”Thriller” and ”Rhythm Nation” are just two of the groundbreaking videos by Michael Jackson and his lil’ sis Janet you’ll see on MTV’s millennial countdown of the Top 100 Greatest Videos Ever Made (airing at 8 p.m. each night this week, with a marathon beginning Saturday at noon). But the superstar siblings aren’t resting on their celluloid laurels. Both are currently making plans to extend their legacy of hit-making into the next century.
Following the top 5 success of her duet with rapper Busta Rhymes, ”What’s It Gonna Be,” Janet is plotting more of a hip-hop course for her next album. For the first time in 15 years, she’ll be working with producers other than the team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who will oversee the project. Though the album is still in its early stages, Jam says that potential collaborators include top hip-hop beat makers Swizz Beatz (Eve, Jay Z.), the Neptunes (Kelis, Ol’ Dirty Bastard), Missy ”Misdemeanor” Elliott, and Darrell ”Delite” Allamby, who produced ”What’s It Gonna Be.” Also on the short list are two old pros who’ve worked with Michael: Teddy Riley, the man behind Blackstreet (”No Diggety”), and Dallas Austin, the producer largely responsible for TLC’s multi-platinum hybrid of hip-hip and R&B.
As for Michael himself, the newly single dad recently canceled two New Year’s Eve concerts so he could continue working on his album, which is taking a more mainstream R&B direction than Janet’s. He’s reportedly done tunes with R. Kelly, who penned Michael’s last big hit ”You Are Not Alone,” and the R&B group Dru Hill, who added a soulful note to Will Smith’s hit ”Wild Wild West.” Currently Michael is in a New York studio with producer Rodney Jerkins, the wunderkind who helmed Brandy’s four-times platinum ”Never Say Never” album, Jennifer Lopez’s No. 1 single ”If You Had My Love,” and – most important for Michael – Whitney Houston’s comeback smash ”It’s Not Right but It’s Okay.”
Both Michael and Janet need big hits – sales of their last releases dipped to career near lows. Janet’s 1997 ”Velvet Rope” was her best reviewed album ever, but it also moved the least number of copies (3 million) since her breakthrough, ”Control.” Michael’s remix collection from that same year, ”Blood on the Dancefloor,” sold only a half-million copies. And his much-heralded ”History: Past, Present, and Future Book 1” (1995), a double album with new songs and greatest hits, moved about 3 million units, a far cry from the sales of 1982’s ”Thriller” (25 million) or even 1991’s ”Dangerous” (6 million).
Austin, who produced several of the new tracks on ”History,” thinks the album tanked because it was too narrowly focused on Michael’s troubles at the time (the allegations of child molestation, the subsequent civil trial, and out-of-court settlement). ”It was like making a record about the O.J. case,” says Austin. ”After [the news has] been blasted on television and every other media for a year, the last thing you want to hear is a record about it.”
To wrap up the year, Michael has recorded a special ode to the millennium, ”I Have This Dream,” with David Foster, the producer behind mega-ballads by Celine Dion and Whitney Houston. No word on when the single will be released, but he’s no doubt hoping the next century will be as thrilling as the last.