Rhythm Nation

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"Rhythm Nation"
Single by Janet Jackson
from the album Rhythm Nation 1814
B-side "Rhythm Nation" (instrumental)
Released October 23, 1989 (UK)
October 24, 1989 (U.S.)
Format 7" single, 12" single
Recorded January 1989;
Flyte Tyme Studios
(Minneapolis, Minnesota)
Length 5:30
Label A&M
Writer(s) Janet Jackson, James Harris III, Terry Lewis
Producer(s) Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis
Certification Gold (RIAA)
Janet Jackson singles chronology
"Miss You Much"
"Rhythm Nation"

"Rhythm Nation" is a song by American entertainer Janet Jackson, released as the second single from Rhythm Nation 1814. Written and produced by Jackson and Jam & Lewis, its innovative production combines elements of dance pop and industrial music with flourishes of hip-hop, new jack swing and funk rock. The song's lyrics explore unification and racial harmony, focusing on a common identity (or "nation") among ethnic and cultural groups. Its title was coined by Jackson in response to tragedies and crimes reported by news media.

The song is known for its themes of racial unity and the eradication of prejudice in society. Its music video has been called "the gold standard for dystopian dance pop music videos," which "set the template for hundreds of videos to come in the Nineties and aughts." It is notable for its "post-apocalyptic" warehouse setting, black military garb and choreography, winning a Grammy Award for Best Long Form Music Video. "Rhythm Nation" has received a number of accolades, including BMI Pop Awards for Most Played Song and Songwriter of the Year, and nominations for Top Dance/Club Play Single of the Year at the Billboard Music Awards, and a Grammy Award for Jackson as Producer of the Year for the song and album. The video won Billboard Awards (Director's Award and Music Video Award for Artistic Achievement), MTV Video Music Awards (Best Choreography and Best Dance Video) and Soul Train Awards (Music Video of the Year), was listed one of the Greatest Music Videos and Dance Songs of All Time by Slant Magazine and voted within the Top 10 Best Music Videos of the 1980s by Billboard. The song and video earned Jackson an MTV Video Vanguard Award for her impact on entertainment.

The "Rhythm Nation" outfit was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, most recently being displayed in 2011's "Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power" exhibit and the National Museum of Women in the Arts. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame also includes the song's hand-written lyrics in their Women Who Rock exhibit, also including the song in a class based on female songwriters.1 The success of the song and video also established the "Janet Jackson/Rhythm Nation Scholarship," a monetary award given to students who demonstrate high academic achievement or are actively involved in their school or community.


"Rhythm Nation" is regarded as one of Jackson's signature songs, and notably became the second of the historic seven top five singles released from the Rhythm Nation 1814 album. Jackson composed the song's lyrics in response to various tragedies and crimes reported in the media after thinking of the song's title while at dinner with producers Jam & Lewis. The song preached racial unity and harmony among people of all races and cultures who were "looking for a better way of life", also emphasizing the message of putting a stop to "social injustice". The song features a sample from Sly & the Family Stone's 1969 song "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)". It peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot 100 and number one on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Songs and R&B songs charts, also reaching the top ten and twenty of various international charts. An extended edit of the song appears on Jackson's first hits compilation Design of a Decade, while the album version is included on her second hits album Number Ones.

Development and theme

"I was reading about all these clubs and I thought it would be great if we could create our own nation. . . . One that would have a positive message and that everyone would be free to join." " "I found it so intriguing that everyone united through whatever the link was. And I felt that with most of my friends." " And the one thing that we all have in common is music. I know that within our little group, there is a rhythm nation that exists."23

Speaking about the song and album's initial concept, Jackson's frequent collaborator Jimmy Jam said "As we were doing the album, we watched a lot of cartoons, a lot of MTV, videos, and a lot of news — CNN and that type of thing. Whatever we talked about, that's what we wrote about." In another anecdote, Jam recalled "Janet came up with the 'Rhythm Nation' concept. A lot of it had to do with watching TV. We're avid TV watchers, and we would watch MTV, BET...then switch over to CNN, and there'd always be something messed-up happening. It was never good news, always bad news. I think the thing that really triggered it was the Stockton playground murders, which really hit Janet hard. She loves kids." The incident led Janet and Jam & Lewis to record "Livin' in a World (They Didn't Make)." "From that point on," Jam concludes, "we decided we should concentrate on doing some songs in that vein and we ended up with 'Rhythm Nation' and 'State of the World', but the concept was her idea."4

