Janet Damita Jo Jackson (born May 16, 1966) is an American singer, songwriter, actress, and dancer. A prominent figure in popular culture, she is noted for her sonically innovative, socially conscious and sexually provocative records, and elaborate stage shows.
The tenth and youngest child of the Jackson family, she began her career with the variety television series The Jacksons in 1976 and went on to appear in other television shows throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, including Good Times, Diff’rent Strokes, and Fame. After signing a recording contract with A&M Records in 1982, she became a pop icon following the release of her third and fourth studio albums Control (1986) and Rhythm Nation 1814 (1989). Her collaborations with record producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis incorporated elements of rhythm and blues, funk, disco, rap, and industrial beats, which led to crossover success in popular music.
In 1991, Jackson signed the first of two record-breaking multimillion-dollar contracts with Virgin Records, establishing her as one of the highest-paid artists in the industry. Her fifth album Janet (1993) saw her develop a public image as a sex symbol as she began to explore sexuality in her music. That same year, she appeared in her first starring film role in Poetic Justice, and has since continued to act in feature films. Jackson then released her sixth studio album The Velvet Rope (1997), which is distinguished for its innovative production and dark lyrical content. By the end of the 1990s, she was named by Billboard magazine as the second most successful recording artist of the decade after Mariah Carey. Her seventh album All for You (2001) coincided with a celebration of her impact on the recording industry as the inaugural MTV Icon. Controversy followed her infamous “wardrobe malfunction” at the 2004 Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show, and she experienced reduced sales from that point forward. After parting ways with Virgin Records, she released her tenth album Discipline (2008), her first and only album with Island Records. In 2015, she partnered with BMG Rights Management to launch her own record label, Rhythm Nation, and released her eleventh album Unbreakable the same year.
Having sold over 100 million records, Jackson is one of the world’s best-selling music artists of all time. She has amassed an extensive catalog, with singles such as “Nasty“, “Rhythm Nation“, “That’s the Way Love Goes“, “Together Again“, and “All for You“; she holds the record for the most consecutive top-ten entries on the US Billboard Hot 100 singles chart by a female artist with 18. In 2008, Billboard placed her number seven on its list of the Hot 100 All-Time Top Artists, and in 2010 ranked her fifth among the “Top 50 R&B/Hip-Hop Artists of the Past 25 Years”. In December 2016, the magazine named her the second most successful dance club artist after Madonna. She has been cited as an inspiration among numerous performers. Jackson was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2019.
Life and career
1966–1985: Early life and career beginnings
Jackson (bottom row) in a 1977 CBS photo on the set of The Jacksons
Janet Damita Jo Jackson was born on May 16, 1966, in Gary, Indiana, the youngest of ten children, to Katherine Esther (née Scruse) and Joseph Walter Jackson. The Jacksons were lower-middle class and devout Jehovah’s Witnesses, although Jackson would later refrain from organized religion. At a young age, her brothers began performing as the Jackson 5 in the Chicago-Gary area.
In March 1969, the group signed a record deal with Motown, and soon had their first number-one hit. The family then moved to the Encino neighborhood of Los Angeles. Jackson had initially desired to become a horse racing jockey or entertainment lawyer, with plans to support herself through acting. Despite this, she was anticipated to pursue a career in entertainment and considered the idea after recording herself in the studio.
At age seven, Jackson performed at the MGM Casino on the Las Vegas Strip. A biography revealed her father, Joseph Jackson, was emotionally withdrawn and told her to address him solely by his first name as a child. She began acting in the variety show The Jacksons in 1976.
In 1977, she was selected to have a starring role as Penny Gordon Woods in the sitcom Good Times. She later starred in A New Kind of Family and later got a recurring role on Diff’rent Strokes, portraying Charlene Duprey from seasons three to six. Jackson also played the role of Cleo Hewitt during the fourth season of Fame, but expressed indifference towards the series, largely due to the emotional stress of her secret marriage to R&B singer James DeBarge. Jackson later elaborated on her time on the show in an interview with Anderson Cooper, revealing that the cast would occasionally play pranks on her, but she spoke fondly of them.
When Jackson was sixteen, her father and manager Joseph Jackson arranged a contract for her with A&M Records. Her debut album, Janet Jackson, was released in 1982. It was produced by Angela Winbush, René Moore, Bobby Watson of Rufus and Leon Sylvers III, and overseen by her father Joseph. It peaked at No. 63 on the Billboard 200, and No. 6 on the publication’s R&B albums chart, receiving little promotion. The album appeared on the Billboard Top Black Albums of 1983, while Jackson herself was the highest-ranking female vocalist on the Billboard Year-End Black Album Artists.
Jackson’s second album, Dream Street, was released two years later. Dream Street reached No. 147 on the Billboard 200, and No. 19 on the R&B albums chart. The lead single “Don’t Stand Another Chance” peaked at No. 9 on Billboard‘s R&B singles chart. Both albums consisted primarily of bubblegum pop music.
After her second album, Jackson terminated business affairs with her family, commenting “I just wanted to get out of the house, get out from under my father, which was one of the most difficult things that I had to do.” Attempting a third album, Jackson teamed with producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. They set out to achieve crossover pop appeal, while also creating a strong foundation within the urban market. Within six weeks, Jackson and the duo crafted her third studio album, Control, released in February 1986. The album shot to No. 1 on the Billboard 200, and was certified fivefold Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), selling over ten million copies worldwide.
Control was declared “remarkably nervy and mature” for a teenage act, also considered “an alternative to the sentimental balladry” which permeated radio, likening Jackson to Donna Summer‘s position of “unwilling to accept novelty status and taking her own steps to rise above it.” The album spawned five top five singles, “What Have You Done for Me Lately“, “Nasty“, “When I Think of You“, “Control“, and “Let’s Wait Awhile“, and a top 15 hit with “The Pleasure Principle“. “When I Think of You” became her first No. 1 hit on the Hot 100. Control received six Billboard Awards, including “Top Pop Singles Artist”, and three Grammy nominations, most notably Album of the Year. It also won four American Music Awards from twelve nominations, an unbroken record.
At this point, Jackson was successfully “shaking off the experience of being a shadow Jackson child”, becoming “an artist in her own right”. The album’s lyrical content included several themes of empowerment, inspired by an incident of sexual harassment, with Jackson recalling “the danger hit home when a couple of guys started stalking me on the street and 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.”
Its innovative fusion of dance-pop and industrial music with hip-hop and R&B undertones influenced the development of the new jack swing genre by bridging the gap between the latter two styles. The accompanying music videos shot for the album’s singles became popular on MTV, and obtained a then-unknown Paula Abdul a recording contract for her choreography work with Jackson. Billboard stated “[Jackson’s] accessible sound and spectacularly choreographed videos were irresistible to MTV, and helped the channel evolve from rock programming to a broader, beat-driven musical mix.”
1989–1992: Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814
Jackson released her fourth album, Rhythm Nation 1814, in September 1989. Although her record label desired a direct sequel to Control, Jackson chose to include a socially conscious theme among various musical styles. She stated, “I know an album or a song can’t change the world. I just want my music and my dance to catch the audience’s attention, and to hold it long enough for them to listen to the lyrics.” The album’s central theme of unity was developed in response to various crimes and tragedies reported in the media.
