Janet Damita Jo Jackson (born May 16, 1966) is an American singer, songwriter and actress. Known for a series of sonically innovative, socially conscious and sexually provocative records, as well as elaborate stage shows, television and film roles, she has been a prominent figure in popular culture for over 25 years. She is ranked by Forbes magazine as one of the richest women in entertainment. The 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 and Fame.
After signing a recording contract with A&M in 1982, she became a pop icon following the release of her third studio album Control (1986). 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 appeal in popular music. In addition to receiving recognition for the innovation in her records, choreography, music videos, and prominence on radio airplay and MTV, she was acknowledged as a role model for her socially conscious lyrics.
In 1991, she signed the first of two record-breaking, multi-million dollar contracts with Virgin Records, establishing her as one of the highest paid artists in the industry. Her debut album under the label, Janet (1993), saw her develop a public image as a sex symbol as she began to explore sexuality in her work. That same year, she appeared in her first starring film role in Poetic Justice; since then she has continued to act in feature films. By the end of the 1990s, Billboard named her the second most successful recording artist of the decade, following Mariah Carey. She has amassed an extensive catalog of hits, with singles such as “Nasty“, “Rhythm Nation“, “That’s the Way Love Goes“, “Together Again“, and “All for You” her most iconic.
Having sold over 100 million records, she is ranked as one of the best-selling artists in the history of contemporary music. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) lists her as the eleventh best-selling female artist in the United States, with 26 million certified albums. In 2008, Billboard magazine released its list of the Hot 100 All-Time Top Artists, ranking her at number seven. In 2010, the magazine announced the “Top 50 R&B / Hip-Hop Artists of the Past 25 Years”, ranking her at number five. One of the world’s most awarded artists, her longevity, records and achievements reflect her influence in shaping and redefining the scope of popular music. She has been cited as an inspiration among numerous performers.
Life and career
1966–82: Childhood and television work
Janet Jackson was born 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; Jackson stated that although she was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, she eventually stopped practicing organized religion and views her relationship with God as “one-on-one”. By the time Jackson was a toddler, her older brothers—Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon and Michael—were performing music at nightclubs and theaters as The Jackson 5. In March 1969, the group signed a record deal with Motown, and by the end of the year they had recorded the first of four consecutive number one singles. The Jackson 5’s success allowed the family to move to the Encino neighborhood of Los Angeles in 1971, where they settled in a gated mansion called Hayvenhurst. Although born into a family of professional musicians, Jackson, whose love of horses resulted in a desire to become a race-horse jockey, had no aspiration to become an entertainer. Despite this, her father planned for her to pursue a career in entertainment. She once commented, “No one ever asked me if I wanted to go into show business … it was expected.”
In 1973, at the age of seven, Jackson appeared on stage in Las Vegas Strip with her siblings in a routine show at the MGM Casino. Jane Cornwell documented in her biography of the singer, Janet Jackson (2002), that at age eight, her father Joseph told her not to call him “Dad” anymore since he was her manager; he told her she would henceforth address him as “Joseph”. She began her career as an actress with the debut of the CBS variety show The Jacksons (1976), in which she appeared with her siblings Tito, Rebbie, Randy, Michael, Marlon, La Toya and Jackie. In 1977, she was selected by producer Norman Lear to play a recurring role as Penny Gordon Woods in the sitcom Good Times. From 1979 to 1980, she starred in A New Kind of Family as Jojo Ashton, and then joined the cast of Diff’rent Strokes, portraying Charlene Duprey from 1981 to 1982. She played a recurring role during the fourth season of the television series Fame as Cleo Hewitt, though she later commented that the series was not a project she enjoyed working on.
1982–85: Early recordings
Although Jackson was initially apprehensive about starting a music career, she agreed to participate in recording sessions with her family. The first of these, a duet with her brother Randy titled “Love Song for Kids”, took place in 1978. When she was sixteen, her father arranged a contract for her with A&M Records. Her debut album, Janet Jackson, produced by soul singers Angela Winbush, René Moore and Leon F. Sylvers III, was released in 1982, the entire production of which was overseen by her father Joseph. It peaked at number six on the Billboard Hot R&B albums chart.
Jackson’s second album, Dream Street, was released two years later. Her father recruited her brothers to help produce the album: Marlon co-wrote two of the album’s tracks, while Tito, Jackie and Michael provided background vocals. Dream Street reached number nineteen on the R&B albums chart; its sales were less than that of her debut album. The album’s only hit, “Don’t Stand Another Chance“, peaked at number nine on Billboard‘s R&B singles chart. In late 1984, Jackson eloped with childhood friend and fellow R&B singer James DeBarge. They divorced shortly afterwards, and the marriage was annulled in mid-1985. In 1985 Jackson joined her sister, La Toya, as a chorist under La Toya’s number “Baby Sister” at the Yamaha Music Festival where they ended up with a silver medallion and an “Outstanding Song Award”.
“Nasty” was written as a response to an incident of sexual harassment Jackson faced during the recording of Control. The song features a triplet swing beat.
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Following the release of Dream Street, Jackson decided to separate her business affairs from her family. She later commented, “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, telling him that I didn’t want to work with him again.” A&M Records executive John McClain hired producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis to work with her. Within six weeks, Jackson, Jam and Lewis crafted her third studio album, Control. Jackson recalled that during the recording of the album, she was threatened by a group of men outside of her hotel in Minneapolis. She stated that “[t]he danger hit home when a couple of guys started stalking me on the street … 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.”