Jackson developed the song's theme and lyrics during a conversation at dinner, with Jam explaining "We wanted something to do with rhythm, because that's what Janet's life is about: beat, rhythm. One night over dinner, Janet said, "rhythm nation." I told Terry, and he just sang the melody [Jam sings], "We are part of the rhythm nation." And then I hit [again Jam sings], "The people of the world today, searching for a better way of life," and Janet sings [Jam imitates Janet], "Rhythm Nation." And it just all came together."4 While writing the song, Jackson jokingly said "'God, you guys, I feel like this could be the national anthem for the Nineties!'", leading her to think of the album's title Rhythm Nation 1814, which was titled after the year "The Star-Spangled Banner", the national anthem of the United States, was written.3

Jackson (center) performing in the music video for "Rhythm Nation" surrounded by male and female dancers in militant unisex attire.

Jackson says "Rhythm Nation" has no geographic boundaries, and she envisions a colorblind world bound together in beliefs.5 Speaking about the song's development, Jackson revealed "When I first proposed a socially conscious concept, there were voices of doubt. But the more I thought about it, the more committed I became, I no longer had a choice. The creativity took over, Rhythm Nation came alive. I saw that a higher power was at work."6 While interviewing Jackson, journalist David Ritz stated "Janet sits on the floor, her legs crossed, her elbows on her knees, leaning into the conversation with open-hearted intimacy. Her manner is demure but warm, her voice so soft and achingly sweet I strain to listen. Words fall from her musically like little poems." "We have so little time to solve these problems," Jackson said. "I want people to realize the urgency. I want to grab their attention. Music is my way of doing that. It's okay to have fun — I want to be certain that point is clear. I have fun. Dancing is fun. Dancing is healthy. It pleases me when the kids say my stuff is kickin', but it pleases me even more when they listen to the lyrics. The lyrics mean so much to me. 'A generation full of courage come forth with me ... things are getting worse ... we have to make them better.' I cry when I hear Marvin Gaye sing 'Children of today will suffer tomorrow.' Artists from the sixties — like Marvin and Bob Dylan — and artists of today — like Tracy Chapman, U2 and Lenny Kravitz — are saying what needs to be said."6 "I wanted to reflect, not just react. I relistened to those artists who moved me most when I was younger...Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, Marvin Gaye. These were people who woke me up to the responsibility of music. They were beautiful singers and writers who felt for others. They understood suffering." "Suddenly I realized that among my friends, we actually had a distinct 'nation' of our own. We weren't interested in drugs or drinking but social change. We also loved music and loved to dance... that's how Rhythm Nation 1814 was born."7

Jackson also explained the song's concept as being inspired by the various "nations" formed around New York City among youth who sought to assert a common identity and bond. "I was reading about all these clubs and I thought it would be great if we could create our own nation. . . . One that would have a positive message and that everyone would be free to join," she said.2 "I wanted to take our message directly to the kids, and the way to do that is by making music you can really dance to. That was our whole goal: How can I get through to the kids with this?"2 Jackson also said "I thought it would be really neat to do a rhythm nation". "I found it so intriguing that everyone united through whatever the link was. And I felt that with most of my friends. Most people think that my closest friends are in the [entertainment] business, and they're not. They're roller-skating rink guards, waitresses, one works for a messenger service. They have minimum-wage paying jobs. And the one thing that we all have in common is music. I know that within our little group, there is a rhythm nation that exists."3

While "Control" was Jackson's personal statement that she had become her own woman, "Rhythm Nation" expresses Jackson's effort to look beyond herself to the social world around her.8 Jackson made an effort for the song and accompanying album to target a youthful audience who may not be aware of socially conscious themes. "I felt that there are a lot of socially conscious albums out there," she said at the time. "The people that sing the socially conscious songs like Tracy Chapman and the Bob Dylans, are singing them to people who are already socially conscious. I feel that the people who listen to our music - a lot of them are younger. They are kind of carefree and go from party to party and they don't really stop and look at what's all around them. I wanted to capture their attention through my music...I think we are doing that."9

Jackson fuses dance pop and industrial music with a socially conscious theme on "Rhythm Nation".

