This is a story about control.
Control of what I say, control of what I do.
And this time I’m going to do it my way.
…It’s all about control, and I’ve got lots of it.
With that unexpected 1986 declaration, Janet Jackson came into her own, ceasing to be known primarily as Michael Jackson’s little sister. Prior to that, she was singing gentle songs like “Young Love” and “Come Give Your Love to Me.”
But with the advent of the declaration album, the subject matter shifted. Produced by the prolific Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis with assistance from the artist, Jackson was now confidently singing songs with much bolder content, such as “What Have You Done for Me Lately?,” “The Pleasure Principle” and “Nasty.”
A great singer? No. Janet Jackson is the first to admit that she is okay but not great; however, she rightfully says she makes good records and knows what it takes to give an outstanding live show.
JACKSON made her show business debut in the 1976 television variety show “The Jacksons.” Back in those days the public was charmed by this cute little girl, as when she and brother Randy did an impression of Sonny & Cher. No one could have imagined that one day she would invite us join the “Rhythm Nation” or even sing an overtly sexual song titled “Someday is Tonight.”
Given the direction her life and career would take — and how she had no problem with playing up her sexuality — it is interesting that she grew up in the Jehovah’s Witnesses sect, and easy to understand why she stepped away from that or any other organized religion.
“Control” was about asserting independence in the general sense, but also specifically aimed at her father, Joseph Jackson, who was widely known for being domineering. He even clashed with Berry Gordy over matters pertaining to Motown’s hot new act, the Jackson 5, saying, “It’s my blood that runs through their veins, not his.”
JACKSON pulled no punches either, stating bluntly, “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.”
The “Control” album, in addition to its massive sales, earned Jackson four American Music Awards and three Grammy nominations, including one in the coveted Album of the Year category.
It would have been easy enough for her to make a follow-up album that was much like “Control,” but instead she delivered something very different — “Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814.”
That highly anticipated album featured a substantial amount of social commentary, but always with a pulsating beat.
“I know an album or a song can’t change the world,” she said at the time. “I just want my music to catch the listeners’ attention and hold it long enough for them to listen to the lyrics.”
LIKE ITS predecessor, “Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814” reached No. 1 on the national charts, but was an even bigger hit, certified Platinum x 6 by the Record Industry Association of America (RIAA), meaning six million copies sold in the United States alone.
There were many hit singles on the album, including “Love Will Never Do (Without You),” “Miss You Much,” “Alright,” and “Rhythm Nation.”
Michael Jackson made history with his long-form video for “Thriller,” and Janet won a Grammy Award for the long-form video of “Rhythm Nation.”
By this time Janet Jackson had developed and perfected a distinct style of dancing, one that would influence many young female singers who came along after her, including Jennifer Lopez, Rihanna and Britney Spears.
“Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814” fulfilled her contract with A&M Records and she subsequently signed an exceptionally lucrative deal with Virgin Records. She was the highest paid artist at the time and quickly proved to Virgin executives that they had made the right decision with her first album for the company, “Janet.”
It, too, was a smash, yielding six major hits: “That’s the Way Love Goes” (No. 1), “If,” “Again,” “Because of Love,” “Any Time, Any Place” (No. 1) and “You Want This.”
SUBSEQUENT albums included “The Velvet Rope,” “All for You,” “Damita Jo” (her birth name is Janet Damita Jo Jackson), “20 Y.O” and “Discipline.”
As an actress, Jackson has repeatedly shown that she has what it takes to be taken very seriously. She was cute as a child on “Good Times” and as a teen on “Different Strokes,” but it was a completely different story as an adult on the big screen. Her movies include “Poetic Justice,” “Why Did I Get Married?,” “Why Did I Get Married Too?,” “For Colored Girls” and, on the lighter side, “The Nutty Professor II: The Klumps.”
No doubt the biggest challenge Janet Jackson faced was the Super Bowl halftime show in 2004, during a song (Justin Timberlake’s “Rock Your Body”), performed with Timberlake. At one point he was supposed to pull away her bustier, leaving the red bra, but he accidently pulled too far and a breast was exposed for a second or two.
The lights went out and all hell broke loose, both in the media — there was a media frenzy — and in the public. It was a classic example of overreaction. A bare breast is nothing compared to all the violence on TV, but Jackson paid a heavy price nevertheless. However, true to her nature, she persevered and resumed her career.
Since marrying billionaire businessman Wissam Al Mana in 2012, and moving to Qatar, an Arab country in Southwest Asia, Janet Jackson — who will be 49 on May 16, believe it or not — has been out of the spotlight and inactive as a recording artist, performer and actress.
No one knows what her next move will be, but her past achievements assure her a prime position in music history. — SVH