watching worldwide, took the brunt of the blame while Timberlake, whose aggressive hand gesture ripped open the bustier Jackson was wearing, escaped unscathed.
For the next several months, Janet made the news and talk show rounds to clear her name from accusations of having exposed herself intentionally, but the backlash she suffered at the hands of CBS-Viacom and MTV, which aired and produced the halftime show that year, was too much to overcome.
Her next album, 2006’s 20 Y.O. — named to commemorate the 20th anniversary of her breakout LP Control — suffered a similar fate to Damita Jo and crested at No. 2 on the Billboard chart.
While she eventually was able to return to the top spot with her two subsequent releases — 2008’s Discipline and 2015’s Unbreakable — Jackson hasn’t been a major force in recent years with new music from the superstar coming far less frequently. The current eight-and-a-half-year break (and counting) since her last album is her longest yet.
Now, on the eve of this year’s Super Bowl, which will mark the 20th anniversary of “Nipplegate” and feature none other than Usher — the man whose 2004 album held Janet back — performing at this year’s big game, Jackson’s fans are testing her No. 1 mettle (and their own power) with a campaign to push Damita Jo to the No. 1 position that eluded it in 2004.
During the Billboard tracking week that includes this year’s game — from Friday, Feb. 9 through Thursday, Feb. 15 — fans are being asked to bring justice for Damita Jo by consuming the album in droves… and to do so specifically during that seven-day window to boost its chances of topping the chart dated February 24.
And, unlike in 2004, they won’t have to go to a record store to make a purchase. They’ll simply have to download or steam the album (repeatedly) to push its album equivalent unit count to high enough numbers to get it to the top where they feel it was robbed two decades ago.
But will the fan promo work?
Well, a look at the current chart’s numbers offers a glimpse into what could happen in a week or so if the Jackson promo goes viral.
The consumption numbers for this week’s top tier albums — as is typical for the post-holiday doldrums — are relatively low (the current No. 1 by Morgan Wallen only moved 66,000 units last week). Those numbers continue to decline as interest in older albums naturally wanes and no new superstar product is on the market.
With all of the post-Grammy surge expected to take place this week — artists like Tracy Chapman, Miley Cyrus, SZA, Taylor Swift and Olivia Rodrigo are seeing big gains — that should subside by the time Jackson’s fans’ designated “Damita Jo Chart Week” begins on Feb. 9.
Without a major new release by a more contemporary artist on tap for that date, it’s not a stretch to think that Jackson could pull off those modest 60-70K numbers with a viral campaign fueling interest, and top the chart (her last album in 2015 debuted at No. 1 with more than 100,000 units consumed in its opening week).
The problem for Janet, who will be 58 this May, is two-fold: 1) the songs on Damita Jo are 20 years old and they sound like it; and 2) her fan base isn’t nearly as virale as that of more contemporary artists like The Weeknd or Taylor Swift.
On the streaming front alone, those two average more than 100 million monthly listeners apiece on Spotify (with likely an equivalent number on Apple Music). That’s a built-in contingent that guarantees large consumption numbers each time one of those acts releases new product or an older album goes viral.
Janet’s average monthly Spotify listenership as of Feb. 4 is a mere 5.5 million by comparison. Simply put, Jackson’s more mature fan base isn’t streaming albums in droves like the fans of her younger counterparts. Heck, many of her older fans may not even be aware of the social media campaign to bring Damita Jo to the top.
For that matter, Janet herself may not even be aware of what appears to be a fan-driven promotional effort, not one launched by the artist or her record label.
But if Jackson is involved, there are ways she could improve her chances of getting her eighth career No. 1 with an album that fans believe should have been her sixth.
She could go back to the vault and find some unreleased tracks from that era, or remixes of the songs from Damita Jo, and add them in a deluxe version to be issued on Feb. 9.
She could also tout the album during promos for the recently announced continuation of her 2024 concert tour.
Or, in what would be an absolute stunner, she could make a surprise guest appearance at this year’s halftime show alongside Usher, the man whose Confessions album prevented Damita Jo from topping the chart 20 years ago.
On second thought, maybe that SB appearance wouldn’t be so far fetched. After all, her duet partner of 20 years ago — Mr. Timberlake — just performed on SNL last month (Jan. 27) in the setup for his upcoming album release.
And no one blinked an eye.
DJRob (he/him) is a freelance music blogger from the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, disco, pop, rock and (sometimes) country genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on X (formerly Twitter) at @djrobblog and on Meta’s Threads.
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