Peaking at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, the album was certified sixfold Platinum by the RIAA and sold over 12 million copies worldwide. Rolling Stone observed Jackson’s artistic growth shifted from “personal freedom to more universal concerns—injustice, illiteracy, crime, drugs—without missing a beat.” The album was also considered “the exclamation point on her career”, consisting of a “diverse collection of songs flowing with the natural talent Jackson possesses”, which effectively “expanded Janet’s range in every conceivable direction”, being “more credibly feminine, more crucially masculine, more viably adult, more believably childlike.” With singles “Miss You Much“, “Rhythm Nation“, “Escapade“, “Alright“, “Come Back to Me“, “Black Cat” and “Love Will Never Do (Without You)“, it became the first album in history to produce number one hits in three separate calendar years, as well as the only album to achieve seven top five singles on the Hot 100.
Famous for its choreography and warehouse setting, the “Rhythm Nation” video is considered one of the most iconic and popular in history, with Jackson’s military ensemble also making her a fashion icon. The video for “Love Will Never Do (Without You)” is notable for being the first instance of Jackson’s transition into sexual imagery and midriff-baring style, becoming her trademark. Rhythm Nation 1814 became the highest selling album of 1990, winning a record fifteen Billboard Awards. The long-form “Rhythm Nation” music video won a Grammy Award.
Jackson’s Rhythm Nation World Tour 1990 became the most successful debut tour in history and set a record for the fastest sell-out of Japan’s Tokyo Dome. She established the “Rhythm Nation Scholarship,” donating funds from the tour to various educational programs. As Jackson began her tour, she was acknowledged for the cultural impact of her music. Joel Selvin of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote “the 23-year-old has been making smash hit records for four years, becoming a fixture on MTV and a major role model to teenage girls across the country”, and William Allen, then-executive vice president of the United Negro College Fund, told the Los Angeles Times, “Jackson is a role model for all young people to emulate and the message she has gotten to the young people of this country through the lyrics of ‘Rhythm Nation 1814’ is having positive effects.”
She also received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in recognition of her impact on the recording industry and philanthropic endeavors. The massive success experienced by Jackson placed her in league with Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Tina Turner for her achievements and influence. Ebony magazine remarked: “No individual or group has impacted the world of entertainment as have Michael and Janet Jackson,” arguing that despite many imitators, few could surpass Jackson’s “stunning style and dexterity.”
With her recording contract under A&M Records fulfilled in 1991, she signed a multimillion-dollar deal with Virgin Records—estimated between thirty-two to fifty million dollars—making her the highest paid recording artist at the time. The recording contract also established her reputation as the “Queen of Pop.” In 1992, Jackson provided guest vocals on Luther Vandross‘s “The Best Things in Life Are Free“, becoming a top ten Billboard hit and reaching the top ten internationally.
1993–1996: Janet, Poetic Justice, and Design of a Decade
Jackson’s fifth studio album Janet, was released in May 1993. The record opened at number one on the Billboard 200, making Jackson the first female artist in the Nielsen SoundScan era to do so. Certified sixfold Platinum by the RIAA, it sold over 14 million copies worldwide.
Janet spawned five singles and four promotional singles, receiving various certifications worldwide. The lead single “That’s the Way Love Goes” won the Grammy Award for Best R&B Song and topped the Billboard Hot 100 for eight consecutive weeks.:118 “Again” reached number one for two weeks, while “If” and “Any Time, Any Place” peaked in the top four. “Because of Love” and “You Want This” charted within the top ten.
The album experimented with a diverse number of genres, including contemporary R&B, deep house, swing jazz, hip hop, rock, and pop, with Billboard describing each as being “delivered with consummate skill and passion.” Jackson took a larger role in songwriting and production than she did on her previous albums, explaining she found it necessary “to write all the lyrics and half of the melodies” while also speaking candidly about incorporating her sexuality into the album’s content. Rolling Stone wrote “[a]s princess of America’s black royal family, everything Janet Jackson does is important. Whether proclaiming herself in charge of her life, as she did on Control (1986), or commander in chief of a rhythm army dancing to fight society’s problems (Rhythm Nation 1814, from 1989), she’s influential. And when she announces her sexual maturity, as she does on her new album, Janet., it’s a cultural moment.”
In July 1993, Jackson made her film debut in Poetic Justice. While the film received mixed reviews, her performance was described as “beguiling” and “believably eccentric.” Jackson’s ballad “Again”, which was written for the film, received Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations for “Best Original Song.”
In September 1993, Jackson appeared topless on the cover of Rolling Stone, with her breasts covered by her then-husband, René Elizondo, Jr. The photograph is the original version of the cropped image used on the Janet album cover, shot by Patrick Demarchelier. The Vancouver Sun reported, “Jackson, 27, remains clearly established as both role model and sex symbol; the Rolling Stone photo of Jackson … became one of the most recognizable, and most lampooned, magazine covers.”
The Janet World Tour launched in support of the studio album garnered criticism for Jackson’s lack of vocal proficiency and spontaneity, but earned critical acclaim for her showmanship. It was described as erasing the line between “stadium-size pop music concerts and full-scale theatrical extravaganzas.”Jackson performing on one of the dates of her 1993–95 Janet World Tour
During this time, her brother Michael was immersed in a child sex abuse scandal, of which he denied any wrongdoing. She provided moral support, defending her brother, and denied abuse allegations regarding her parents made by her sister La Toya.
She collaborated with Michael on “Scream“, the lead single from his album HIStory, released 1995. The song was written by both siblings as a response to media scrutiny. It debuted at number five on the Hot 100 singles chart, becoming the first song ever to debut within the top five. Its music video, directed by Mark Romanek, was listed in Guinness World Records as the “Most Expensive Music Video Ever Made”, costing $7 million. The clip won the 1996 Grammy Award for Best Short Form Music Video.
Jackson’s first compilation album, Design of a Decade: 1986–1996, was released in 1995. It peaked at number three on the Billboard 200. The lead single, “Runaway“, became the first song by a female artist to debut within the top ten of the Hot 100, reaching number three. Design of a Decade 1986/1996 was certified double Platinum by the RIAA, and sold ten million copies worldwide.
Jackson’s influence in pop music continued to garner acclaim, as The Boston Globe remarked “If you’re talking about the female power elite in pop, you can’t get much higher than Janet Jackson, Bonnie Raitt, Madonna and Yoko Ono. Their collective influence … is beyond measure. And who could dispute that Janet Jackson now has more credibility than brother Michael?”
Jackson renewed her contract with Virgin Records for a reported $80 million the following year. The contract established her as the then highest-paid recording artist in history, surpassing the recording industry’s then-unparalleled $60 million contracts earned by Michael Jackson and Madonna.
1997–1999: The Velvet Rope
Jackson began suffering from severe depression and anxiety, leading her to chronicle the experience in her sixth album, The Velvet Rope, released October 1997. Jackson returned with a dramatic change in image, boasting vibrant red hair, nasal piercings, and tattoos. The album is primarily centered on the idea that everyone has an intrinsic need to belong. Aside from encompassing lyrics relating to social issues such as same-sex relationships, homophobia and domestic violence, it also contains themes of sadomasochism and is considered far more sexually explicit in nature than her previous release, Janet.
The record was hailed as “her most daring, elaborate and accomplished album” by The New York Times, while Billboard called it “the best American album of the year and the most empowering of her last five.” The album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 and was certified triple Platinum, selling over ten million worldwide.
