Mimi had her "Emancipation." Mary J. had her "Breakthrough," and now Janet Jackson has to determine if she has enough "Discipline" to woo fans and resuscitate her once-thriving career.
Though the singer has worldwide sales totaling more than 100 million, neither of her last two albums reached 1 million in sales.
A galactic-inspired music video — complete with her signature heavily choreographed dance moves and a synth beat — ushered in the Discipline's" first single, "Feedback," which was released to drum up heat for the album's Feb. 26 release.
Don't Call It a Comeback
Hope exists that her Island Def Jam label debut will ebb her sliding sales, which dipped drastically in the aftermath of her infamous "wardrobe malfunction" during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show.
"Feedback" already has become her best-selling digital tune ever.
"The first single from 'Discipline,' has gotten a lot of buzz behind it just through YouTube and online. I think people are really excited about it," said Rolling Stone senior editor Melissa Maerz.
If the melody breaks into the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 chart, it would be the first time since 2001 that Jackson has had a hit single. That year, "Someone to Call My Lover" peaked at No. 3.
But, don't call it a comeback.
"I think a comeback is when you leave and then you ... come back," Jackson said with a laugh during a recent interview. "People are always quick to use that word 'comeback,' but I never went anywhere, really," Jackson told Billboard magazine in January.
Already critics have given this album a more positive review than her previous album.
"Janet Jackson has abandoned the plastic R&B of 2006's '20 Y.O.' for a sexier brand of digitized megapop. On her Def Jam debut, the beats are as crass and processed as Jackson's heavy breathing, so she sounds more like a sex droid than a blow-up doll, which is way hotter — for starters, sex droids show more initiative," a Rolling Stone review said.
"When Janet brags she's 'heavy like a first-day period' on 'Feedback,' or sings in a scrunched-up robot voice that she's 'So Much Betta' than your girl, all the amateur competition should just pack up their Webcams and go home," it added.
Heavy sexual content and insinuations have been Jackson's musical staple for the majority of her singing career and the songs on "Discipline" are no different.
"In putting Discipline out front — as both the title of the album and title of a song about sexual surrender — I wanted to announce that I was venturing into new creative waters," Jackson said in a press release. "I was interested in exploring musical scenarios — some exotic, many erotic, but all deeply emotional. I wanted to push the envelope. And I'm glad that `Discipline,' both as a song and an album, does just that."
Overtly sexual lyrics, magazine covers and videos haven't been able to boost Jackson's sales profile all the time. The 41-year-old's last album, 2006's "20 Y.O.," stalled at only 648,000 units and was commercial disappointment, according to Billboard.
But what seems to bring fans to the songstress is her ability to let listeners into her personal life and emotions. She often uses her music to reflect her life.
"The album expresses what I need to express at this moment of my life," she said. "It says that discipline, rather than being a problem, can bring pleasure. Discipline is a key to freedom. Discipline allows me — allows all of us — to focus. And the focus must be on thoughts and feelings that nourish our physical and spiritual lives."
The last time Jackson made a declaration, it ignited her singing career and sent her sales into the stratosphere. 1986's "Control" also helped her get out from behind the shadow of older brother, Michael Jackson, and etched her mark permanently on pop culture.
"My first big album also had a one-word title — 'Control.' I was naïve in thinking that I could control every aspect of my life." Jackson said.
"The only one who really has control is God. But it took discipline — the discipline of thought, the discipline of action, the discipline of creating music — to make me see that. Finally, discipline has to do with faith. I have faith that a gentle but steady discipline will let me continue to grow as an artist and a woman."
The Evolution of Janet
Nearly all of Jackson's growth as an artist, actress and person has been scrapbooked by media. The Gary, Ind. native initially gained recognition as part of the expansive Jackson clan. The youngest Jackson was known for being shy, but it didn't stop her from appearing on the family's variety show, "The Jacksons" in the mid '70s.
From there Jackson headed into television, becoming a cast member of the "Good Times" for its final two seasons.
"As a child, I took it for granted. That's who I was. As a teenager, I wanted to sing and dance. I realized that required concentration. I wanted to reach people, and I had the good sense to see that couldn't happen if my skills weren't crafted with precision," Jackson said.
She moved on to the 1980s popular sitcom "Diff'rent Strokes" as a teen before her singing career overshadowed her acting resume.
"Janet was really the full package when she came out. She came out on stage. She was a dancer. She was a singer," Maerz said.
Still, she has continued to balance both and recently starred in Tyler Perry's 2007 hit movie "Why Did I Get Married?" She nabbed a NAACP award for the role this month.
It seems the five-time Grammy Award-winner entire career disciplined her for her latest record.
"As I came into adulthood, I was hard on myself. Discipline is one thing; perfectionism is another. Perfectionism is a kind of punishment. It leads to permanent dissatisfaction and heartbreak. It's wonderful to strive for excellence, but demanding perfection only leads to heartache and frustration. It took me years to learn that difficult lesson. But in finally learning it," Jackson said.