Janet Jackson’s ‘I Get Lonely’ Turns 20: A Look Back

Still lonely, after all these years.

“Want no one but you.”

It’s Valentine’s Day. Got somebody there? Good. Thinking about somebody who isn’t? This one goes out to you.

Twenty years ago this month (February 26, to be exact), Janet – Miss Jackson, if you’re nasty – released a song called “I Get Lonely,” the third single from her 1997 record The Velvet Rope, her most introspective and soul-baring album to date. This was at a time when a pop star’s Most Personal Album To Date resulted in masterpieces like Ray of Light and Impossible Princess, as opposed to…well, anyway.

The all-too-underrated opus dove deep into heavy feelings and taboo themes: from LGBTQ equality at a time well before the mainstreaming of RuPaul’s Drag Race and Adam Rippon, to ancient forms of cyber sex (18/F/CA here, u?), to BDSM play (tie me up, tie me down…), to isolation and depression.

“I Get Lonely” was co-written alongside Janet’s longtime career co-architects, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, as well as her then-husband René Elizondo, Jr.

The song also came just after the release of what is surely one of the most important tracks of Janet’s career at the end of 1997: “Together Again,” a four-to-the-floor thumper which she wrote after losing a friend to AIDS – a song heavy with grief, yet pulsating with an energy as warm and loving as a familiar hug.

Rather than continuing to uplift with her follow-up single (it’s a darker album, after all), Janet dove right into a track centered around a similar subject – the loss of a loved one – with an entirely different, slinkier approach.

“I Get Lonely” is signature Janet in its sleek sophistication and sensuality, as she sweetly coos and moans out all her yearning across a finger snap and horn-filled, speaker-thumping, they-just-don’t-make-’em-like-this-anymore soulful R&B groove.

“Fell asleep late last night, crying like a newborn child / Holding myself close, pretending my arms are yours…”

On the surface level, yes, it’s about missing a certain someone that’s moved on: “Call and say that you’re okay, so that I have the chance to beg you to stay.” For the post-2000 born teens who are now old enough to drive and compete in the Olympics: can you even fathom that there was a time when you couldn’t just stalk someone on Instagram? You literally needed to wait for them to call. Imagine.

So, sure, there’s the idea that this is traditional break-up melancholy, or perhaps long-distance love that’s fallen apart.

But on a more existential level, there’s the possibility that this person Janet’s sitting by the phone for could be somebody she hasn’t actually…met yet. “You’re the one that lives in me.” Could “I Get Lonely” be read as an ode to the dream boy she’s achingly awaiting, still? (Or girl. This is a “Free Xone,” after all.)

Just food for thought.

The prolific Paul Hunter directed the music video – he of Aaliyah‘s “One in a Million” and Mariah Carey‘s “Honey,” amid many other iconic pop culture moments.

Alternating between a stylish dance routine on a space-age stage, backseat car crooning and hallway wind machine dramatics filled with cleavage shots aplenty, Janet served up the sex appeal and embodied the song’s sad-but-horny style.

By the end of the video, she’s bursting at the seams – quite literally – for pleasure. (It would be neither the first, nor the last time she’d stir up strong feelings with a sudden absence of wardrobe.)

That video isn’t just a nostalgic time capsule of the futuristic, glossy visual style of that period in pop, but a representation of Janet’s influence on future generations: watch it again, and then say Britney Spears wasn’t paying homage to this one during the In The Zone era, as she’s done throughout her entire career – not only with her “Me Against The Music” outfit, but the “Everytime” hallway scene.

Janet would team up with BLACKstreet for a remix of the song for the single version, along with even more remixes by Jason Nevins and Jam & Lewis.

The song’s performance is also important to her legacy in terms of chart feats, just in case anyone dared to question her position on the throne of pop royalty: after sailing into the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 (peaking at No. 3), Janet became the only female artist to notch 18 consecutive Top 10 hits.

Twenty years later, “I Get Lonely” still holds up phenomenally well, especially as music and fashion continue to heavily pull from the ’90s as of late. (Time is a flat circle.)

Aside from covers, samples and references – Kelly Rowland, Kisses Down Low enthusiast, paid tribute in 2011 with “Motivation” – Janet’s even given herself a nod, including that fierce breakdown in Unbreakable‘s “Dammn Baby.” (“Gonna break it down, break it down, break it down…“)

So, just remember: if you’re out there getting lonely today (or any day), you’re not so alone, after all.

Photo credit: René Elizondo Jr.

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