The lead single “Got ’til It’s Gone” was released in August 1997, featuring guest vocals from folk singer Joni Mitchell and rapper Q-Tip. The song’s music video, depicting a pre-Apartheid celebration, won the Grammy Award for Best Short Form Music Video. “Together Again” became Jackson’s eighth number-one hit on the Billboard Hot 100, placing her on par with Elton John, Diana Ross, and the Rolling Stones.:28, 120 It spent a record forty-six weeks on the Hot 100 and nineteen weeks on the United Kingdom’s singles chart. It sold six million copies worldwide, becoming one of the best-selling singles of all time. “I Get Lonely” peaked at number three on the Hot 100, and received a Grammy nomination for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. It was Jackson’s eighteenth consecutive top ten hit, making her the only female artist to garner that achievement; and surpassed only by Elvis Presley and the Beatles.
Several other singles were released, including “Go Deep” and the ballad “Every Time“, which was controversial for the nudity displayed in its music video. The album fully established Jackson as a gay icon for its themes regarding homosexuality and protesting homophobia. “Together Again”, a “post-Aids pop song”, and “Free Xone”, considered “a paean to homosexuality” and an “anti-homophobia track”, were praised for their lyrical context, in addition to Jackson’s lesbian reinterpretation of Rod Stewart‘s “Tonight’s the Night“.
The Velvet Rope received an award for “Outstanding Music Album” at the 9th Annual GLAAD Media Awards and was honored by the National Black Lesbian and Gay Leadership Forum. A portion of the proceeds from “Together Again” were donated to the American Foundation for AIDS Research.
Jackson embarked on The Velvet Rope Tour, traveling to Europe, North America, Asia, Africa, New Zealand, and Australia. The tour received praise for its theatrics, choreography, and Jackson’s vocal performance. It was likened to “the ambition and glamour of a Broadway musical”, and exclaimed as “only fitting that the concert program credits her as the show’s ‘creator and director’.”
The tour’s HBO special, The Velvet Rope: Live in Madison Square Garden, garnered more than fifteen million viewers. It surpassed the ratings of all four major networks among viewers subscribed to the channel. The concert won an Emmy Award from four nominations. Jackson donated a portion of the tour’s sales to America’s Promise, an organization founded by Colin Powell to assist disenfranchised youth.
As the tour concluded, Jackson lent guest vocals to several collaborations, including Shaggy’s “Luv Me, Luv Me“, used for the film How Stella Got Her Groove Back, as well as “Girlfriend/Boyfriend” with Teddy Riley‘s group Blackstreet, and “What’s It Gonna Be?!” with Busta Rhymes. The latter two music videos are both among the most expensive music videos ever produced, with “What’s It Gonna Be?!” becoming a number-one hit on the Billboard Hip-Hop Singles and Hot Rap Tracks charts, reaching the top three of the Hot 100.
Jackson also contributed the ballad “God’s Stepchild” to the Down in the Delta soundtrack. Jackson recorded a duet with Elton John titled “I Know the Truth,” included on the soundtrack to Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida. At the 1999 World Music Awards, Jackson received the Legend Award for “outstanding contribution to the pop industry”. Billboard ranked Jackson as the second most successful artist of the decade, behind Mariah Carey.
2000–2003: Nutty Professor II: The Klumps and All for You
In July 2000, Jackson appeared in her second film, Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, as the role of Professor Denise Gaines, opposite Eddie Murphy. Director Peter Segal stated “Janet Jackson was a natural fit, and an obvious choice.” The film became her second to open at number one, grossing an estimated $170 million worldwide. Jackson’s single “Doesn’t Really Matter“, used for the film’s soundtrack, became her ninth number-one single on the Hot 100.
Preceding the release of her seventh album, MTV honored Jackson with the network’s inaugural “MTV Icon” ceremony, honoring her “significant contributions to music, music video and pop culture while tremendously impacting the MTV generation.” The event paid tribute to Jackson’s career and influence, including commentary from Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez, Aaliyah, and Jessica Simpson, and performances by ‘N Sync, Pink, Destiny’s Child, Usher, Buckcherry, Mýa, Macy Gray, and Outkast. The American Music Awards also honored Jackson with the Award of Merit for “her finely crafted, critically acclaimed and socially conscious, multi-platinum albums.”
Jackson’s seventh album, All for You, was released in April 2001. It opened at number one on the Billboard 200 with 605,000 copies sold, the highest first-week sales of her career, and among the highest first-week sales by a female artist in history. The album was a return to an upbeat dance style, receiving generally positive reception. Jackson received praise for indulging in “textures as dizzying as a new infatuation”, in contrast to other artists attempting to “match the angularity of hip-hop” and following trends. All for You was certified double Platinum by the RIAA and sold nine million copies worldwide.
The album’s lead single, “All for You“, debuted on the Hot 100 at number fourteen, setting a record for the highest debut by a single that was not commercially available. Jackson was titled “Queen of Radio” by MTV as the single made airplay history, being “added to every pop, rhythmic and urban radio station” within its first week. The song broke the overall airplay debut record with a first week audience of seventy million, debuting at number nine on the Radio Songs chart. It topped the Hot 100 for seven weeks, also reaching the top ten in eleven countries. The song received a Grammy Award for Best Dance Recording. “Someone to Call My Lover” peaked at number three on the Hot 100. Built around a sample of the iconic 1972 hit “You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon, “Son of a Gun (I Betcha Think This Song Is About You)” featured Simon herself, along with Missy Elliott on remixes of the single.
In July 2001, Jackson embarked on the All for You Tour, which was also broadcast on a concert special for HBO watched by twelve million viewers. The tour traveled throughout the United States and Japan, although European and Asian dates were required to be canceled following the September 11 terrorist attacks. The Los Angeles Times complimented Jackson’s showmanship. Richard Harrington of the Washington Post said Jackson’s performance surpassed her contemporaries, but Bob Massy of Spin thought her dancers “threw crisper moves” and her supporting singers were mixed nearly as high, though declared “Janet cast herself as the real entertainment.” Jackson donated a portion of the tour’s proceeds to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
The following year, Jackson began receiving media attention for her rumored relationships with Justin Timberlake, actor Matthew McConaughey, and record producer Jermaine Dupri. Upon the release of Timberlake’s debut solo album Justified, Jackson provided vocals on “(And She Said) Take Me Now” per Timberlake’s request, with the song initially planned as a single. Jackson collaborated with reggae artist Beenie Man for the song “Feel It Boy“, produced by the Neptunes.
2004–2005: Super Bowl XXXVIII controversy and Damita Jo
Main article: Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show controversy
Jackson was chosen by the National Football League and MTV to perform at the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show in February 2004. She performed a medley of “All for You”, “Rhythm Nation”, and an excerpt of “The Knowledge” before performing “Rock Your Body” alongside surprise guest Justin Timberlake. As Timberlake sang the lyric “I’m gonna have you naked by the end of this song”, he tore open her costume, exposing her right breast to 140 million viewers. The incident was referred to as “nipple gate” by the media.
Jackson issued an apology after the performance, saying that the incident was accidental and unintended, explaining that Timberlake was only meant to pull away a bustier and leave the red-lace bra intact. She commented, “I am really sorry if I offended anyone. That was truly not my intention … MTV, CBS, the NFL had no knowledge of this whatsoever, and unfortunately, the whole thing went wrong in the end.” Timberlake also issued an apology, calling the accident a “wardrobe malfunction.” CBS, the NFL, and MTV denied any knowledge of the incident and all responsibility for it. The Federal Communications Commission heavily fined all companies involved and continued an investigation for eight years, ultimately losing its appeal for a $550,000 fine against CBS.