Problems playing this file? See media help.

Interpreting her reasoning for addressing the world issues, Jackson said "I know that an album or a song can't change the world, but for people to understand my views and how I feel about certain subjects and things that touched me and maybe for someone who was on the fence, on that borderline, reaching out but not knowing which way to turn, just sort of confused by listening to what I have to say ... If I just touched one person, just to make that difference, make them change for the better, that's an accomplishment." "Maybe I can lead them in a positive direction and that's pretty much what I'd like for them to get from this."10 In an interview with Rolling Stone, Jackson stated "You know, a lot of people have said, "She's not being realistic with this Rhythm Nation. It's like 'Oh, she thinks the world is going to come together through her dance music,' and that's not the case at all. I know a song or an album can't change the world. But there's nothing wrong with doing what we're doing to help spread the message." If personal freedom has political implications and if pleasure must be part of any meaningful solution - and it really must - there's nothing wrong with it at all."11 On the BBC special Janet Jackson: Taking Control, choreographer Anthony Thomas stated "She would talk about things that really hurt her. Poverty. Racism", "She shared that side of herself in Rhythm Nation … She was just, like, 'Back off – I'm gonna be who I am and I'm gonna speak loudly for myself!' Which was at the same time speaking loudly for women. So she really became an icon of that whole kind of feminist movement."12

Additionally, Jackson said "I know I can't change the world single-handedly, but for those who are on the fence, maybe I can lead them in a positive direction." "What really bugs me is people who go, 'God, how naive can this girl be?' I know that my songs or my albums are not going to change the entire world. [Musician] George Clinton once said, 'Free your mind and your ass will follow.' I heard that some guy said, 'Janet Jackson's got it the other way around.'" She breaks into a fit of giggling. "I'm laughing about it now: 'Free your ass and your mind will follow.' But, you know, it's true."13 Jam also gave a similar sentiment, saying "Janet has said a million times, "You're not going to change anybody. But if you've got somebody on the fence, and they're at that point when they're either going to go one way or another, then a little nudge in that direction ain't gonna hurt." So that's all you're trying to do. And it's cool to do that. It's cool to do that and have a hit."14

Critical reception

"Rhythm Nation" received positive reviews, garnering praise for its fusion of dance pop and industrial music, and lyrical theme.

"The song calls for racial harmony and cooperative struggle to create a better, stronger world."15

"Rhythm Nation" remains one of the more innovative Top 10 hits of the 1980's, merging Laurie Anderson and Parliament-Funkadelic."16

"The music is militant and regimented, with beats that fire like artillery juxtaposed with the typically thin-voiced Janet's unbridled vocal performance. "Rhythm Nation" makes its statement without relying on schmaltz; it's no wonder why big brother Mike was envious of it."17

Rolling Stone commented "Jackson bought a military suit and ruled the radio" with the song and its "military-style beats", adding "she fashions a grand pop statement with hip-hop funk". The publication also ranked Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814 album among the "500 Greatest Albums of All Time".18 Additionally, the album was included at number twenty-six on the publication's list of "Women Who Rock: The 50 Greatest Albums of All Time", rating "Rhythm Nation" as the album's "essential moment" which was "biting a Sly Stone guitar lick for a headbanging good time."19

