Will the real Janet Jackson please stand up?
Is the seductive superstar an enigma wrapped in a riddle? Or just your average nasty girl with a taste for pleasure and pain?
From the moment you step into Janet Jackson’s New York City apartment, you are swaddled in comfort. The lighting is low. Cape Verdean songbird Cesaria Evora moans longingly on the sound system. Incense smolders by the western wall, near the Picasso. There are gorgeous antiques from Africa and Asia and Europe; there are candles and yellow orchids floating in a bronze bowl. Outside, Central Park looks as gray as a rain soaked battlefield, but here in Jackson’s imperial lair your mind races through a J. Crew catalog’s worth of earth tones. (Sand, rust, mahogany, eggplant, turmeric, chestnut, cinnamon, topaz…) ”These are the colors of my childhood,” she says.
Coming from the baby of America’s dysfunctional pop music dynasty, such an observation can’t be written off as nostalgia. The amber and mocha color scheme might feel cozy to a casual visitor, but Jackson, 34, originally worried that it would unleash a bunch of bad memories, ”that it would take me into a space where I thought, Oh God, are things going to resurface?” she says. (Her speaking voice is like a bed: satiny and pillowy on the surface, but firm underneath. Her body? Firm all over.) ”Just things that happened in my childhood that I always suppress.”
Everything’s like this with Janet Jackson: Pleasure often comes with a soupçon of pain. The singer/ songwriter/ actress describes her new album, ”All for You,” as ”very up,” and it is: There are twinkly disco romps and thumping grooves and cooing effusions of erotic ecstasy. (More on that later. We promise.) Yet ”All for You” arrives just as contact has been cut off with the man Jackson calls ”my best friend,” René Elizondo Jr. For almost 13 years, Jackson and Elizondo were joined at the swiveling hip. ”I think maybe once — no, twice — we were away from each other, for at the very most a week,” she says. ”People always said, ‘Don’t you guys get tired of each other?’ And we didn’t. We really didn’t.” For eight of those 13 years, Jackson and Elizondo were married — a fact they managed to hide not only from the international press but from Jackson’s own father. (”He can’t keep a secret,” she explains, giggling.)
Jackson and Elizondo, an aspiring film director, swapped vows in 1991 in a tiny ceremony at their house in the California resort town of Rancho Santa Fe. For years, people would inquire as to their marital status. ”To say, ‘No, we’re not,’ when they would ask? I didn’t like it. It didn’t feel good at all,” Jackson says. ”But I was willing to do anything to protect what we had. Because I feel that it’s so difficult in this business, the whole marriage thing.”
Ironically, a union that was meant to sidestep the showbiz stereotypes wound up getting mired in one: Elizondo filed for divorce in May 2000, and seven months later came a lawsuit from Elizondo claiming that Jackson had intended that he ”share equally” in the bounty of her music career. He’s asking for a reported $10 million. ”I wish we could’ve worked it out in a totally different manner. I really do,” Jackson says. ”God knows I tried.” While Jackson prepares for a summer concert tour and her latest single, ”All for You,” hovers at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, Elizondo’s lawyer is preparing for a hearing later this year in Los Angeles to debate the validity of a purported prenuptial agreement between the once inseparable duo.
So it goes, that perpetual link between pleasure and pain. Even in the calm of her apartment, there stands a striking reminder of agony: The Slave, a statue by a 19th-century French sculptor named Jean Baptiste Carpeaux; it’s a bust depicting an African woman who’s been taken into bondage. A rope encircles her naked chest. Her eyes are locked in anger and fear and defiance. ”This is my favorite,” Jackson says. ”She’s still tied. And what it is, is she’s getting ready to be sold…. There’s pain. There’s strength. That’s what really appealed to me about that.”