Following the incident, CBS permitted Timberlake to appear at the 46th Grammy Awards ceremony but did not allow Jackson to attend, forcing her to withdraw after being scheduled as a presenter. The controversy halted plans for Jackson to star in the biographical film of singer and activist Lena Horne, which was to be produced by American Broadcasting Company. Horne was reportedly displeased by the incident, but Jackson’s representatives stated that she withdrew from the project willingly. A Mickey Mouse statue wearing Jackson’s iconic “Rhythm Nation” outfit was mantled at Walt Disney World theme park the previous year to honor her legacy, but it was removed following her controversial performance.
Jackson’s eighth studio album Damita Jo was released in March 2004, titled after her middle name. It debuted at number two on the Billboard 200. The album received mixed to positive reviews, praising the sonic innovation of selected songs and Jackson’s vocal harmonies, while others criticized its frequent themes of carnality. However, several critics’ reviews focused on the Super Bowl incident, rather than critiquing the album itself. It was certified Platinum by the RIAA within a month, and sold over three million copies worldwide.
The album’s performance was affected by blacklisting from radio and music channels, in part at the behest of CBS CEO Les Moonves. Conglomerates involved in the boycott included Viacom and CBS, subsidiaries MTV, Clear Channel Communications, and Infinity Broadcasting, the latter two among the largest radio broadcasters. The blacklist was placed into effect preceding the release of Damita Jo and continued throughout the course of Jackson’s following two albums. Entertainment conglomerate Viacom owns MTV, VH1, and many radio formats, and a senior executive commented that they were “absolutely bailing on the record. The pressure is so great, they can’t align with anything related to Janet. The high-ups are still pissed at her, and this is a punitive measure.”
Prior to the incident, Damita Jo was expected to outsell prior release All for You. Its three singles received positive reviews but failed to achieve high chart positions, although each was predicted to perform extremely well under different circumstances. Billboard reported that Damita Jo “was largely overshadowed by the Super Bowl fiasco…. The three singles it spawned were blacklisted by pop radio—they were also the album’s biggest highlights”.
For the album’s promotion, Jackson appeared as a host on Saturday Night Live performing two songs, and she was also a guest star on the sitcom Will & Grace portraying herself. Jackson received several career accolades upon the album’s release, including the “Legend Award” at the Radio Music Awards, “Inspiration Award” from the Japan Video Music Awards, “Lifetime Achievement Award” at the Soul Train Music Awards, and a Teen Choice Awards nomination for “Favorite Female.”
In November 2004, she was honored as a role model by 100 Black Men of America, Inc. and presented with the organization’s Artistic Achievement Award saluting “a career that has gone from success to greater success.” The organization responded to criticism for honoring Jackson in light of the Super Bowl incident by saying that “an individual’s worth can’t be judged by a single moment in that person’s life.” In June 2005, she was honored with a Humanitarian Award by the Human Rights Campaign and AIDS Project Los Angeles as recognition for her involvement in raising money for AIDS charities.
Impact on the Internet
The Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show is considered to be one of the most controversial televised events in history, and Jackson was later listed in Guinness World Records as the “Most Searched in Internet History” and the “Most Searched for News Item”. The incident became the most recorded and replayed moment in TiVo history, enticing an estimated 35,000 new subscribers. Jawed Karim has stated that the incident inspired the creation of YouTube, as he noted that it was difficult for him to find videos of the incident online.
2006–2007: 20 Y.O. and Why Did I Get Married?
Jackson promoting her 2006 studio album, 20 Y.O.
Jackson began recording her ninth studio album, 20 Y.O., in 2005. She recorded with producers Dupri, Jam and Lewis for several months during the following year. The album’s title was a reference to the two decades since the release of her breakthrough album Control, representing the album’s “celebration of the joyful liberation and history-making musical style.”
To promote the album, Jackson appeared in various magazines, and performed on the Today Show and Billboard Awards. Jackson’s Us Weekly cover, revealing her slim figure after heavy media focus was placed on her fluctuations in weight, became the magazine’s best-selling issue in history. 20 Y.O. was released in September 2006 and debuted at number two on the Billboard 200. The album received mixed reviews, with multiple critics chastising the production and involvement of Jermaine Dupri. Rolling Stone disagreed with the album’s reference to Control, saying “If we were her, we wouldn’t make the comparison.”
Jackson’s airplay and music channel blacklist remained persistent, massively affecting her chart performance and exposure. However, lead single “Call on Me“, which featured rapper Nelly, peaked at number twenty-five on the Hot 100, number one on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, and number six in the United Kingdom. The video for the album’s second single, “So Excited“, was directed by Joseph Kahn and portrayed Jackson’s clothes disappearing through a complex dance routine.
20 Y.O. was certified Platinum by the RIAA and sold 1.5 million worldwide, also receiving a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary R&B Album. After the album’s release, Dupri was condemned for his production and misguidance of the album, and subsequently was removed from his position at Virgin Records. Slant Magazine stated, “After promising a return to Janet’s dance-pop origins, [Dupri] opted to aim for urban audiences, a colossal mistake that cost Dupri his job and, probably, Janet her deal with Virgin.”
Jackson was ranked the seventh richest woman in the entertainment industry by Forbes, having amassed a fortune of over $150 million. In 2007, she starred opposite Tyler Perry as a psychotherapist in the film Why Did I Get Married?. It became her third consecutive film to open at number one at the box office, grossing $60 million. Jackson’s performance was praised for its “soft authority”, though also described as “charming, yet bland”.
2008–2009: Discipline and Number Ones
Jackson performing during the 2008 Rock Witchu Tour
Jackson signed with Island Records after her contract with Virgin was fulfilled. She interrupted plans for touring and began recording with various producers, including Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins, Tricky Stewart, and Stargate. Her tenth studio album, Discipline, was released in February 2008, opening at number one. Despite radio blacklisting, the album’s first single “Feedback” peaked at number nineteen on the Hot 100 and nine on Pop Songs, her highest charting single since “Someone to Call My Lover“.
Also in February 2008, Jackson won an Image Award for “Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture” for the role. Jackson was also approached to record the lead single for the film Rush Hour 3. Jackson was awarded the Vanguard Award at the 19th annual GLAAD Media Awards, honoring her contributions in promoting equal rights among the gay community. The organization’s president commented, “Ms. Jackson has a tremendous following inside the LGBT community and out, and having her stand with us against the defamation that LGBT people still face in our country is extremely significant.”
Jackson’s fifth concert tour, the Rock Witchu Tour, began in September 2008. Jackson parted with Island Records through mutual agreement. Billboard disclosed Jackson was dissatisfied with LA Reid‘s handling of the album and its promotion, saying “the label agreed to dissolve their relationship with the artist at her request.” Producer Rodney Jerkins expressed “I felt like it wasn’t pushed correctly…. She just didn’t get her just-do as an artist of that magnitude.”
In June 2009, Jackson’s brother Michael died at age fifty. She spoke publicly concerning his death at the 2009 BET Awards, stating “I’d just like to say, to you, Michael is an icon, to us, Michael is family. And he will forever live in all of our hearts. On behalf of my family and myself, thank you for all of your love, thank you for all of your support. We miss him so much.” In an interview, she revealed she had first learned of his death while filming Why Did I Get Married Too?.
Amidst mourning with her family, she focused on work to deal with the grief, avoiding any news coverage of her sibling’s death. She commented, “it’s still important to face reality, and not that I’m running, but sometimes you just need to get away for a second.” During this time, she ended her seven-year relationship with Jermaine Dupri.