The New York Times ranked the song as "one of the more innovative Top 10 hits of the 1980's", exclaiming "It's easy to see how Ms. Jackson has gauged which radio formats and demographic niches each song should satisfy. But she and her collaborators bring some creativity to the task; "Rhythm Nation" remains one of the more innovative Top 10 hits of the 1980s, merging Laurie Anderson and Parliament-Funkadelic."16 An additional critique declared the song to be "a militantly utopian dance-floor exhortation".15 Speaking about Jackson's widespread appeal, the publication also said "Ms. Jackson was a mainstay of radio and MTV", with the song described as peddling "beat-heavy" and "danceable" pop.20

The Sun Sentinel labeled the song "upbeat funk-pop" which showcases her "light, breathy voice", also declaring it as one of Jackson's "skillfully packaged pop songs that have made her one of the biggest-selling performers in popdom."21 Sal Cinqueman of Slant Magazine praised the track for its "industrial-style social consciousness", while Yahoo! Music labeled the song as "revolutionary" and "militaristic". 2223 "Rhythm Nation" was also ranked as one of the best singles of the eighties by Slant Magazine, considering the song to "fire like artillery" and praising Jackson's "unbridled vocal performance", also revealing the song's statement and impact to be envied by Michael Jackson, saying "Janet's socio-political tour de force opens with an inventory of samples and sounds, including her own "Nasty" and part of the bassline and horn section of Sly and the Family Stone's "Thank You (Fallettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)." But letting you be yourself wasn't on Janet and producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis's agenda. The song doesn't espouse personal freedom; it calls for social justice, with lyrics that promote the virtues of "strength in numbers" and calls for a generation to "come forth with me," or as [critic] Eric Henderson once put it, "unity through mandatory multiculturalism." Just as the costumes and sets for the accompanying music video were worryingly uniform, even oppressive, the music is militant and regimented, with beats that fire like artillery juxtaposed with the typically thin-voiced Janet's unbridled vocal performance. "Rhythm Nation" makes its statement without relying on schmaltz; it's no wonder why big brother Mike was envious of it."17 Additionally, the song was also ranked number twenty-one on the publication's list of "100 Greatest Dance Songs", likening the song to "declaring war on quiet storm R&B" and noting the production to "lean heavy on new-jack beats", exclaiming "The sonic playroom that Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis built for their pet wind-up pop star Janet Jackson and her do-over debut Control already sounded like the Minneapolis sound declaring war on quiet storm R&B. So it was almost a given that the junior high ethics lessons of the Rhythm Nation project ended up literalizing Jam-Lewis's drum programming-as-armament. "We are a nation with no geographic boundaries," Janet drones without a trace of humor, "pushing toward a world rid of color lines." Get the point? Good, now let's dance with nunchucks." The excerpt also declared Jackson to shift song's "indelible" sample of "bass licks" from a "guarded political optimism into a direct attack on the 1980s' culture of indifference", concluding "Janet's interest in the state of the world only lasted for about half an LP side, but maybe that's part of the statement. First beat justice into the system, then lean back and let the escapades begin."2425

Jackson performing "Rhythm Nation" on the Number Ones, Up Close and Personal tour, 2011.

Sputnik Music proclaimed the track to be "extraordinary," "catchy," and "smart," declaring "We are a nation with no geographic boundaries/bound together through our beliefs" introduces the piece with "Pledge". The sentiments are heavily reflected with the first song and eventual number two single, "Rhythm Nation". The song itself combines (as mentioned) heavy, fast paced production and a group sung chorus; the end result is a catchy, smart single which would appease the Jackson haters and delight the fans".26 Another critique declared the track as "the best song Janet has ever done", praising its "mission statement", "frantic beats, the message, the determined vocal performance, the lyrics and the explosive chorus", adding "There are few moments in pop music as thrilling as the transition of the dance breakdown into to the final choruses, complete with Janet going nuts over the ad-libs, as if she was in a trance brought on but just how beyond amazing this song is. And that’s not even mentioning the incredible video."27 Music critic Richard Croft praised the song's "powerful" production, declaring "The beats on this song are probably the most powerful ever to be heard in the history of mankind." "From the pledge at the start to the ad-libs over the final choruses, everything about ‘Rhythm Nation’ is huge, important, bashing you over the head with the force of the production. The hook line of “We are a part of a rhythm nation” becomes part of your brain, appearing any time someone says the words “rhythm” or “nation”. Once you’ve given yourself over this group, there’s no escaping."28

