30 years later: Love Will Never Do (Without Janet Jackson, Antonio Sabato, Jr., and Djimon Hounsou)…

(December 1, 2020).  This is the story of a music video that transformed a music icon, and brought into the public’s consciousness two immigrant models whose careers went into completely different orbits afterwards…one a two-time, Oscar-nominated actor; the other a model-turned-actor-turned-politician who is more known for his political alliances these days.

Clockwise from top left: Antonio Sabato, Jr., Djimon Hounsou (both in circle and smiling), and Janet Jackson with Sabato.

The record-setting song.

It was 30 years ago today, on the chart dated December 1, 1990, that the seventh and final (commercially available) single from Janet Jackson’s metamorphic Rhythm Nation 1814 album, “Love Will Never Do (Without You)” entered the top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100.

Seven weeks later, it was the No. 1 song in the country – a feat that placed Janet Jackson in several record books that, to this day, still stand.

Among them, Janet became the first and still only artist to have seven top-five hits from one album. “Love Will Never Do” followed, in order, “Miss You Much,” “Rhythm Nation,” “Escapade,” “Alright,” “Come Back To Me,” and “Black Cat.”

She’s also still the only artist to have a seventh single from an album reach No. 1.  The latest into an album’s singles count that one had topped the charts previously was sixth.  And that was with the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack (“Night Fever” by The Bee Gees) and Janet’s own “Black Cat.”  (Note: only three of the first six SNF singles were by The Bee Gees.)

And with “Love Will Never Do” becoming the album’s fourth No. 1 single in January 1991, it made Rhythm Nation the only album to generate No. 1 singles in three different calendar years.  “Miss You Much” reached No. 1 in October 1989, and “Escapade” and “Black Cat” both topped the chart in March and October 1990, respectively.

Artwork for the single “Love Will Never Do (Without You)” by Janet Jackson

Needless to say, the times were certainly different then.  It wasn’t uncommon in the 1980s and ‘90s for albums to be milked for five, six and even seven singles released in two or three-month succession, with labels working each single at radio and to record stores per schedule, often deleting singles from commercial availability when they peaked and moving on to the next one.  Sometimes they would attach remixes to improve a record’s marketability, especially for songs in which the album had already sold millions and the likelihood of a late-released single’s success was diminished.

Janet’s Rhythm Nation was no different.

Her label at the time, A&M Records, may or may not have established its long-term singles strategy for the album upon its release in 1989, but even the most savvy of label marketing execs couldn’t have predicted the enormous success and endurance of what Billboard would name the top album of 1990.

Coming on the heels of such seven-single generators as Thriller and Born in the USARhythm Nation was certainly chock-full of potential hits.  Credit A&M Records and Janet’s team for knowing the order in which they should be released as one-by-one each subsequent release topped one Billboard chart or another.  

Still, there was no guarantee that the song this writer always considered the album’s best would ever see the light of day.  Even in the post-Thriller era, it was rare to go seven songs deep into an album, and even if the label opted to do so after the No. 1 success of Rhythm Nation’s sixth hit, “Black Cat,” there were still other potential candidates for that seventh single – among them “Someday Is Tonight” and “State of the World,” the latter of which would be released as an airplay-only eighth single in early 1991 following the No. 1 success of “Love Will Never Do.”

But A&M execs knew it had an untapped gem in “Love,” one of the first songs recorded for the album (tracks were laid down as early as 1988) and a song that its producers Jimmy Jam Harris and Terry Lewis had originally envisioned as a male-female duet between Janet and Prince (or another male vocalist) before they elected to keep Jackson’s own low-register, male-guide vocal for the first verse.

It didn’t hurt that the song also included a few saxophone riffs during the bridge by legendary musician and label boss Herb Alpert.  

In October 1990, just as “Black Cat” was peaking, A&M prepared to release single No. 7, and the rest – as they say – was history. 

The video that transformed Janet and mesmerized us all. 

In October 1990, MTV exclusively premiered Janet’s new video for “Love Will Never Do (Without You).”  Soon, other channels followed and the song was in heavy rotation on most major video outlets.

The video was directed by the late famed fashion photographer Herb Ritts, who had previously directed Madonna’s “Cherish” video (ironically, that No. 2-peaking song had been kept out of No. 1 by Janet’s first RN1814 single, “Miss You Much”).

“Love” featured two past and future Calvin Klein underwear models: Antonio Sabato, Jr., who had modeled the brand in 1990, and Djimon Hounsou, an actor-model who would connect with CK some 17 years later in 2007.

The Italian-born Sabato played Janet’s love interest in the video, while the Beninese (African)-born Hounsou provided a striking contrast of black-and-white and an unforgettable aesthetic as he frolicked throughout the video, most memorably during the song’s bridge as he lip-synched the “never do without you!” chant.

Janet Jackson in 1990 during the “Love Will Never Do” video shoot

But most striking was Janet herself.  Never before had she been filmed so beautifully.

Her image before then had been one of a defiant, late-teen-turned-20-year-old, respect-demanding singer of hits from her 1986 Control album, or the militant, overly-clad, more sensitive than sensual performer of the first six singles from RN1814.