Several months later, Jackson performed a tribute to Michael at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, performing their duet “Scream”. MTV stated “there was no one better than Janet to anchor it and send a really powerful message.” The performance was lauded by critics, with Entertainment Weekly affirming the rendition “as energetic as it was heartfelt”.
Jackson’s second hits compilation, Number Ones (retitled The Best for international releases), was released in November 2009. For promotion, she performed a medley of hits at the American Music Awards, Capital FM‘s Jingle Bell Ball at London’s O2 arena, and The X-Factor. The album’s promotional single “Make Me“, produced with Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins, debuted in September. It became Jackson’s nineteenth number one on the Hot Dance Club Songs chart, making her the first artist to have number-one singles in four separate decades.
Later that month, Jackson chaired the inaugural benefit of amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, held in Milan in conjunction with fashion week. The foundation’s CEO stated “We are profoundly grateful to Janet Jackson for joining amfAR as a chair of its first event in Milan…. She brings incomparable grace and a history of dedication to the fight against AIDS.” The event raised $1.1 million for the nonprofit organization.
2010–2014: Film projects and True You
In April 2010, Jackson reprised her role in the sequel to Why Did I Get Married? titled Why Did I Get Married Too?. The film opened at number two, grossing sixty million. Jackson’s performance was hailed as “invigorating and oddly funny”, and praised for her “willingness to be seen at her most disheveled”. Her performance earned an Image Award for “Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture”. Jackson recorded the film’s theme, “Nothing“, released as a promotional single. The song was performed on the ninth season finale of American Idol along with “Again” and “Nasty”.
In July, Jackson modeled for the Blackglama clothing line featuring mink fur, then helped design a signature line of clothing and accessories for Blackglama, to be sold at Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdales. Universal Music released the hits compilation Icon: Number Ones as the debut of the Icon compilation series.
In November 2010, Jackson starred as Joanna in the drama For Colored Girls, the film adaptation of Ntozake Shange‘s 1975 play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf. The Wall Street Journal stated Jackson “recites verses written by Ntozake Shange, the author of the play that inspired the film … But instead of offering up a mannered coffeehouse reading of the lines, Jackson makes the words sound like ordinary—though very eloquent—speech.” Jackson’s portrayal the film was likened to Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada. Her performance earned Black Reel Awards nominations in the categories of Outstanding Supporting Actress and Outstanding Ensemble.Jackson performing during the 2011 Number Ones, Up Close and Personal tour
Jackson announced plans to embark on her largest world tour in support of her second hits collection, Number Ones. The tour, entitled Number Ones, Up Close and Personal, held concerts in thirty-five global cities, selected by fans who submitted suggestions on her official website. During the tour, Jackson performed thirty-five number one hits and dedicated a song to each city. Mattel released a limited-edition Barbie of Jackson titled “Divinely Janet”, auctioned for over $15,000, with proceeds donated to Project Angel Food.
Jackson released the self-help book True You: A Journey to Finding and Loving Yourself in February 2011, co-written with David Ritz. It chronicled her struggle with weight and confidence, also publishing letters from fans. It topped The New York Times’ Best Seller list the following month. Additionally, she signed a film production contract with Lions Gate Entertainment to “select, develop and produce a feature film for the independent studio.”
Jackson became the first female pop singer to perform at the I. M. Pei glass pyramid at the Louvre Museum, raising contributions for the restoration of iconic artwork. Jackson was selected to endorse fashion line Blackglama for a second year, being the first celebrity in the line’s history chosen to do so. She partnered with the label to release a fifteen-piece collection of luxury products.
In 2012, Jackson endorsed Nutrisystem, sponsoring their weight-loss program after struggling with weight fluctuations in the past. With the program, she donated ten million dollars in meals to the hungry. She was honored by amfAR for her contributions to AIDS research when chairing the Cinema Against AIDS gala during the Cannes Film Festival. She also participated in a public service announcement for UNICEF to help starving children.
2015–present: Unbreakable and concert residency
On May 16, 2015, Jackson announced plans to release a new album and to embark on a world concert tour. She outlined her intention to release her new album in the fall of 2015 under her own record label, Rhythm Nation, distributed by BMG Rights Management. The launch of Rhythm Nation established Jackson as one of the few African-American female musicians to own a record label.
On June 15, 2015, Jackson announced the first set of dates for the North American leg of her Unbreakable World Tour. On June 22, the lead single “No Sleeep” was released from the album. Jackson’s solo version of the single debuted on the Hot 100 at number 67, marking her 40th entry on the chart. The song went to number 1 on the Billboard + Twitter Trending 140 immediately following the release. The album version featuring J. Cole enabled it to re-enter the Hot 100 with a new peak position at number 63, while also topping the Adult R&B Songs chart.Jackson performing during the 2015–16 Unbreakable Tour
BET presented Jackson with their inaugural Ultimate Icon: Music Dance Visual award at the BET Awards 2015, which also featured a dance tribute to her performed by Ciara, Jason Derulo and Tinashe. It was announced she would launch a luxury jewelry line called the “Janet Jackson Unbreakable Diamonds collection,” a joint venture between herself and Paul Raps New York. On August 20, she released a preview of a new song “The Great Forever,” while also confirming the title of her eleventh studio album as Unbreakable.
Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis stated that Jackson’s concept for the album was developed simultaneously with the accompanying tour’s production and that its composition will differ from the majority of her catalog. They also stated that the album’s theme reflects “being able to be vulnerable and to be able to withstand what comes to you,” drawing on Jackson’s experiences over the past several years. The album’s title track “Unbreakable” was released on September 3, 2015, debuting on Apple Music‘s Beats 1 radio station, hosted by Ebro Darden. The album was also made available for pre-order on iTunes the same day. “Burnitup!” featuring Missy Elliott debuted on BBC Radio 1 on September 24, 2015. Unbreakable was released on October 2, 2015. It received largely positive reviews, including those by The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, and The Guardian. The following week, Jackson received her first nomination to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Her album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, becoming her seventh album to top the chart in the United States.
On April 6, 2016, Jackson announced that she was “planning her family” with husband Wissam Al Mana, resulting in her postponing her tour. On May 1, 2017, Jackson announced she would resume her Unbreakable World Tour, now known as the State of the World Tour. The revamped tour launched on September 7, 2017. Refocusing the tour’s theme to reflect socially conscious messages from Jackson’s entire music catalog, many songs selected for the concert set list along with corresponding imagery depicted on stage address racism, white supremacy, fascism, xenophobia and police brutality. The tour opened to positive critical reception, with several commentators praising Jackson’s post-pregnancy physical fitness, showmanship and socially conscious messages.
Her emotional rendition of “What About”, a song about domestic violence originally recorded for The Velvet Rope, drew media attention highlighting her recent separation from her husband; Jackson’s brother Randy alleges she suffered verbal abuse by Al Mana which contributed to the breakdown of their marriage. Proceeds from the concert of September 9, 2017 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas were donated to relief efforts supporting evacuees of Hurricane Harvey. Jackson met with Houston mayor Sylvester Turner and evacuees at the George R. Brown Convention Center prior to the performance. In May 2018, it was announced that Jackson would receive the Billboard Icon Award at the 2018 Billboard Music Awards. In an interview for Billboard magazine, Jackson revealed that she was then working on new music. On August 16, 2018, it was announced that Jackson and Rhythm Nation had entered into a partnership with Cinq Music. The next day, Jackson released the single “Made for Now“, a collaboration with Daddy Yankee.
