"The word normal was never used to describe me," Janet Jackson claims in her new...erm, nonfiction book, True You. Perhaps this is true, but True You should cause at least a few to label her boring and pointless. If no one has yet, I'm happy to be the first. I had no idea what True You was before I read it, and after reading it, I still have no idea what it is.
"This is not an autobiography. It’s a journey that I am still taking to love and to accept myself just as I am," writes Janet (/ co-writer David Ritz) in the acknowledgments section prior to the narrative. So...fine, except that it is a narrative, just one that's sparsely detailed and prone to trailing off. In one would-be amazing story, some menacing guys follow a lone Janet through the streets of Minneapolis, taunting her along the way. "But instead of running, I turned and faced them. I backed them down. I had wanted to run, but something inside me wouldn't let me do that. I had to confront them. It was a matter of self-respect and self-defense," is as far as she goes before resuming a similarly vague discussion of the Control recording sessions. Details would have made all the difference (how is it possible to read that brief account and not think, "But how?!" or, "And then what?!?") -- as it stands, it would appear that her life was much like one of her brother's videos, where all it took to shake off gang members were some intensity and complex movement.
Perhaps she does not reveal too much because she cannot. Her insight, for one thing, is flat: "My childhood was a powerful and often perplexing combination of experiences that were wonderful as well as challenging," is an actual sentence that appears in the book. So do these: "I have friends who think that I grew up quickly. Others are convinced that I grew up slowly. I believe both statements are true." And then there's: "I deeply believe the words that Marvin Gaye wrote: we’re all sensitive people." I have heard more depth coming from teens yammering behind me in line at various concession stands. (On the other hand, I love that she describes a group of breakdancers as having "smooth style and funky grace." Funky Grace is totally the name of my '80s disco-inflected side-project and/or future 80-year-old protege.)
Janet writes a lot about her reluctant attitude toward fame (which is to say, she acknowledges it without much specificity on more than one occasion), and so perhaps the flattening of life experiences is her way of controlling her normal -- just because no one's called her it, doesn't mean she isn't striving for it. Perhaps she figures that exuding ordinary blandness puts her on a level plane with potential readers. That could come in handy when she discusses her troubled relationship with food, which she also does quite often in the book. It is a common problem, and the idea of a fraught food chronicle is almost appetizing for a connoisseur of the formal exercise like myself...except that Janet's problem with food always goes something like: she's told she's fat, she eats to cope, she repeats now with more weight. Or something. It doesn't even matter because the last 50 or so pages are written by her nutritionist and filled with unappealing recipes (a walnut orange shortbread that serves fucking 16, and so many honey/yogurt happenings). When Janet passes the baton to the guy who helped her find her own true her (or something), it comes off as having been one giant commercial all along (it feels similar to when Cher introduced her "friend" Lori Davis on that infomercial back in the day).
True You also is kind of a self-help book. Or something? I don't know how any of this could help anyone into anything but a state of confusion, but helping people help themselves seems to be the idea on occasion. Janet throws around the phrase "true you," as if the world is full of people grappling with their identity -- people who aren't, like, 18. Sure, I know that self-awareness is a limited commodity and that people should take as long as they need to find themselves, but I can't help but thinking that her own identity issues are pronounced enough to inspire a book (again: or something) because she's been famous in a family of weirdos all of her lives. The shit she grapples with is beyond a shift in careers or a sports car as the extension of the midlife failing penis. At least, this is what I'm assuming -- little of what she grapples with in the regard of fame shit is actually specified.
The way she forces in the phrase "true you," is pretty hilarious, though. A sampling:
- "This book is about finding the true you and knowing you’re beautiful as you are."
- ""‘If people laugh, that’s their problem. Just be who you are.’” The true you."
- "…It is important to remember that with an unstable foundation, you can’t find your own true you."
- "I underate and I abused laxatives to keep the weight off. I didn’t take care of myself. I want everyone to know: don’t do it. It’s not healthy. It’s not worth it. It’s not true you."
- "The concept of true you was still many years ahead of me. So many things can block the true you. I am me, the true me; you are you, the true you – and that’s good. That’s beautiful. That’s enough."
- Caption: "Back on stage. Finding and living, my own True You."
- Caption: "All the exercise in the world doesn’t matter until you find the True You."
- "The answer is within you – the true you."
I'm sorry, what if I like the taste of laxatives? What if taking them seems true you to me. And what if my true you means not taking advice from someone who's unspecific to the point of possibly being dishonest, i.e. false you? If my true you is your false you, am I false you to you? Or am I false you to me since true you is your concept and you are by default its queen?
WHAT DOES ANY OF THIS SHIT MEAN?
Almost as hilarious are the captions to the pictures, which inevitably feature a sullen looking Janet in 3/4 profile looking off to something that's filling her eyes with a pregnant pause. "I am fourteen in a limo, feeling alone and overwhelmed," reads one, which could easily double as a self-contained Twitter poem. "In concert for Rhythm Nation, feeling your love and feeling fraudulent at the same time," reads another. But this one is my favorite:
I'd say she comes off as a musical Eeyore, except I bet Eeyore had a greater grasp on the concept of privacy (i.e. it doesn't happen in front of a camera while posing with a giant cuff bracelet).
Oh, and speaking of tweets, there is yet another component of the book that I haven't even mentioned yet (that's right, another one: this thing is a mess, like it's the byproduct of a laxative-taking computer, which would not be very true you of the computer according to Janet, but very true you of the computer according to me) -- the stories of Janet's friends, but more often, fans. These frequent asides of nothingness are the worst thing about a very bad book, because even when Janet Jackson is boring, at least she's still Janet Jackson. When she's boring courtesy of others, she's just fucking boring. I didn't need to hear about her friend with a stutter or follow up with him in not one but two further chapters. There is so much that is so skip-able. Gems like, "I felt that the Rhythm Nation was all about love, and I felt the Rhythm Nation spurring me on," are entirely few and far between in the warbling about how great and influential Janet's work is. Because these reprinted letters came as fan mail, this whole component of the book has the same kind of smugness as retweeting a complement. And if you thought that was insufferable at 140 characters, imagine how excruciating it is at an unlimited length.
I suspect that ultimate point of that and the book, in general, is for Janet to remind us and herself of her relevance, but all it serves to do is remind us of how lost she is as a star. Every time she does something half-assed like this (or say Discipline), it opens the door to our wondering how, with so little to say, she was given the job of one of the most visible public communicators. She is undermining her legacy. Look, I love Janet and want nothing but success for her. I would rather have a thousand mediocre Janet's in pop music than one Ke$ha. I like Damita Jo and 20 Y.O. more than most people and probably more than I should. There is something magical about the team of her, Jam & Lewis when they are in harmony that transcends technical qualification. I find her genuinely fascinating (that's why I read this book!) and I feel her pain, especially given her father (whom, disappointingly, she defends in the book). But if true you is the true her, I feel like she's been bamboozling me for far too long.