Though Jam and Lewis were concerned with achieving cross-over appeal, their primary goal was to create a strong following for the singer within the African American community first. Jam commented, “[w]e wanted to do an album that would be in every black home in America … we were going for the black album of all time.” Released in February 1986, the album peaked at number one on the Billboard 200, with over 200,000 copies sold in one week. Los Angeles Times critic Connie Johnson wrote: “Though still a teen-ager, this singer’s stance is remarkably nervy and mature. She has a snotty sort of assurance that permeates several cuts, plus the musical muscle to back it up.” The Newsweek review of Control noted that the album was “an alternative to the sentimental balladry and opulent arrangements of Patti LaBelle and Whitney Houston.” Rob Hoerburger of Rolling Stone asserted, “Control is a better album than Diana Ross has made in five years and puts Janet in a position similar to the young Donna Summer‘s—unwilling to accept novelty status and taking her own steps to rise above it.” Five of the album’s singles—”What Have You Done for Me Lately“, “Nasty“, “When I Think of You“, “Control“, and “Let’s Wait Awhile“—peaked within the top 5 of the Billboard Hot 100. “When I Think of You” became Jackson’s first single to peak at number one. “The Pleasure Principle” became a top 20 hit, peaking at number fourteen. Most of the Control music videos were choreographed by a then-unknown Paula Abdul. Jonathan Cohen of Billboard magazine commented “[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.”
Control was certified five times platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America, and has sold over fourteen million copies worldwide. It won four American Music Awards, from twelve nominations—a record that has yet to be broken—and was nominated for Album of the Year at the 1987 Grammy Awards. Musicologist Richard J. Ripani Ph.D., author of The New Blue Music: Changes in Rhythm & Blues, 1950–1999 (2006), observed that the album was one of the first successful records to influence the rise of new jack swing by creating a fusion of R&B, rap, funk, disco and synthesized percussion. The success of Control, according to Ripani, bridged the gap between R&B and rap music.
1989–92: Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814
“Rhythm Nation” encompasses the full range of new jack swing genre. The use of sample loop and triplet swing are present, while vocals for the song are alternatively sung in octaves or rapped in spoken verse.
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In September 1989, Jackson released her fourth album, Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814. Though executives at A&M wanted an album similar to Control, she was determined to imbue her music with a socially conscious message that complimented her songs about love and relationships. She stated, “I’m not naive—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 and what we’re saying.” Producer Jimmy Jam told The Boston Globe, “We would always have a TV turned on, usually to CNN … And I think the social slant of songs like Rhythm Nation, State of the World and The Knowledge came from that.” Rolling Stone magazine’s Vince Aletti observed Jackson shifted from “personal freedom to more universal concerns—injustice, illiteracy, crime, drugs—without missing a beat.”
Peaking at number one on the Billboard 200, the album was later certified six times platinum and eventually sold over fourteen million copies worldwide. The release became the only album in history to produce number one hits on the Billboard Hot 100 in three separate calendar years—”Miss You Much” in 1989, “Escapade” and “Black Cat” in 1990, and “Love Will Never Do (Without You)” in 1991—and the only album in the history of the Hot 100 to have seven top 5 hit singles. The corresponding music video for “Rhythm Nation” won the 1989 Grammy Award for Best Long Form Music Video. Billboard named Rhythm Nation 1814 the number-one selling album of the year in 1990, winning multiple music awards. The Rhythm Nation World Tour, Jackson’s first world tour in support of a studio album, became the most successful debut tour by any recording artist. 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 established the “Rhythm Nation Scholarship” as a joint venture with the United Negro College Fund, as well as donating funds from her concert tour to other educational programs, raising over $1/2 million dollars to fund educational projects. Routledge International Encyclopedia of Women: Global Women’s Issues and Knowledge (2000) documented that Jackson’s success during this time period placed her on par with several other recording artists, including her older brother Michael Jackson, Madonna and Tina Turner.
With the release of Rhythm Nation 1814, Jackson fulfilled her contract with A&M Records. In 1991, after being approached personally by Virgin Records owner Richard Branson, she signed a highly publicized multi-million dollar contract with the label. The contract value, estimated between $32–50 million, made her the highest paid recording artist in contemporary music, until her brother Michael signed a $65 million dollar contract with Sony only a few days later. Ebony reported: “No individual or group has impacted the world of entertainment as have Michael and Janet Jackson, who both signed multimillion dollar contracts in recent months … There are many imitators, but few can match Michael and Janet’s stunning style and dexterity.” Her reputation as a fashion icon also garnered recognition, in that “[a]s Janet was entertaining 2 million fans during her triumphant Rhythm Nation tour, hoards of teen girls were imitating her distinctive look—black quasi-military long jackets, black tight-tight pants, and big white shirts.” That same year, she secretly entered into her second marriage with long-term friend—dancer, songwriter and director René Elizondo, Jr. In early 1992, Jackson recorded a song entitled “The Best Things in Life Are Free” with Luther Vandross, featuring Bell Biv DeVoe and Ralph Tresvant, for the Mo’ Money film soundtrack.
1993–96: Janet, Poetic Justice and Design of a Decade 1986/1996
Janet Jackson featured on a 1993 cover of Rolling Stone with the hands of her then-unknown husband René Elizondo, Jr. cupping her breasts.
In August 1992, after completing work on Poetic Justice, Jackson set out to plan on recording her first album for Virgin Records. Recording sessions for the album began in September 1992, commencing in the first quarter of 1993. In May 1993, Jackson’s fifth studio album Janet, was released and debuted at number one on the Billboard 200. She commented, “[c]ertain people feel I’m just riding on my last name … That’s why I just put my first name on janet. and why I never asked my brothers to write or produce music for me.” Billboard magazine’s Larry Flick noted she “also broadens her musical scope on ‘janet.’ by layering deep house, swing jazz, hip hop, rock, and Caribbean elements on top of a radio-minded jack/funk foundation.” Rolling Stone wrote: “As 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.” The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004) commented that the album’s number one hit single “That’s the Way Love Goes“—winner of the 1994 Grammy Award for Best R&B Song—and the top 10 singles “If“, “Because of Love“, “You Want This“, and “Any Time, Any Place“, all contained “grown-up desires”. Janet was certified six times platinum by the RIAA, with worldwide sales exceeding twenty million copies.