In October 2018, she received her third nomination for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. On December 13, 2018, Jackson was announced as one of the seven inductees of the 2019 class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
On February 26, 2019, Jackson announced a four-month Las Vegas residency entitled Metamorphosis. The initial schedule comprised fourteen shows at the Park Theater at Park MGM resort; three additional shows were announced in May. In September and November 2019 Jackson performed a series of concerts in support of the 30th anniversary of the Rhythm Nation album in Welch Treasure Island Resort & Casino, San Francisco and Hawaii. In 2019, Jackson played a variety of festivals in the US and abroad, including The Glastonbury Festival.
On February 10, 2020, Jackson announced the Black Diamond World Tour, as well as her upcoming twelfth studio album Black Diamond due sometime in 2020. In June of the same year, the tour was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 4, 2021, a two-part documentary tentatively titled Janet was announced for A&E and Lifetime in the United States.
Music and voice
Jackson possesses a mezzo-soprano vocal range. Over the course of her career, she has received frequent criticism for the limitations of her vocal capabilities, especially in comparison to contemporary artists such as Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey. In comparing her vocal technique to Houston and Aretha Franklin, vocal coach Roger Love states that “[w]hen Janet sings, she allows a tremendous amount of air to come through. She’s obviously aiming for a sexy, sultry effect, and on one level that works nicely. But actually, it’s fairly limited.” He adds that while her voice is suitable for studio recording, it doesn’t translate well to stage because despite having “great songs, incredible dancing, and her star like presence, the live show is still magnificent. But the voice is not the star.”
Biographer David Ritz commented, “on Janet’s albums—and in her videos and live performances, which revealed a crisp, athletic dance technique […] singing wasn’t the point,” saying emphasis was placed on “her slamming beats, infectious hooks, and impeccable production values.” Eric Henderson of Slant magazine claimed critics opposing her small voice “somehow missed the explosive ‘gimme a beat’ vocal pyrotechnics she unleashes all over ‘Nasty’ … Or that they completely dismissed how perfect her tremulous hesitance fits into the abstinence anthem ‘Let’s Wait Awhile’.” Classical composer Louis Andriessen has praised Jackson for her “rubato, sense of rhythm, sensitivity, and the childlike quality of her strangely erotic voice.” Several critics also consider her voice to often be enveloped within her music’s production.
Music critic J. D. Considine noted “on albums, Jackson’s sound isn’t defined by her voice so much as by the way her voice is framed by the lush, propulsive production of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.” Wendy Robinson of PopMatters said “the power of Janet Jackson’s voice does not lie in her pipes. She doesn’t blow, she whispers … Jackson’s confectionary vocals are masterfully complemented by gentle harmonies and balanced out by pulsing rhythms, so she’s never unpleasant to listen to.”
Matthew Perpetus of Fluxblog suggested Jackson’s vocal techniques as a study for indie rock music, considering it to possess “a somewhat subliminal effect on the listener, guiding and emphasizing dynamic shifts without distracting attention from its primal hooks.” Perpetus added: “Her voice effortlessly transitions from a rhythmic toughness to soulful emoting to a flirty softness without overselling any aspect of her performance … a continuum of emotions and attitudes that add up to the impression that we’re listening to the expression of a fully-formed human being with contradictions and complexities.”
Jackson’s music has encompassed a broad range of genres. Her records from the 1980s have been described as being influenced by Prince, as her producers are ex-members of the Time. Sal Cinquemani wrote that in addition to defining Top 40 radio, she “gave Prince’s Minneapolis sound a distinctly feminine—and, with songs like ‘What Have You Done for Me Lately?,’ ‘Nasty,’ ‘Control,’ and ‘Let’s Wait Awhile,’ a distinctly feminist—spin.”
On Control, Richard J. Ripani documented that she, Jam and Lewis had “crafted a new sound that fuses the rhythmic elements of funk and disco, along with heavy doses of synthesizers, percussion, sound effects, and a rap music sensibility.” Author Rickey Vincent stated that she has often been credited for redefining the standard of popular music with the industrial-strength beats of the album. She is considered a trendsetter in pop balladry, with Richard Rischar stating “the black pop ballad of the mid-1980s had been dominated by the vocal and production style that was smooth and polished, led by singers Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, and James Ingram.”
Jackson continued her musical development by blending pop and urban music with elements of hip-hop in the nineties. This included a softer representation, articulated by lush, soulful ballads and up-tempo dance beats. She is described by music critic Greg Kot as “an artist who has reshaped the sound and image of rhythm and blues” within the first decade of her career. Critic Karla Peterson remarked that “she is a sharp dancer, an appealing performer, and as ‘That’s the Way Love Goes’ proves—an ace pop-song writer.” Selected material from the following decade has been viewed less favorably, as Sal Cinquemani comments “except for maybe R.E.M., no other former superstar act has been as prolific with such diminishing commercial and creative returns.”
Jackson has changed her lyrical focus over the years, becoming the subject of analysis in musicology, African American studies, and gender studies. David Ritz compared Jackson’s musical style to Marvin Gaye’s, stating, “like Marvin, autobiography seemed the sole source of her music. Her art, also like Marvin’s, floated over a reservoir of secret pain.” Much of her success has been attributed to “a series of powerful, metallic grooves; her chirpy, multi-tracked vocals; and a lyrical philosophy built on pride and self-knowledge.” Ritz also stated, “The mystery is the low flame that burns around the perimeters of Janet Jackson’s soul. The flame feeds off the most highly combustible elements: survival and ambition, caution and creativity, supreme confidence and dark fear.”
During the 1980s, her lyrics embodied self-actualization, feminist principles, and politically driven ideology. Gillian G. Gaar described Control as “an autobiographical tale about her life with her parents, her first marriage, and breaking free.” Jessie Carney Smith wrote “with that album, she asserted her independence, individuality, and personal power. She challenged audiences to see her as a transformed person, from an ingénue to a grow-up, multi-talented celebrity.” Referring to Rhythm Nation 1814 as an embodiment of hope, Timothy E. Scheurer wrote “It may remind some of Sly Stone prior to There’s a Riot Going On and other African-American artists of the 1970s in its tacit assumption that the world imagined by Dr. King is still possible, that the American Dream is a dream for all people.”
On Janet, Jackson began focusing on sexual themes. Shayne Lee wrote that her music over the following decade “brand[ed] her as one of the most sexually stimulating vocalists of the 1990s.” Lilly J. Goren observed “Jackson’s evolution from politically aware musician to sexy diva marked the direction that society and the music industry were encouraging the dance-rock divas to pursue.” The Washington Post declared Jackson’s public image over the course of her career had shifted “from innocence to experience, inspiring such carnal albums as 1993’s ‘Janet’ and 1997’s ‘The Velvet Rope’, the latter of which explored the bonds—figuratively and literally—of love and lust.”
The song “Free Xone” from The Velvet Rope, which portrays same-sex relationships in a positive light, is described by sociologist Shayne Lee as “a rare incident in which a popular black vocalist explores romantic or sensual energy outside the contours of heteronormativity, making it a significant song in black sexual politics.” During promotion for Janet, she stated “I love feeling deeply sexual—and don’t mind letting the world know. For me, sex has become a celebration, a joyful part of the creative process.”
