April 1986: Janet Jackson Releases "Nasty"

NASTY music video
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Janet Jackson's 1986 hit song, "Nasty," was based on a true story.

“The danger hit home when a couple of guys started stalking me on the street," she revealed to Rolling Stone in 1993 about a situation in Minneapolis while recording there with production team Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. "They were emotionally abusive. Sexually threatening. Instead of running to Jimmy or Terry for protection, I took a stand. I backed them down. That’s how songs like ‘Nasty’ and ‘What Have You Done for Me Lately’ were born, out of a sense of self-defense. Control meant not only taking care of myself but living in a much less protected world. And doing that meant growing a tough skin. Getting attitude.”

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Released as the second single from her breakout Control album on April 15, 1986, "Nasty" would make an aggressive run up the charts, peaking at #3 on the Hot 100 for the week of July 19, 1986. The songs that kept it from the top spot: Genesis' "Invisible Touch" (1) and Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" (2). "Nasty" would go to #1 on the Hot R&B Songs chart. The track arrived with a music video that was choreographed by Paul Abdul, who also appears in the clip.

The song's popularity would find Jackson getting widespread media coverage, often from journalists who completely missed the point. One such writer made a fast friend with Jimmy Jam after he corrected an incorrect take on the tune: "[The reviewer] said, 'One minute she's singing, 'Let's wait awhile' and the next minute she's talking about, 'Let's get nasty.' And I wrote back to him and said, 'You're a reviewer. Have you ever listened to the lyrics of the song? She's saying 'I don't like nasty boys.' That's what the song is saying.' And of course he printed in the paper that I'd written him back... Now he gives us good reviews."

"Nasty" won the prize for Favorite Soul/R&B Single at the 1987 American Music Awards.

FUN FACT: The 1989 made-for-TV movie "Nasty Boys" used Jackson's song as its theme. The movie would spawn a short-lived TV show of the same name.

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