In July 1993, Jackson made her film debut in Poetic Justice. Rolling Stone described her performance as “a beguiling film debut” despite her inexperience, while The Washington Post considered her “believably eccentric”. Several reviews were also negative, as Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly noted she “isn’t an inept actress, yet there are no more edges to her personality than there are to her plastic Kewpie-doll visage.” Jackson’s ballad “Again” was featured in the film, and she received her first Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations for Best Original Song. In September 1993, Jackson appeared topless on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine with the hands of her then-husband René Elizondo, Jr. covering her breasts. The photograph is the original full-length version of the cropped image used on the cover of the Janet album, shot by Patrick Demarchelier. Sonia Murray of The Vancouver Sun later 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 of the year.” David Ritz likened her transformation to Marvin Gaye, stating “[j]ust as Gaye moved from What’s Going On to Let’s Get It On, from the austere to the ecstatic, Janet, every bit as serious-minded as Marvin, moved from Rhythm Nation to janet., her statement of sexual liberation.” Her second world tour—the Janet World Tour—garnered critical acclaim as Michael Snyder of the San Francisco Chronicle described Jackson’s stage performance as erasing the line between “stadium-size pop music concerts and full-scale theatrical extravaganzas.”
During this time period, her brother Michael was immersed in a child sex abuse scandal, of which he denied any wrongdoing. She gave moral support to her brother, and denied allegations made by her sister La Toya in her book La Toya: Growing Up in the Jackson Family (1991) that their parents had abused her and her siblings as children. In an interview with Lynn Norment of Ebony, she commented on her sister’s then-estrangement from the family, stating, “her [husband Jack Gordon] has … brainwashed her so much she keeps herself away from us.” In addition, she criticized her brother Jermaine for attacking Michael in his 1991 single “Word to the Badd”. In December 1994, she collaborated with her brother Michael on “Scream“, the lead single from his 1995 album HIStory, which was written by both siblings as a response to the media scrutiny he suffered from being accused of child sexual abuse. The song debuted at number five on the Hot 100 singles chart, becoming the first song ever to debut in the top 5. “Scream” is featured in the Guinness Book of Records as the “Most Expensive Music Video Ever Made” at a cost of $7 million, which was filmed in May 1995. Jackson and her brother won the 1995 Grammy Award for Best Short Form Music Video for “Scream”.
In October 1995, Jackson’s first compilation album, Design of a Decade 1986/1996, was released via A&M Records. It debuted at number four and 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, which eventually peaked at number three. Design of a Decade 1986/1996 was certified two times platinum by the RIAA and sold over four million copies worldwide. Jackson’s influence in popular music continued to garner recognition, as Steve Morse of 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?” In January 1996, Jackson renewed her contract with Virgin Records for a reported $80 million dollars. The contract established her as the then-highest paid recording artist in contemporary music, surpassing the recording industry’s then-unparalleled $60 million dollar contracts earned by her brother, Michael Jackson, and Madonna.
1997–99: The Velvet Rope
During the two year period prior to the release of her sixth studio album, The Velvet Rope, Jackson reportedly suffered from depression and anxiety. Michael Saunders of The Boston Globe considered the album to be an introspective look into her bout with depression, describing it as a “critical self-examination and an audio journal of a woman’s road to self-discovery.” The Velvet Rope also introduced sadomasochism into Jackson’s music. Eric Henderson of Slant Magazine wrote, “The Velvet Rope is a richly dark masterwork that illustrates that, amid the whips and chains, there is nothing sexier than emotional nakedness.” Larry Flick of Billboard called The Velvet Rope “[t]he best American album of the year and the most empowering of her last five.” Released in October 1997, The Velvet Rope debuted at number one on the Billboard 200. In August, 1997 the album’s lead single, “Got ’til It’s Gone“, was released to radio, peaking at number 12 on the Billboard Rhythmic Airplay Chart. The single sampled the Joni Mitchell song “Big Yellow Taxi“, and featured a cameo appearance by rapper Q-Tip. “Got ’til It’s Gone” won the 1997 Grammy Award for Best Short Form Music Video. The album’s second single “Together Again“, became her eighth number one hit on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, and placing her on par with Elton John, Diana Ross, and The Rolling Stones. The single spent a record 46 weeks on the Hot 100, as well as spending 19 weeks on the UK singles chart. “I Get Lonely” peaked at number three on the Hot 100. The Velvet Rope sold over ten million albums worldwide and was certified three times platinum by the RIAA.
Jackson donated a portion of the proceeds earned from “Together Again” to the American Foundation for AIDS Research. Neil McCormick of The Daily Telegraph observed, “[Jackson] even makes a bid for gay icon status, delivering a diva-ish performance reminiscent of Diana Ross on ‘Together Again’ (a post-Aids pop song), singing a paean to homosexuality on the jazzy ‘Free Xone’ and climaxing (if that’s the right word) with a bizarre lesbian reinterpretation of Rod Stewart‘s ‘Tonight’s the Night’.” Rolling Stone regarded “Free Xone” as the album’s “best song”, describing it as an “anti-homophobia track [which] shifts moods and tempos on a dime, segueing from a Prince-like jam to a masterful sample from Archie Bell and the Drells’ ‘Tighten Up’.” The Velvet Rope was honored by the National Black Lesbian and Gay Leadership Forum, and received the award for Outstanding Music Album at the 9th Annual GLAAD Media Awards.
In 1998, Jackson began The Velvet Rope World Tour, an international trek that included Europe, North America, Africa, Asia, New Zealand and Australia. Robert Hilburn of The Los Angeles Times reported, “[t]here is so much of the ambition and glamour of a Broadway musical in Janet Jackson’s new Velvet Rope tour that it’s only fitting that the concert program credits her as the show’s ‘creator and director’.” Her HBO special, The Velvet Rope: Live in Madison Square Garden, was watched by more than fifteen million viewers. The two hour concert beat the ratings of all four major networks in homes that were subscribed to HBO. The HBO concert special was awarded four Emmy nominations including one win. Jackson donated a portion of her concert ticket sales to America’s Promise, a non-profit organization designed by Colin Powell to assist disenfranchised youth.
The following month, Jackson separated from Elizondo Jr. As her world tour came to a close in 1999, Jackson lent guest vocals to a number of songs by other artists, including Shaggy’s “Luv Me, Luv Me“, for the soundtrack to How Stella Got Her Groove Back, “God’s Stepchild” from the Down on the Delta soundtrack, “Girlfriend/Boyfriend” with BLACKstreet, and “What’s It Gonna Be?!” with Busta Rhymes. She also performed a duet with Elton John for the song “I Know the Truth”. At the 1999 World Music Awards, Jackson received the Legend Award alongside Cher for “outstanding contribution to the pop industry.” As 1999 ended, Billboard magazine ranked Jackson as the second most successful artist of the decade, behind Mariah Carey.