People Magazine stated the song builds on a "burnin' hunk o' funk guitar riff", which "urged us to expand our minds while wiggling our hips".2930 Entertainment Weekly analyzed the song as "a chorus line of storm troopers" offering "a paean to the human spirit".31 In another review, Vince Aletti of Rolling Stone described the song as a "densely textured, agitated track whose syncopated yelps recall the sampled James Brown squeals of Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock's "It Takes Two."32 Amazon considered the song "daring" and laced with "high-minded references to societal ills", which was "seldom the favored province of dance music, but a daring attempt nonetheless."33 VH1 called it "paramilitary funk", with BET describing the song as "an industrial new-jack-swing sound" likened to "Public Enemy producers the Bomb Squad."3435 Tamar Anital of MTV News exclaimed Jackson "is, and always will be the founding mother of “Rhythm Nation."36

Chart performance

"Rhythm Nation" debuted at number 49 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was the week's highest new entry, depriving rival Madonna of another consecutive Hot Shot Debut on the chart.49 The single peaked at number 2 on the chart, only second to Phil Collin's "Another Day in Paradise".49 The song also charted within the top ten or twenty in Canada, Netherlands, Italy, Ireland, and New Zealand, also peaking in the Top 25 in the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and Belgium, also charting in Australia and Germany. However, a physical single for the song was not released in all territories which effected its chart positions, and Jackson relied more on album sales than singles sales at the time, with her Rhythm Nation 1814 album more than doubling its domestic sales worldwide.

Music video

The famous black-and-white, military-inspired "Rhythm Nation" video was directed by Dominic Sena in August 1989. It was the finale in the Rhythm Nation 1814 Film, following videos for "Miss You Much" and "The Knowledge". Famous for its high-octane choreography in an abandoned factory, the video won an Best Choreography and was nominated for Best Dance Video at the MTV Video Music Awards, where Jackson also received the MTV Video Vanguard Award for her massive contributions to pop culture and entertainment.5051 "Rhythm Nation" ranked among VH1's "Greatest 100 Videos" and MTV's "100 Greatest Videos Ever Made."

Live performances

Jackson performed the song on Top of the Pops and Peter's Popshow in Germany during the song's initial promotion. Jackson had also performed the song for Queen Elizabeth II and the Royal Family at the "Royal Variety Show", which celebrated Elizabeth the Queen Mother's ninetieth birthday. Jackson's pants split during the performance due to the song's vigorous choreography.52 A live broadcast of the performance from the janet. World Tour was aired on MTV, along with several of the show's other performances. Jackson also performed "Rhythm Nation" on the Ellen DeGeneres Show during promotion for her tenth studio album Discipline, and later performed the song at the "America United Concert" benefit event and the Essence Music Festival. The song was also performed on all of Jackson's following tours.

Jackson notoriously performed "Rhythm Nation" along with "All for You" and a brief excerpt of "The Knowledge" at the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show, which resulted in Jackson's breast being accidentally exposed by Justin Timberlake during a surprise duet of Timberlake's "Rock Your Body". The incident led to Jackson being blacklisted from many radio formats and music channels worldwide by entertainment conglomerates involved with the broadcast who were fined by the FCC and taken to Supreme Court following the event, such as Viacom and CBS, and subsidiaries including MTV and Clear Channel Communications. The performance also led to the creation of Youtube, and became the most watched, replayed, and recorded television event in history, as well as setting a record for making 'Janet Jackson' the most searched term and image in internet history.

During Jackson's MTV Icon special, Pink, Mýa, and Usher each paid tribute to Jackson by performing several of Jackson's earlier hits including "The Pleasure Principle", "Miss You Much", and "Alright" before gathering together to perform "Rhythm Nation".