Upon the release of Damita Jo, Jackon stated “Beginning with the earlier albums, exploring—and liberating—my sexuality has been an ongoing discovery and theme,” adding “As an artist, that’s not only my passion, it’s my obligation.” Stephen Thomas Erlewine has found Jackson’s consistent inclusion of sex in her music lacking ingenuity, especially in comparisons to other artists such as Prince, stating “while sex indisputably fuels much great pop music, it isn’t an inherently fascinating topic for pop music—as with anything, it all depends on the artist.”
Videos and stage
See also: Janet Jackson videography
Jackson drew inspiration for her music videos and performances from musicals she watched in her youth, and was heavily influenced by the choreography of Fred Astaire and Michael Kidd, among others. Throughout her career, she has worked with and brought numerous professional choreographers to prominence, such as Tina Landon, Paula Abdul, and Michael Kidd. Veronica Chambers declared, “Her impact on pop music is undeniable and far-reaching,” adding, “A quick glance at the Billboard chart reveals any number of artists cast in the Janet Jackson mold.” Chambers observed numerous videos which “features not only Ms. Jackson’s dancers but choreography and sets remarkably like those she has used.”
Janine Coveney of Billboard observed that “Jackson’s musical declaration of independence [Control] launched a string of hits, an indelible production sound, and an enduring image cemented by groundbreaking video choreography and imagery that pop vocalists still emulate.” Ben Hogwood of MusicOMH applauded the “huge influence she has become on younger pretenders to her throne,” most notably Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez and Christina Aguilera. Qadree EI-Amin remarked that many pop artists “pattern their performances after Janet’s proven dance-diva persona.” Beretta E. Smith-Shomade wrote that “Jackson’s impact on the music video sphere came largely through music sales successes, which afforded her more visual liberties and control. This assuming of control directly impacted the look and content of her music videos, giving Jackson an agency not assumed by many other artists—male or female, Black or White.”
Parallel Lines: Media Representations of Dance (1993) documents that her videos have often been reminiscent of live concerts or elaborate musical theater. However, in her 30-minute Rhythm Nation 1814 film, Jackson utilizes street dancing techniques in contrast to traditional choreography. The group dynamic visually embodies a gender neutral equality, with Jackson “performing asexually and anonymously in front of, but as one of the members of the group.” Her music videos have also contributed to a higher degree of sexual freedom among young women, with Jackson “heavily implying male-on-female oral sex in music videos by pushing down on a man’s head until he’s in exactly the right position.” However, accusations of cosmetic surgery, skin lightening, and increasingly hypersexual imagery have led to her being viewed as conforming to a white, male-dominated view of sexuality, rather than liberating herself or others.
Jackson received the MTV Video Vanguard Award for her contributions to the art form, and she became the first recipient of the MTV Icon tribute, celebrating her impact on the music industry as a whole. In 2003, Slant Magazine named “Rhythm Nation” and “Got ’til It’s Gone” among the 100 Greatest Music Videos of all time, ranked at number 87 and number 10, respectively. In 2011, “Rhythm Nation” was voted the tenth best music video of the 1980s by Billboard.
Independent Journalist Nicholas Barber stated “Janet’s concerts are the pop equivalent of a summer blockbuster movie, with all the explosions, special effects, ersatz sentimentality, gratuitous cleavage and emphasis on spectacle over coherence that the term implies.” Jet magazine reported “Janet’s innovative stage performances during her world tours have won her a reputation as a world-class performer.” Chris Willman of Los Angeles Times stated the “enthralling” choreography of Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 Tour “represents the pinnacle of what can be done in the popping ‘n’ locking style—a rapid-fire mixture of rigidly jerky and gracefully fluid movements.” When Jackson was asked “do you understand it when people talk about [The Velvet Rope Tour] in terms of Broadway?”, she responded, “I’m crazy about Broadway … That’s what I grew up on.”
Her “Number Ones: Up Close and Personal” tour deviated from the full-scale theatrics found in her previous concert arena settings in favor of smaller venues. Critics noted being scaled down did not affect the impact of her showmanship, and in some cases, enhanced it. Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune wrote, “In past tours, Jackson’s thin voice was often swallowed up by the sheer size of her production … In the more scaled-down setting, Jackson brought a warmth and a passion that wasn’t always evident in stadiums … the best Janet Jackson performance I’ve covered in 20-plus years.”
Thor Christensen of The Dallas Morning News reported Jackson often lip syncs in concert; he wrote: “Janet Jackson—one of pop’s most notorious onstage lip-syncers—conceded … she uses ‘some’ taped vocals to augment her live vocals. But she refused to say what percentage of her concert ‘voice’ is taped and how much is live.” Michael MacCambridge of the Austin American-Statesman, who reviewed Jackson’s Rhythm Nation World Tour, described lip-syncing as a “moot point”, stating “Jackson was frequently singing along with her own pre-recorded vocals, to achieve a sound closer to radio versions of singles.” MacCambridge also observed “it seemed unlikely that anyone—even a prized member of the First Family of Soul Music—could dance like she did for 90 minutes and still provide the sort of powerful vocals that the ’90s super concerts are expected to achieve.”
Similarly, Chris Willman commented, “even a classically trained vocalist would be hard-pressed to maintain any sort of level of volume—or, more appropriately, ‘Control’—while bounding up and down stairs and whipping limbs in unnatural directions at impeccable, breakneck speed.” Critics observed that in the smaller scale of her “Number Ones: Up Close and Personal” tour, she forwent lip-syncing. Chris Richards of The Washington Post stated “even at its breathiest, that delicate voice hasn’t lost the laserlike precision.”
Jackson describes Lena Horne as a profound inspiration, for entertainers of several generations as well as herself. Upon Horne’s death, she stated “[Horne] brought much joy into everyone’s lives—even the younger generations, younger than myself. She was such a great talent. She opened up such doors for artists like myself.” Similarly, she considers Dorothy Dandridge to be one of her idols.
Jackson has declared herself “a very big Joni Mitchell fan”, explaining: “As a kid I was drawn to Joni Mitchell records […] Joni’s songs spoke to me in an intimate, personal way.” She holds reverence for Tina Turner, stating “Tina has become a heroic figure for many people, especially women, because of her tremendous strength. Personally, Tina doesn’t seem to have a beginning or an end in my life. I felt her music was always there, and I feel like it always will be.” She has also named other socially conscious acts, such as Tracy Chapman, Sly and the Family Stone, U2, and Bob Dylan as sources of inspiration.
In her early career, Jackson credited her brothers Michael and Jermaine Jackson as musical influences. According to Rolling Stone and MTV, other artists attributed as influences include the Ronettes, Dionne Warwick, Tammi Terrell, Diana Ross, Chaka Khan, Stevie Wonder, Teena Marie, Prince, Parliament-Funkadelic, Zapp, and Tina Turner.
Legacy and influence
The youngest sister of the “precious Jackson clan”, Janet Jackson has striven to distance her professional career from that of her older brother Michael and the rest of the Jackson family. Steve Dollar of Newsday wrote that “[s]he projects that home girl-next-door quality that belies her place as the youngest sibling in a family whose inner and outer lives have been as poked at, gossiped about, docudramatized and hard-copied as the Kennedys.” Phillip McCarthy of The Sydney Morning Herald noted that throughout her recording career, one of her common conditions for interviewers has been that there would be no mention of Michael. Joshua Klein wrote, “[f]or the first half of her recording career, Janet Jackson sounded like an artist with something to prove. Emerging in 1982 just as big brother Michael was casting his longest shadow, Jackson filled her albums not so much with songs as with declarations, from ‘The Pleasure Principle’ to the radical-sounding ‘Rhythm Nation’ to the telling statement of purpose, ‘Control’.”