2000–03: Nutty Professor II: The Klumps and All for You
In July 2000, Jackson appeared in her second film, Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, as Professor Denise Gaines, opposite Eddie Murphy. The film became her second to open at number one at the box office, grossing an estimated $42.7 million dollars in its opening weekend. Her contribution to the film’s soundtrack, “Doesn’t Really Matter“, became her ninth number one Billboard Hot 100 single. In the same year, Jackson’s husband filed for divorce. Jeff Gordinier of Entertainment Weekly reported that for eight of the thirteen years she and Elizondo had known one another, “[they] were married—a fact they managed to hide not only from the international press but from Jackson’s own father.” Elizondo filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against her, estimated between $10–25 million; they did not reach a settlement until 2003.
Jackson was awarded the American Music Awards‘ Award of Merit in March 2001 for “her finely crafted, critically acclaimed and socially conscious, multi-platinum albums.” She became the inaugural honoree of the “mtvICON” award, “an annual recognition of artists who have made significant contributions to music, music video and pop culture while tremendously impacting the MTV generation.” Jackson’s seventh album, All for You, was released in April 2001, debuting at number one on the Billboard 200. Selling 605,000 copies, All for You had the highest first-week sales total of her career. Stephen Thomas Erlewine of Allmusic stated “[Jackson’s] created a record that’s luxurious and sensual, spreading leisurely over its 70 minutes, luring you in even when you know better”, and Jon Pareles of The New York Times commented, “[a]s other rhythm and blues strips down to match the angularity of hip-hop, Ms. Jackson luxuriates in textures as dizzying as a new infatuation.”
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The album’s title-track, “All for You“, debuted on the Hot 100 at number fourteen, the highest debut ever for a single that was not commercially available. Teri VanHorn of MTV dubbed Jackson “Queen of Radio” as the single made radio airplay history, “[being] added to every pop, rhythmic and urban radio station that reports to the national trade magazine Radio & Records” in its first week. The single peaked at number one, where it topped the Hot 100 for seven weeks. It received the 2001 Grammy Award for Best Dance Recording. The second single, “Someone to Call My Lover“, which contained a heavy guitar loop of America’s “Ventura Highway“, peaked at number three on the Hot 100. All for You was certified double platinum by the RIAA and sold more than nine million copies worldwide.
Jackson’s All for You Tour began in July, 2001. Los Angeles Times’ pop music critic Robert Hilburn gave a negative review of the concert tour, comparing it unfavorably to Madonna’s Drowned World Tour and Britney Spears‘ Dream Within a Dream Tour. Hilburn remarked: “At 35, Jackson is only eight years younger than Madonna, but her presentation feels more akin to Britney Spears’. Madonna knows how to dig beneath the surface; Jackson lives on it.” Hilburns’ review sparked backlash from those who felt Jackson gave the superior performance. David Massey commented that “Janet outdid the Material Girl by a mile … And the gall to bring Britney Spears’ name into the picture by saying Janet’s show is like Britney’s? Hello, it’s the other way around!” Similarly, Rudy Scalese complimented Jackson’s performance, stating: “Janet Jackson hasn’t skipped a beat. She is still the Queen of Pop.” Jackson donated a portion of the proceeds from the tour’s ticket sales to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, with President Roxanne Spillett stating, “[t]he increased awareness she will bring to our cause, along with her generous financial contribution, will help us reach an even greater number of young people in search of hope and opportunity.”
In 2002, Jackson collaborated with reggae singer Beenie Man on the song “Feel It Boy“. She later admitted regret over the collaboration after discovering Beenie Man’s music often contained homophobic lyrics, and soon issued an apology to her gay fans in an article published in The Voice. Jackson also began her relationship with record producer Jermaine Dupri that same year.
2004–05: Super Bowl XXXVIII and Damita Jo
For the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show in February 2004, Jackson performed a medley of her singles “All for You” and “Rhythm Nation”; she then performed alongside Justin Timberlake. As Timberlake sang the lyric “gonna have you naked by the end of this song” from his single “Rock Your Body“, he tore open her top, exposing her right breast. After the performance, Jackson apologized, calling it an accident, and said that Timberlake was supposed to pull away the bustier and leave the red-lace bra intact. She further 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“. TIME reported that the incident became the most replayed moment in TiVo history and Monte Burke of Forbes magazine reported “[t]he fleeting moment enticed an estimated 35,000 new [TiVo] subscribers to sign up.” Jackson was later listed in the 2007 edition of Guinness World Records as “Most Searched in Internet History” and the “Most Searched for News Item”. CBS, the NFL, and MTV (CBS’s sister network, which produced the halftime show), denied any knowledge of, and all responsibility for, the incident. Still, the Federal Communications Commission continued an investigation, ultimately losing its appeal for a $550,000 fine against CBS.
As a result of the incident, CBS would only allow Jackson and Timberlake to appear during the 46th Grammy Awards ceremony if they each made a public apology to the network, without attributing the incident to a “wardrobe malfunction”. Timberlake issued an apology, but Jackson refused. Jermaine Dupri resigned from his position on the Grammy Awards committee as a result. The controversy halted plans for Jackson to star in a made-for-TV biopic on the life on singer Lena Horne for ABC-TV. Though Horne was reportedly displeased by the Super Bowl incident and insisted that ABC pull Jackson from the project, according to Jackson’s representatives, she withdrew from the project willingly.