Jackson has performed "Rhythm Nation" on all of her tours, wearing various ensembles for each tour's performance. On the Rhythm Nation 1814 Tour and the janet. Tour she wore a military suit, wearing an army suit for performances on The Velvet Rope Tour. Jackson wore a black catsuit for the song's performances on the All for You Tour, wearing a black body suit and white blouse with a black tie underneath on the Rock Witchu Tour. When she performed the song on the Number Ones: Up Close and Personal World Tour, she wore a black jacket with buckles and black pants.

Legacy and influence

Various aspects of "Rhythm Nation", including the song's theme, production and the video's choreography, outfit, and post-apocalyptic setting, have influenced a wide array of entertainers, actors, choreographers, and performers, who have directly cited Jackson and "Rhythm Nation" as an influence to their careers. Among the entertainers who have referenced or paid homage to "Rhythm Nation" include Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Cheryl Cole, Rihanna, Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, Girls' Generation, Sleigh Bells, Nicole Scherzinger, Jessie Ware, Jamie Lidell, Prince, U-KISS, Selena, Peter Andre, Ciara, Chris Brown, 'N Sync, and Michael Jackson, among others.


Jackson established the "Rhythm Nation Scholarship" with the UNCF, and has assisted countless students striving to meet their educational goals. In addition to the scholarship, Jackson has also supported many other charitable and social causes globally, with an analysis of Jackson's work saying "Through words and deeds, Janet has set an example of generosity, of empowerment, of tolerance, while leading an array of efforts addressing some of society’s greatest challenges. She has raised money for such charities such as the Cities in Schools and America's Promise. She has supported the Watts Willowbrook Boys & Girls Club of America, the Starlight Foundation, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, A Place Called Home (providing after school programs in South Central, Los Angeles), the American Foundation for AIDS Research, S.O.S. Children's Villages in South Africa, Cartier's Love Bracelet Program benefiting OCNA and sponsored an Airlift of Food and Medical supplies to famine-stricken Rwanda." "Most recently, she chaired the American Foundation for AIDS Research’s gala charity event in Milan that raised more than a million dollars. She also traveled to Abu Dhabi recently to support fresh2o, a charity whose goal is providing worldwide access to clean water for drinking and sanitation purposes. Janet has been the recipient of many humanitarian awards because of her involvement in charitable and social causes, including the 2008 Humanitarian of the Year award from the Lisa Lopes Foundation, the 2008 Vanguard Award from GLAAD, and the 2004 Touching a Life Humanitarian and Philanthropic Award from the NBA. Jackson's efforts have been recognized by AIDS Project LA, the Congress for Racial Equality, and by the NAACP with its Chairman’s Award."74

Jackson was also the recipient of a special tribute at the NAACP Awards and was given the chairman's award for her work with illiteracy, drug abuse, violence and high school dropout prevention. Responding to a critic who said Jackson's socially conscious "Rhythm Nation" video could accomplish "nothing," Jackson broke into tears as she pointed to two recent high school graduates who shared the stage with her and creditited the song and video as the motivation for keeping them in school.75 Various portions of the "Rhythm Nation" outfit were donated to charitable causes, including the jeans worn by Jackson in the video being given to the Music Against AIDS auction.76

A tribute band known as "Rhythm Nation" also performs at many charity events, including benefit fundraisers for children with cancer at the Ronald McDonald House in New York.777879 In 2001, the Ventura County Ballet Company was awarded a grant to provide therapeutic ballet and hip-hop dance classes to foster children, with Jackson's former choreographer Anthony Foster teaching Jackson's "Rhythm Nation" choreography and other routines.80

Covers and samples

Awards and accolades

Official versions and remixes

Track listings


See also


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  4. ^ a b "Billboard Book of Number One Hits", page 74
  5. ^ Ebony, February 1990. Page 50
  6. ^ a b Essence Magazine, March 1990. Page 54
  7. ^ Upscale, December/January 1996. "Janet Jackson: Ain't I A Woman?", Page 31
  8. ^ Rolling Stone, February 22, 1990. Page 42
  9. ^ Jet Magazine, January 14, 1991. Page 57
  10. ^ The Face Magazine, 1990. Page 74
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