Just after Halloween, Sony announced that a new model of Aibo, the beloved robot pup that swept holiday seasons at the turn of the millennium, would be available in Japan next year. The original Aibo, released in 1999, recognized its owner, responded to orders, and performed tricks that mimicked the movements of a real dog. It became something of a pop-culture icon, a kitschy symbol of the consumer-tech future we clawed toward then, and which we seem to have reached today: in a world where Siri and Alexa are always listening for your next command, what’s novel about a rechargeable pet? If we’re lucky, Aibo’s return means we’re closer to the bulbous, pastel metropolis conjured by Janet Jackson in one of the most forward-leaning music videos of its time, “Doesn’t Really Matter,” from 2000, in which the plastic canine crossed over to MTV, and the video director Joseph Kahn sparked a decade of pop aesthetics.
“Doesn’t Really Matter” was Jackson’s awaited comeback single, after the success of 1997’s “The Velvet Rope.” She wrote the song with her longtime producers, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, during the filming of “The Nutty Professor II: The Klumps,” a slapstick romantic comedy in which Jackson plays the love interest to Eddie Murphy in a fat suit. She thought the song fit the film’s plot, about falling for someone for who they are, not what they look like; it was the track’s minimalist pitter-patter and Latin flourishes that caused radio jockeys to put unfinished leaked versions in rotation before the film’s soundtrack was released. In the $2.5-million music video, Jackson wakes up in a Tokyoesque studio apartment, where gadgets make up for a lack of floor space: her closet whirls out colorful, rave-ready ensembles while Aibo watches TV (apparently, we couldn’t foresee flat-screens just yet). The project further raised Kahn’s profile—in footage captured for MTV’s “Making the Video,” Jackson playfully notices Kahn’s comfort in front of the camera—and got him gigs directing seminal videos for Britney Spears (“Toxic”) and Eminem (“Without Me”). His latest credit, for Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do,” similarly bears his world-building thumbprint. Watch closely and you’ll see a kitty flash on an L.E.D. screen.