In March 2004, Jackson’s eighth studio album, Damita Jo (Jackson’s middle name), was released debuting at number two on the Billboard 200. Allmusic’s Stephen Thomas Erlewine referred to the album as “the aural equivalent of hardcore pornography—it leaves nothing to the imagination and it’s endlessly repetitive.” Alternatively, a review by Ann Powers of Blender magazine asserted: “Artfully structured, unapologetically explicit, Damita Jo is erotica at its friendliest and most well-balanced. This hour-plus of Tantric flow even erases the memory of Jackson’s clunky Super Bowl breast-baring.” By the end of the month it was certified platinum by the RIAA, and eventually sold over three million albums worldwide. Although the album debuted at number two, its four singles all failed to become top 40 hits. Keith Caulfield of Billboard commented, “[f]or a singles artist like Jackson, who has racked up 27 top 10 Hot 100 singles in her career, including 10 No. 1s, this could probably be considered a disappointment.” Billboard’s Clover Hope reported Damita Jo “was largely overshadowed by the Super Bowl fiasco” and that Jermaine Dupri, the then-president of the urban music department at Virgin Records, expressed “sentiments of nonsupport from the label.”
Jackson appeared as a host of Saturday Night Live on April 10, 2004 and also appeared as a guest star on the television sitcom Will & Grace portraying herself. In November 2004, Jackson was honored as an African-American role model by 100 Black Men of America, Inc., who presented her with the “organization’s Artistic Achievement Award saluting ‘a career that has gone from success to greater success’.” Though the New York Amsterdam News reported “[t]here were a number of attendees who expressed dismay over presenting an award to the 38-year-old performer” because of the Super Bowl incident, the organization’s President Paul Williams responded, “[a]n 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, in recognition of her work and involvement in raising money for AIDS charities.
2006–07: 20 Y.O. and Why Did I Get Married?
To promote her ninth studio album, 20 Y.O., Jackson appeared on the cover of Us Weekly in June 2006, which became one of the magazine’s best-selling issues. Virgin Records released 20 Y.O. in September 2006, which debuted at number two on the Billboard 200. Janine Coveney of Billboard reported the album title, 20 Years Old, represents “a celebration of the joyful liberation and history-making musical style of her 1986 breakthrough album, Control.” Rolling Stone magazine’s Evan Serpick remarked “[t]he title of Janet Jackson’s latest album refers to the two decades since she released her breakthrough, Control, with hits like ‘Nasty’ and ‘What Have You Done for Me Lately.’ If we were her, we wouldn’t make the comparison.” However, Glenn Gamboa of Newsday gave the album a positive rating, stating that “[o]n ’20 Y.O.’ she skips all that drama of breaking free and asserting herself. She also keeps most of the tie-me-up, tie-me-down sexual raunch of her recent albums in the closet. This album is all about dancing and returning to her R&B roots.”
The album’s lead single “Call on Me“, a duet with rapper Nelly, peaked at number twenty-five on the Hot 100. 20 Y.O. was certified platinum by the RIAA and sold 679,000 copies in the U.S. and 1.2 million worldwide. Billboard magazine reported the release of 20 Y.O. satisfied Jackson’s contract with Virgin Records; Jermaine Dupri, who co-produced 20 Y.O., left his position as head of urban music at Virgin following the “disappointing performance” of Jackson’s album.
In January 2007, Jackson was ranked the seventh richest woman in the entertainment business by Forbes magazine, having amassed a fortune of over $150 million. Later that year, she starred opposite Tyler Perry as a psychotherapist named Patrica in the feature film Why Did I Get Married?. It became her third consecutive film to open at number one at the box office, grossing $21.4 million in its first week. Variety magazine’s Ronnie Scheib described Jackson’s performance as charming, yet bland, while Wesley Morris of The Boston Globe commented that Jackson portrayed her character with “soft authority”. In February 2008, Jackson won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture for her role.
2008–09: Discipline, death of Michael Jackson and Number Ones
In July 2007, Jackson changed labels and signed a record contract with Island Records. Her tenth studio album, Discipline, was released in February 2008, debuting on the Billboard 200 at number one. Margeaux Watson of Entertainment Weekly remarked, “her boy-crazy lyrics—which often sound like the cheesy text messages of a lovesick adolescent—certainly lack the flavor needed to put this once-celebrated pop star back on top of critics’ lists.” Andy Kellman of Allmusic expressed: “Janet probably won’t hit that late-’80s peak again, but that is no excuse to write her off.” Her single, “Feedback“, peaked at number nineteen on the Hot 100. In April 2008, Jackson received the Vanguard Award at the 19th Annual GLAAD Media Awards, honoring her contributions in promoting equal rights for LGBT people. GLAAD President Neil G. Giuliano 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. That same month, she and her record label parted ways through mutual agreement. Rodney ‘Darkchild’ Jerkins, who produced the album expressed, “I felt like it wasn’t pushed correctly … She just didn’t get her just-do as an artist of that magnitude.” In the fourteen months she was associated with Island, her record had sold 449,000 copies and did not receive RIAA certification. Billboard reported that because of Jackson’s dissatisfaction with her album’s promotion, “the label agreed to dissolve their relationship with the artist at her request.”
In June 2009, Jackson’s brother Michael died at age 50. At the 2009 BET Awards, she spoke publicly for the first time concerning his death, 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 exclusive interview with Harper’s Bazaar, she revealed she had first learned of her brother’s death while filming on location in Atlanta for Why Did I Get Married Too?. Amidst the public and private mourning with her family, she focused on work to deal with the grief, avoiding any news coverage of her sibling’s death; she stated “[i]t’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 also ended her seven year relationship with Jermaine Dupri. In September 2009, she performed “Scream” at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards as part of a tribute to Michael. MTV General Manager Stephen Friedman stated: “We felt there was no one better than Janet to anchor it and send a really powerful message.” She worked with several world renowned choreographers, with her personal creative director, Gil Duldulao, coordinating the performance. It was lauded by several critics and Michael Slezak of Entertainment Weekly commented, “[s]he worked that stage harder than an underpaid assistant doin’ overtime, and as tributes go, this was as energetic as it was heartfelt.”
