At age sixteen in 1982, she signed a recording contract with A&M, releasing her self-titled debut album the same year. She faced criticism for her limited vocal range, and for being yet another member of the Jackson family to become a recording artist. Beginning with her third studio album Control (1986), she began a long-term collaboration with record producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Her music with Jam and Lewis incorporated elements of rhythm and blues, disco, funk, and rap with sample loop, triplet swing and industrial beats, which led to crossover appeal in popular music. In addition to receiving recognition for the innovation in her albums, choreography, music videos, and prominence on MTV, Jackson was acknowledged as a role model for her socially conscious lyrics.
In 1991, she signed the first of two record-breaking, multi-million dollar recording contracts with Virgin Records, which established her as one of the highest paid artists in the music industry. Her debut album under the Virgin label, janet. (1993), saw Jackson 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, she was named the second most successful recording artist of the decade. All for You (2001), became her fifth consecutive studio album to hit number one on the Billboard 200 album charts. In 2007, she changed labels, signing with the Island Def Jam Music Group and released her tenth studio album Discipline the following year.
Having sold over 100 million records worldwide, Jackson 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. 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 nine 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.
1982–1985: 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.
"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.
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. 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" (1989)
"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.
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. Jackson was dubbed a reigning "Princess of Pop" by the Chicago Tribune. Although some attributed Jackson's accomplishments to her producers, Jimmy Jam stated "when someone says, 'Well, she brought in Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis,' you've got to remember that we weren't exactly ... Quincy Jones ... 'Control' was our first smash. The same with Paula. It wasn't like Janet [hired] Fred Astaire ... She took a chance on all of us."
The Rhythm Nation 1814 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 was estimated between $32–50 million, and she became the highest paid female recording artist in contemporary music. 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 May 1993, Jackson's fifth studio album janet. (pronounced "Janet, period."), was released by Virgin Records 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". Robert Johnson of San Antonio Express-News wrote that the album ranges from "dreamy and sensual" to "downright erotic", and although "[janet.] isn't perfect ... it should be enough to make her the Queen of Pop."Conversely, David Browne of Entertainment Weekly gave it a moderate rating, asserting "her wispy voice is often smothered by her two male producers", and regarded janet. as a "blatant rip-off of the club-beat style of Madonna's Erotica." 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 on the film's soundtrack, and garnered a nomination for the Academy Award 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."Jackson expressed, "... sex has been an important part of me for several years. But it just hasn't blossomed publicly until now." 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. 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, Jackson's 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 Jackson 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." Norment reported during the recording of janet., "LaToya suddenly showed up and created a scene at the Minneapolis recording studio", despite the fact that "[Jackson's] sister had ignored her calls for four years prior to that." In addition, Jackson 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 and debuted 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.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."According to Jackson, "[w]e've all driven by premieres or nightclubs and have seen the rope separating those who can enter and those who can't. Well, there's also a velvet rope we have inside us, keeping others from knowing our feelings. In The Velvet Rope, I'm trying to expose and explore those feelings ... During my life, I've been on both sides of the rope. At times, especially during my childhood, I felt left out and alone. At times I felt misunderstood."The Velvet Rope also introduced sadomasochism into Jackson's music. Eric Henderson of Slant 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 36 on the Billboard Hot 100 Airplay. 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 The Velvet Rope Tour, an international trek that included Europe, North America, Africa, Asia, New Zealand and Australia. Robert Hilburn of the 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.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 "lifelong contribution to the music industry and 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.
2000–2003: Nutty Professor II: The Klumps and All for You
In July 2000, Jackson appeared in her second film, Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, as 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 a top honor from the American Music Awards—the 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."
"All for You" (2001)
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.single peaked at number one, where it topped the Hot 100 for seven weeks. She received the 2001 Grammy Award for Best Dance Recording for "All for You". 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 sold more than seven million copies worldwide, and was certified double platinum by the RIAA.
Reviews for Jackson's All for You Tour drew comparison to that of her contemporary rivals. Los Angeles Times' David Massey reported that compared to Madonna's Drowned World Tour, "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, reporter Rudy Scalese complimented Jackson's performance, stating, "Janet Jackson hasn't skipped a beat. She is still the Queen of Pop." In contrast, Charles Passy of The Palm Beach Post commented, "[s]eeing Jackson's show after Madonna's 'Drowned World' tour is to realize the limits of the pop-concert format. Madonna pushed those limits and came up with a daring hybrid of circus, theater and music. Jackson, on the other hand, lived within the constraints." 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 she issued an apology to her gay following in an article contained in The Voice. Jackson also began her relationship with record producer Jermaine Dupri that same year.