Steve Huey of Allmusic asserted that despite being born into a family of entertainers, Janet Jackson has managed to emerge a “superstar” in her own right, rivaling not only several female recording artists including Madonna and Whitney Houston, but also her brother, while “successfully [shifting] her image from a strong, independent young woman to a sexy, mature adult.” By forging her own unique identity through her artistry and her business ventures, she has been esteemed as the “Queen of Pop”. Klein argued that “stardom was not too hard to predict, but few could have foreseen that Janet—Miss Jackson, if you’re nasty—would one day replace Michael as true heir to the Jackson family legacy.”.
Jackson has also been recognized for playing a pivotal role in crossing racial boundaries in the recording industry, where black artists were once considered to be substandard. Author Maureen Mahon states: “In the 1980s, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, and Prince were among the African American artists who crossed over … When black artists cross over into pop success they cease to be black in the industry sense of the word. They get promoted from racialized black music to universal pop music in an economically driven process of racial transcendence.” The Routledge International Encyclopedia of Women: Global Women’s Issues and Knowledge documented that Jackson, along with other prominent African-American women, had achieved financial breakthroughs in mainstream popular music, receiving “superstar status” in the process.
She, alongside her contemporaries “offered viable creative, intellectual, and business paths for establishing and maintaining agency, lyrical potency, marketing and ownership.” Her business savvy has been compared to that of Madonna, gaining a level of autonomy which enables “creative latitude and access to financial resources and mass-market distribution.” A model of reinvention, author Jessie Carney Smith wrote that “Janet has continued to test the limits of her transformative power”, receiving accolades in music, film and concert tours throughout the course of her career.
Musicologist Richard J. Ripani identified Jackson as a leader in the development of contemporary R&B, as her music created a unique blend of genre and sound effects which ushered in the use of rap vocals into mainstream R&B. He also argues her signature song “Nasty” influenced the new jack swing genre developed by Teddy Riley. Leon McDermott of the Sunday Herald wrote: “Her million-selling albums in the 1980s helped invent contemporary R&B through Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis’s muscular, lean production; the sinuous grooves threaded through 1986’s Control and 1989’s Rhythm Nation 1814 are the foundation upon which today’s hot shot producers and singers rely.” On March 24, 2021, the Library of Congress announced that Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 had been added to the National Recording Registry‘s class of 2020, stating that the album still “resonates today.”
Simon Reynolds described Jackson’s collaborations with her record producers as a reinvention of the dance-pop genre, introducing a new sonic palate. Den Berry, Virgin Records CEO and Chairman stated: “Janet is the very embodiment of a global superstar. Her artistic brilliance and personal appeal transcend geographic, cultural and generational boundaries.” In July 1999, she placed at number 77 on VH1‘s “100 Greatest Women of Rock and Roll”. She also placed at number 134 on their list of the “200 Greatest Pop Culture Icons of All Time”, number seven on the “100 Greatest Women In Music”, and at number two on the “50 Greatest Women of the Video Era”, behind Madonna.
In March 2008, Business Wire reported “Janet Jackson is one of the top ten selling artists in the history of contemporary music; ranked by Billboard magazine as the ninth most successful act in rock and roll history, and the second most successful female artist in pop music history.” She is the only female artist in the history of the Hot 100 to have 18 consecutive top ten hit singles, from “Miss You Much” (1989) to “I Get Lonely” (1998). The magazine ranked her at number seven on their Hot 100 50th Anniversary “All-Time Top Artists”, making her the third most successful female artist in the history of the chart, following Madonna and Mariah Carey.
In November 2010, Billboard released its “Top 50 R&B / Hip-Hop Artists of the Past 25 Years” list and ranked her at number five. She ranks as the top artist on the chart with 15 number ones in the past twenty-five years, garnering 27 top ten hits between 1985 and 2001, and 33 consecutive top 40 hits from 1985 through 2004. Recipient of eleven Billboard Music Awards, she is one an elite group of musical acts, such as Madonna, Aerosmith, Garth Brooks and Eric Clapton, whom Billboard credits for “redefining the landscape of popular music.”
In November 2014, Jackson was voted ‘Queen of Pop’ by a poll conducted online by VH1.com. In October 2015, she received her first nomination for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and four years later was inducted to the Hall. Jackson’s music and choreography have inspired numerous performers. Virgin Records executive Lee Trink expressed: “Janet is an icon and historic figure in our culture. She’s one of those gifted artists that people look up to, that people emulate, that people want to believe in … there’s not that many superstars that stand the test of time.”
Sarah Rodman of the Boston Herald remarked: “For every hand-fluttering, overwrought, melisma addict out there aping Mariah’s dog calls, there’s an equal number trying to match Jackson’s bubbling grooves and fancy footwork, including Britney Spears, Aaliyah and Destiny’s Child.” Music critic Gene Stout commented she “has so broadly influenced a younger generation of performers, from Jennifer Lopez … to Britney Spears, who has copied so many of Jackson’s dance moves.” ‘N Sync and Usher have credited her for teaching them how to develop stage show into theatrical performance. Kesha, Toni Braxton, Aaliyah, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Crystal Kay, Kelly Rowland, Rihanna, Brazilian singer Kelly Key, and Christine and the Queens have all named her an inspiration, while others such as Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas of TLC, Cassie, Nicki Minaj, Keri Hilson, and DJ/singer Havana Brown, have all expressed desire to emulate her.
Elysa Gardner of USA Today wrote: “Jackson claims not to be bothered by the brigade of barely post-adolescent baby divas who have been inspired by—and, in some cases, have flagrantly aped—the sharp, animated choreography and girlish but decidedly post-feminist feistiness that have long been hallmarks of her performance style.” Adrienne Trier-Bieniek stated “scholars trace the origins of pleasure as a Black feminist commitment within popular culture to Janet Jackson” who inspired the feminist perspective found in many pop stars’ careers. Those who are considered to have followed in her footsteps have been referred to as “Janet-come-lately’s.”
Other artists who have drawn comparison to her include Mýa, Brandy, Tatyana Ali, Christina Milian, Lady Gaga, Namie Amuro, and BoA. Sociologist Shayne Lee commented that “[a]s Janet enters the twilight of her reign as erotic Queen of Pop, Beyoncé emerges as her likely successor.” Joan Morgan of Essence magazine remarked: “Jackson’s Control, Rhythm Nation 1814 and janet. established the singer-dancer imprimatur standard in pop culture we now take for granted. So when you’re thinking of asking Miss Jackson, ‘What have you done for me lately?’ remember that Britney, Ciara and Beyoncé live in the house that Janet built.”
At age 18, Janet Jackson eloped with singer James DeBarge in September 1984. The marriage was annulled in November 1985. On March 31, 1991, Jackson married dancer/songwriter/director René Elizondo Jr. The marriage was kept a secret until the split was announced. In January 1999, the couple separated and were divorced in 2000. Elizondo filed a lawsuit against her, estimated to have been between $10–25 million, which did not reach a settlement for three years.
From 2002 to 2009, Jackson dated music producer/rapper/songwriter Jermaine Dupri. In 2010, Jackson met Qatari businessman Wissam Al Mana and began dating him shortly after that. The couple became engaged and married privately in 2012. In 2016, Jackson announced that they were expecting their first child together. On January 3, 2017, Jackson gave birth to a son, Eissa Al Mana. In April 2017, it was announced that the couple had separated and were pursuing a divorce.