Her single, “Make Me“, was released following the VMA performance initially as an audio stream on her official web site, and was later made available for digital download. Soon after its release, the single became Jackson’s 19th number one Hot Dance Club Songs chart. Later that month, Jackson chaired the inaugural benefit of amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, held in Milan in conjunction with fashion week. CEO Kevin Robert Frost commented, “[w]e 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.” One of the signature pieces sold for the auction was a pair of crystal-studded boots her brother Michael had intended to wear for the This Is It concert tour, which sold for $14,650. The event raised a total of $1.1 million for the nonprofit organization. She stated, “I’d just like to thank everyone here in the global fashion community who’ve done so much to help amfAR and to support HIV/AIDS research.” Her second greatest hits compilation, Number Ones—titled The Best outside of the United States—was released in November, 2009 as a joint venture between Universal Music Enterprises (UMe) and EMI Music. It debuted at number twenty-two on the Billboard 200, selling 37,000 copies in its first week of release. She performed as the opening act for the 37th annual American Music Awards and as one of the performing acts of the Capital FM December 2009 Jingle Bell Ball at the London O2 arena.
2010–present: Film projects, product endorsements, True You and Number Ones: Up Close and Personal
In April, 2010, Jackson reprised her role in Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married? sequel, Why Did I Get Married Too? The film earned $30.1 million at the box office its opening weekend, debuting at number two. Wesley Morris of The Boston Globe expressed the overall experience of the film to be “120 minutes of emotional Stairmaster” and added that “watching a hysterical—and hysterically coiffed—Janet Jackson redecorate a house with a golf club burns 500 calories. Mike Hale of The New York Times referred to her performance as “invigorating and oddly funny” while Jackie K. Cooper of The Huffington Post comments “[s]he is very impressive at times and less so at others. She does show a willingness to be seen at her most disheveled.” Her performance earned a nomination for the 2011 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture. She recorded the lead single for the film’s soundtrack entitled, “Nothing“, which was released prior to the film’s debut. In May 2010, she appeared on the season finale of American Idol, where she performed “Again”, “Nothing”, and “Nasty”.
Jackson headlined the 2010 Essence Music Festival alongside Alicia Keys and Mary J. Blige. According to the Associated Press, “Janet Jackson enthralled the Essence Music Festival audience Friday, kept them on their feet for more than two hours and reminded fans why seeing her in concert was worth waiting two years.” In July 2010, Jackson became a spokeswoman for fur label American Legend Cooperative‘s Blackglama “What Becomes a Legend Most?” campaign, previously endorsed by celebrities such as Lena Horne, Elizabeth Taylor, Lauren Bacall and Diana Ross. According to the company’s press release, she was selected as the campaign’s latest “Legend” because she “is an icon in the world of music and entertainment, a true legend. She represents everything that this storied campaign embodies. Janet is to entertainment what Blackglama is to luxury.” Her endorsement sparked outrage from animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) as well as activist Pamela Anderson. Anderson and PETA senior vice president, Dan Mathews, found Jackson’s decision hypocritical, as she has declined to endorse the wearing of fur in the past. In August, 2010, UMe released her third greatest hits collection, Icon: Number Ones, as part of the debut of the Icon album series; according to the press release, the series features “the greatest hits, signature tunes and fan favorites of the most popular artists in music history.”
In November, 2010, she starred as Joanna in the drama For Colored Girls, Tyler Perry’s film adaptation of Ntozake Shange‘s play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf (1975). Christopher John Farley of The Wall Street Journal complimented her performance, stating that “[she] 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.” Matt Zoller Seitz of Salon.com said she “outdoes herself here—especially in the scene where she confronts her husband over his secret life … It’s not just Jackson’s short haircut and traumatized eyes that might remind viewers of Jane Wyman or Joan Crawford; Perry gets at the mix of masculine hyper-competitiveness and feminine vulnerability that has always defined Jackson, and links it to the wily, lonely coldness often captured in Wyman and Crawford performances, a directorial gambit of tremendous perceptiveness.” Manohla Dargis of The New York Times commented: “Ms. Jackson is, to put it gently, an actress of limited expression. But her quiet presence has force, partly because of her eerie resemblance to her brother Michael, though also because her character’s brittle hauteur, self-involved privilege and artificiality has—like the martyrs in ermine played by the likes of Lana Turner—its own weird truth.” A number of critics have compared her portrayal of Jo to Meryl Streep‘s Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada. Her performance earned her nominations for the 2011 Black Reel Awards in the categories for Outstanding Supporting Actress and Outstanding Ensemble.
On November 18, in an exclusive interview with AOL Music’s ‘”The Boombox”, Jackson announced plans to go on her “largest ever world tour” in 2011, supporting her second greatest hits collection, Number Ones. The tour, entitled Number Ones: Up Close and Personal, will hold concerts in 35 global cities. The cities will be picked by fans who can submit suggestions on her official website. During the tour, she will perform her 35 number one hits and dedicate a song to each city. Jackson partnered with Mattel to release a limited-edition Barbie bearing her resemblance. Titled “Divinely Janet”, the doll was auctioned for $15,000 with proceeds being donated to Project Angel Food. A new self-help book penned by Jackson, True You: A Journey to Finding and Loving Yourself, was released on February 15, 2011, topping The New York Times Best Seller list the following month. In March 2011, she signed a film production contract with Lionsgate “to select, develop and produce a feature film for the independent studio.” Lionsgate president of motion picture production and development Mike Paseornek stated: “She is a powerful on-screen presence, with a vast audience, and we believe she will be an equally powerful presence behind the scenes … We are honored to be able to provide a home for her ideas, passion and immense talent.” Jackson became the first female pop star to perform at the I. M. Pei glass pyramid at the Louvre Museum. To raise contributions for the restoration of iconic works of art, she performed “in conjunction with the museum’s biannual fundraising event, ‘Liaisons au Louvre,’ on Tuesday, June 14.” Louvre President-Director Henri Loyrette stated: “Janet Jackson is one of the world’s greatest artistic treasures … Accordingly, we are profoundly honored, and believe it most fitting, that her performance in the Louvre Museum will be yet another masterpiece captured under our glorious glass pyramid.” In August, 2011, she was announced as the first celebrity to be featured in the Blackglama “What Makes A Legend Most?” campaign for two consecutive years. Blackglama CEO Joe Morelli stated: “It became clear in our discussions of who the Legend should be this year, that continuing the momentum with Janet made complete sense … She embodies glamour, luxury, and sophistication, everything that Blackglama stands for.” In November 2011, Jackson partnered with the label to release a 15-piece collection of luxury fur products, to be carried by Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdales. She also become spokesperson for Nutrisystem‘s “Success” weight-loss program. Additionally, “Nutrisystem and Ms. Jackson are creating Nutribank to distribute meals to the hungry, beginning with $10 million in company food contributions for 2012.”