For “Love Will Never Do,” Ritts captured Jackson at her most feminine and loose.   Alternately filmed in silhouette, black-and-white, and color, Janet seemed to embrace her own beauty as she showed off her curves and teased her newly coiffed, lightened beehive hairdo (a wig perhaps, but flawlessly done, nonetheless).  Ritts filmed Janet in close-up shots – something that had rarely been done before – which highlighted her caramel complexion and perfectly veneered smile. 

Clad in nothing but jeans and a black, midriff-bearing tank-top that showed off her newly svelte frame, Janet danced and flirted unapologetically with the 18-year-old photogenic Sabato, as the physically perfect Hounsou danced and sang nearby (presumably…as he was never filmed with the others).

The video was so transformative for Janet’s image that it gave an already great song added depth and dimension.  Before its single release, “Love Will Never Do (Without You)” had been just another in the long line of Minneapolis-funk-meets-New Jack productions by the great team of Jam & Lewis.  With the accompanying video, the song was now a sensual declaration of love – a Janet tour-de-force that not only highlighted a wide vocal range we’d never before heard, but also a dimension to her sexuality that had never been revealed. 

It all worked perfectly.  The video achieved the 1990s’ equivalent of “viral” in a pre-Internet, pre-YouTube world, where multiple video outlets ran it in heavy rotation for months.  It propelled the song up the charts – from a modest debut at No. 89, then 48-31-24-17-11-11-7-4 and finally No. 1 in January 1991.

The video ended up winning Best Female Video at the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards, joining another Herb Ritts-directed video – Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” – which won the Best Male Video award that year.

Where the three main players have gone since.

Janet Jackson, now a pop music icon at 54 years young, has had immeasurable success since “Love Will Never Do.”  She released several multi-platinum albums after RN1814, including No. 1 classics like janet.The Velvet Rope, and All For You.  In all, she’s had seven No. 1 Billboard 200 albums, including her most recent, Unbreakable, in 2015.

Janet Jackson in recent years

Janet also pursued an acting career and appeared in feature films like Poetic JusticeThe Nutty Professor II: The Klumps and Why Did I Get Married? as well as its sequel.  She received an Oscar nomination in 1993 for the song “Again” from Poetic Justice

While she’s endured controversy (unfairly and most notably for the Super Bowl 38 fiasco in 2004), Janet has unapologetically embraced her sexuality ever since “Love Will Never Do,” both in video and especially in song on hits like “If,” “Any Time, Any Place,” “Rope Burn,” and too many others to count.

Her crowning achievement may be her 2019 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where she joined her older brothers Michael (solo) and the Jacksons (Michael together with Jermaine, Jackie, Tito, Marlon and Randy).

Model-turned-politician Antonio Sabato, Jr.

Video love interest Antonio Sabato, Jr., now 48, continued modeling but later went on to become a daytime TV soap opera star.  He played the character Jagger Cates in “General Hospital” in the early ‘90s and later played Dante Damiano in “The Bold and the Beautiful” during the 2000s.  He also played in the prime time soap “Melrose Place” and starred in several other low-budget, made-for-TV films.

Sabato’s celebrity status was bolstered by his appearance in several reality TV shows during the 21st century, including a brief stint on VH-1’s “But Can They Sing?” and a feature turn on ABC’s “Celebrity Wife Swap.”    He even had his own version of “The Bachelor” called “My Antonio,” where ten female contestants shamelessly competed for his affection. 

His latest claim to fame is as a vocal, conservative politician who in 2018 unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Congress as a Republican against the incumbent Democrat Julia Brownley in California’s 26th District.  Sabato, a former Democrat himself, is a staunch Donald Trump supporter who has made his disdain for former president Barack Obama very clear, particularly noting that the 44th president was the reason the former model left the Democratic Party.

Oscar-nominated actor Djimon Hounsou

It is ironic that the model with the smallest role in “Love Will Never Do” would wind up with the most celebrated acting career of the video’s three main players.  Djimon Hounsou, now 56, has been twice nominated for Oscars for Best Supporting Actor.  He received the nods for his roles in the films In America (2003) and Blood Diamonds(2006).

His most memorable role, however, was as Joseph Cinqué in the 1997 Steven Spielberg film Amistad, where Hounsou portrayed the real-life West African hero and his leadership of a revolt on the Spanish slave ship that bore the movie’s name.  He received a Golden Globe nomination and won an NAACP Image Award for that role.

It wasn’t until 2007, at age 43 and after his biggest movie successes, that model-turned-actor-turned model again Hounsou became a Calvin Klein underwear rep, reversing the career course that his video co-star Sabato had charted 17 years earlier.  

Perhaps it’s fitting that the ever-photogenic Hounsou is still getting his props as he moves towards his 60s.   Except for a few gray whiskers, he’s hardly aged since he graced the “Love Will Never Do” video with his chiseled physique and blissful smile.

And speaking of smiles, who can forget Janet’s in that same video?  It was just one more of the many reasons “Love Will Never Do (Without You) worked so well in 1990, and why it’s as much a piece of eye candy today as it was then. 

Happy 30th anniversary to the makers of this iconic video, and to Janet on the song’s record-breaking success!

And may video director Herb Ritts continue to Rest In Peace.

The late Herb Ritts, 1952-2002


DJRob is a freelance blogger from Chicago who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff!  You can follow him on Twitter @djrobblog.

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