Musical style and performance
Jackson has a mezzo-soprano 3 octave vocal range. Many critics have observed she has never been considered a strong vocalist, noting her voice is often enveloped by the production of her music. Biographer David Ritz commented, “[h]er wispy voice was a pale echo of Michael’s, but on Janet’s albums—and in her videos and live performances, which revealed a crisp, athletic dance technique not unlike her brother’s—singing wasn’t the point”, commenting that importance was instead placed on “[h]er slamming beats, infectious hooks, and impeccable production values.” Music critic J.D. Considine noted that “[o]n 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.” Her voice has also been praised on occasion. Eric Henderson of Slant magazine claimed critics who judged Jackson harshly for her thin 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 also praised Jackson for her “rubato, sense of rhythm, sensitivity, and the childlike quality of her strangely erotic voice.”
Written by Jackson and produced by Jellybean Johnson, “Black Cat” was recorded using a mixture of Rockman and Marshall amplifier to give it a heavy metal sound. The song’s lyrics convey a stance against substance abuse.
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Jackson’s music has encompassed a broad range of genres, including R&B, soul, disco, hip hop, rap, pop, rock, and dance music. Qadree EI-Amin, Jackson’s former personal manager, commented, “[s]he’s bigger than Barbra Streisand because Streisand can’t appeal to the street crowd, as Janet does. But Streisand’s rich, elite crowd loves Janet Jackson.” Her records from the 1980s have been described as being heavily 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.” Richard J. Ripani documented that when record producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis collaborated with Jackson on her 1986 album Control, the trio “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.” Rickey Vincent stated in his book Funk: The Music, The People, and The Rhythm of The One (1996) that she has often been credited for redefining the standard of popular music with the industrial-strength beats of the album. Richard Rischar in “A Vision of Love: An Etiquette of Vocal Ornamentation in African-American Popular Ballads of the Early 1990s” notes that “[t]he 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.” She continued her musical development by blending contemporary urban sound with hip hop in the 1990s. This included a softer representation of R&B, articulated by lush soulful ballads and up-tempo dance beats. She has been described 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 “[s]he is a sharp dancer, an appealing performer, and as ‘That’s the Way Love Goes’ proves—an ace pop-song writer.” Her material from the 2000s decade has been viewed less favorably, as Sal Cinquemani comments that “[e]xcept 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 compares Jackson’s musical style to that of Marvin Gaye, stating, “[l]ike 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 has 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, author of She’s a Rebel: The History of Women in Rock & Roll (2002), described Control as “an autobiographical tale about her life with her parents, her first marriage, and breaking free.” Referring to Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 as an embodiment of hope, Timothy E. Scheurer, author of Born in the USA: The Myth of America in Popular Music from Colonial Times to the Present (2007) 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 to deal primarily with sexual themes. Shayne Lee, author of Erotic Revolutionaries: Black Women, Sexuality, and Popular Culture (2010), wrote that her music over the following decade “brand[ed] her as one of the most sexually stimulating vocalists of the 1990s.” In You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby: Women, Politics, and Popular Culture (1996), Lilly J. Goren observed that “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.” Joshua Klein wrote in The Washington Post that 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.” Jackson explained the recurring themes on her later albums by saying, “I love love and I love sex.” She stated during promotion for Janet, “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.” The sexual explicit content of her latter albums have drawn mixed reactions—ranging from acclaim to abhorrence—often in juxtaposition to Madonna, who is seen as her counterpart. Stephen Thomas Erlewine comments “[w]hile 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.
Music videos, choreography and live performances
Jackson drew her inspiration for her music videos and performances from the 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 numerous professional choreographers such as Paula Abdul, Michael Kidd, and Tina Landon. Landon also took part in the choreography for Michael and Janet Jackson’s 1995 music video Scream. 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.” Qadree EI-Amin remarked that artists such as “Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera pattern their performances after Janet’s proven dance-diva persona.”
Beretta E. Smith-Shomade, author of Shaded Lives: African-American Women and Television (2002) 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 been often been reminiscent of live concerts or elaborate musical theater. Many of her video from Control, Including “Nasty” and “When I Think of You”, were choreographed using influences from Broadway theatre. Multiculturalism has also been a cornerstone of the imagery represented in Jackson’s music videos. The militant iconography of her 1989 video for “Rhythm Nation” signifies a need for both racial and gender equality; she and her dancers perform in identical uniforms while Jackson herself “is performing asexually and almost anonymously in front of, but as one of the members of the group.” In the 1990s, her videos such as 1993’s “If”—which “[exudes a] ‘Last Emperor‘ lust and mystery”—and 1995’s “Runaway” drew cultural influences from the orient. Others, such as 1997’s “Got ’til It’s Gone” and “Together Again” explore African roots and the serengeti. Jackson’s music videos have also found rapport within the gay community, as the dramatic imagery in “Rhythm Nation” led to reenactments of the video in gay clubs and her 1990 video for “Love Will Never Do (Without You)” is said to explore the aesthetic of the male body from both the heterosexual female and gay male perspective. She received the MTV Video Vanguard Award in 1990 for her contributions to the art form, and in 2001 became the first recipient of the mtvICON award, celebrating her impact on the music industry as a whole.
Her music videos have contributed to a higher degree of sexual freedom among young women, as Jean M. Twenge, author of Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled—and More Miserable Than Ever Before (2007) wrote: “In Alfred Kinsey‘s studies in the 1950s, only 3% of the young women had received oral sex from a man. By the mid-1990s, however, 75% of women aged 18-24 had experienced cunnilingus. Music videos by female artists have contributed to the trend, with both Mary J. Blige and Janet 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.” Similarly, Paula Kamen in Her Way: Young Women Remake the Sexual Revolution (2000) states that “[i]n the early to mid-1990s, oral sex even reached mainstream music as politically charged demand of truly liberated women,” citing TLC, Mary J. Blige and Janet Jackson as examples of females artist simulating cunnilingus in their videos. 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.
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.” The Independent writer Nicholas Barber commented in his review for The Velvet Rope Tour that “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.” When Los Angeles Times reporter Robert Hilburn asked Jackson “[d]o 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 theatricality 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 that Jackson 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.” Richard Harrington of The Washington Post observed, “[s]ince the advent of MTV and the proliferation of dance-oriented singers like Milli Vanilli, Madonna, Paula Abdul, Janet Jackson, George Michael, MC Hammer, Michael Jackson and the New Kids on the Block, audience expectations have been drastically redefined” noting that few entertainers are capable of recreating the spectacle of elaborately choreographed music videos while delivering studio precision vocals. Michael MacCambridge of the Austin American-Statesman, who reviewed Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 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 “[i]t 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, “[e]ven 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 forewent lip-syncing. Chris Richards of The Washington Post stated “even at its breathiest, that delicate voice hasn’t lost the laserlike precision that seems to be a part of the Jackson family DNA.” He complemented her physically strenuous performance, stating “[g]o on, Janet. Let ’em see you sweat. Because in a 21st-century popscape where concerts are driven by spectacle, we need to know that beneath all of the sci-fi costumes, strobe lights and Auto-Tune, we’re still witnessing a performance by the living, breathing, profusely sweating human being whose name is stamped on the tickets we just emptied our wallets for.”
Jackson has credited her older brothers Michael and Jermaine as her primary musical influences. She describes actress/singer Lena Horne as a profound inspiration, not only in her own career, but for black entertainers across multiple generations. Upon Horne’s death in 2010, 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. Describing herself as “a very big Joni Mitchell fan”, she explained: “As a kid I was drawn to Joni Mitchell records … Along with Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder, 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 and U2 as sources of inspiration. Other artists attributed as influences on Jackson’s music according to Rolling Stone are The Ronettes, Dionne Warwick, Tammi Terrell and Diana Ross.
The baby 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.”
She 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. In Right to Rock: The Black Rock Coalition and the Cultural Politics of Race (2004), 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.” Routledge International Encyclopedia of Women: Global Women’s Issues and Knowledge (2000) 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.”
Musicologist Richard J. Ripani identified Jackson as a leader in the development of contemporary R&B, as her 1986 album Control and its successor Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 created a unique blend of genre and sound effects, that ushered in the use of rap vocals into mainstream R&B. Ripani also argues that the popularity of Jackson’s 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.” Jim Cullen observed in Popular Culture in American History (2001) that although it was Michael Jackson’s Thriller that originally synchronized music video with album sales, Janet Jackson was also among the first generation of artists that saw the visualization of their music elevate them to the status of a pop culture icon. 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” and at number two on “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 “Hot 100 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. The most awarded artist in the history of the Billboard Music Awards with 33 wins, 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.”
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.” Similarly, 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.” Her musical style and choreography have influenced and inspired a younger generation of recording artists. 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, Aaliyah and Destiny’s Child.” Pop 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.” 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.” Artists who are considered to have followed in her footsteps have been referred to as “Janet-come-lately’s.”
Sociologist Shayne Lee commented that, “[a]s Janet enters the twilight of her reign as erotic Queen of Pop, Beyoncé Knowles emerges as her likely successor.” Knowles has expressed her fondness of Jackson, stating: “I love Janet Jackson! … I have nothing but positive things to say about her.” Toni Braxton stated that she was inspired by Janet Jackson “because when she released her Control album, she made it easy for P.K.’s [Preachers’ kids] who were supposed to be sweet and docile to get comfortable with feeling sexy.” Aaliyah commented, “I admire her a great deal. She’s a total performer … I’d love to do a duet with Janet Jackson.” Jennifer Lopez lauded Jackson’s videography, stating her music videos “had such an impact on me as a fan but also as an artist.” ‘N Sync and Usher, who performed as two of the opening acts for The Velvet Rope World Tour, credit her for teaching them how to develop stage show into theatrical performance. Usher stated: “I learned a lot about how to make an artist look like a star. On the personal side, I got a chance to hug her.” Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas of TLC recalled that when the group was first forming, she declared “I’m ready to be the next Janet Jackson!” Britney Spears commented, “I’ve always been majorly inspired by Janet in everything she does.” Christina Aguilera recalled: “I remember watching MTV as a little girl. To me, Janet had it all; amazing videos, hot songs and the sexiest voice.” Cassie has referred to herself as a “die-hard Janet Jackson fan” and elaborated, “I’d love to emulate Janet’s career—totally … She’s incredible, from her moves to her voice.” Jay Bobbin of the Chicago Tribune remarked, “Cassie isn’t the first artist to be measured against Janet Jackson, and odds are she won’t be the last.” Ciara has acknowledged Jackson as one of her primary influences, stating: “It seems like just yesterday I was watching Janet Jackson on TV; now, some people compare me to her.” Kelly Rowland named her the biggest inspiration of her career because “she works extremely hard.” Rihanna has commented that “[s]he was one of the first female pop icons that I could relate to … She was so vibrant, she had so much energy. She still has power. I’ve seen her on stage, and she can stand there for 20 minutes and have the whole arena scream at her. You have to love Janet.” Nicki Minaj claimed Jackson as one of her idols, stating “[i]n ‘Rhythm Nation’ she was sexy, strong and mysterious. I always loved the jet black hair, especially the ponytail with the hat. That’s how I tried to dress when I was little.” Keri Hilson stated that she admired Jackson for “just being herself. A great performer.” Japanese singer Crystal Kay commented: “I’ve always listened to American music and the artists I admire most are American, like Janet Jackson.” Australian DJ and singer Havana Brown claimed Jackson as her biggest influence, stating “she’s my idol” and “I want to be Janet Jackson! But the DJ-slash-Janet Jackson—I want to be able to put on big shows, I want dancers, I want fireworks, I want it all.” Other artists who have drawn comparison to Jackson include Brandy, Tatyana Ali, Christina Milian, Mýa, Lady Gaga, Namie Amuro, and BoA. 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