Janet Jackson is one of the most recognizable celebrities in the world. The youngest member of a famous family, she emerged to become a star in her own right. Over the years, she has undergone many challenges and changes while celebrating immense success — but how much do you really know about her?
Here are some of the most compelling moments that have made up the stunning transformation of Janet Jackson.
Despite her superstar status today, Janet Jackson had a very humble beginning. Conservative and lower-middle-class, her parents, Katherine and Joe Jackson had a large family including a son, Michael, and daughter, Janet, the latter of whom was born on May 16, 1966.
Growing up under her devout Jehovah’s Witness mother’s watchful eye, Jackson did not celebrate holidays like Christmas or her birthday, and she was encouraged to be modest and wholesome in how she dressed and behaved. This image stayed with her for many years to come.
Janet Jackson is proof that, even with a recognizable face and name, there’s no guarantee that you will be successful — especially, on the first try.
After her brothers, led by Michael Jackson, were signed by Motown and gained notoriety as The Jackson 5, the family left Gary, Indiana and moved to Los Angeles. A budding star in her own right, Janet Jackson began appearing on popular television shows such as The Jacksons, Good Times, A New Kind of Family, Diff’rent Strokes, and Fame.
When she was just 16, she recorded her first album, Janet Jackson, with her father overseeing the start of her music career at A&M Records. While they likely had high hopes, the effort peaked at number 84 on the pop charts. Her second album, Dream Street, didn’t do any better. Fortunately, Jackson didn’t give up.
Janet Jackson’s career changed for the better when she broke away from her family. When addressing her decision to separate business from her personal life, she explained, “I just wanted to get out of the house, get out from under my father, which was one of the most difficult things that I had to do.”
The hard work seemed to pay off, though, by the time Jackson released her third album. After teaming up with some of the industry’s hottest producers, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Control was born, and the rest is history. Released in 1986, the album hit no. 1 on the Billboard 200, sold millions of copies, and was certified fivefold platinum by the RIAA (via Newsweek).
To further establish her place in the music industry, Jackson celebrated three Grammy Award nominations, among other accolades, that year.
While fans had readily embraced Janet Jackson’s more powerful sound, no one could have known how her album Rhythm Nation 1814 would blow everyone away in September 1989. Track after track confronted important issues and Jackson emerged as a socially conscious artist. Of her inspiration, she explained, “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.”
On top of that, the outfits she wore in the music videos and on her accompanying tour established Jackson as a style icon. It was a gamble to reinvent herself yet again for Rhythm Nation 1814, but it paid off. Clearly, she was on to something.
By the time she released Janet., she didn’t have to wait to see how far it climbed: It debuted at no. 1 on the Billboard 200, a first for a female artist. While it didn’t sell as well as Rhythm Nation 1814 (it moved 14 million units), it did give us incredible songs like “Again,” “If,” and “That’s the Way Love Goes,” which won the Grammy for Best R&B Song.
Once again, the growth Janet Jackson was seeing in her personal life as she continued to shed the modesty encouraged by her family while embracing her sexuality, was apparent in her music. As Rolling Stone reported, “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.”
We had seen Janet Jackson on television and, of course, we’re familiar with her as a recording artist, but she finally hit the big screen when she starred in Poetic Justice.
The movie itself wasn’t particularly popular with critics, even though it has become a bit of a cult classic due to the fact that it features Tupac Shakur, who was killed in a drive-by shooting just a few years later.
Although it wasn’t the most acclaimed film, people really loved Jackson’s performance — which some described as “believably eccentric” and “beguiling” — proving that she had chops beyond her music. And even more endearing was the fact that her song “Again” was written for the movie.
While her career was on the rise, things in her personal life took a horrible turn for the worse. Her older brother, Michael, had been accused of sexual molestation for the first time, and, while their sister LaToya turned on him, Janet Jackson took on a more supportive role.
In a show of solidarity, the siblings teamed up for “Scream,” which served as the lead single from Michael’s 1995 album, HIStory. With an astonishing $10.7 million price tag, it set the record for the most expensive video ever made and went on to win the Grammy Award for Best Short Form Music Video.
After releasing Design of a Decade: 1986-1996, a look back at her early career, Janet Jackson renewed her contract with Virgin Records for a reported $80 million which, again, was unheard of in the industry. From the outside, it may have looked like the happiest time in her life, but her follow-up album revealed otherwise.
When The Velvet Rope was released in October 1997, it was immediately obvious that the tone was more personal and serious than anything she had recorded before. Not only was she physically transformed — sporting tattoos, a nose piercing, and flaming red hair, but her lyrics were also more vulnerable.
The New York Times called The Velvet Rope, which featured tracks such as “Got ’til It’s Gone” and “Together Again,” Jackson’s “most daring, elaborate, and accomplished album,” featuring themes such as depression, anxiety, domestic violence, and homophobia. She used the accompanying tour to work with Colin Powell on the “America’s Promise” initiative to support at-risk youth.
In 2001, huge stars, including Britney Spears, Destiny’s Child, Pink, Usher, Jennifer Lopez, and the late Aaliyah, gathered for a ceremony honoring Janet Jackson with the very first MTV Icon Award for her contributions to music, videos, and pop culture.
The event featured incredible performances and commentary that even included a young Beyoncé Knowles saying how much Jackson had inspired her. She said, “In the third grade and fourth grade I used to dress up like her. I know all the kids at my school thought I was trying to be grown up. I had the lipstick, had the hair — even had some leather boots. But at that time they weren’t real leather. But I tried.”
When Michael Jackson died at the age of 50 in June 2009, accusations of sexual abuse shrouded his death in controversy. And Janet Jackson didn’t hesitate to speak up on her brother’s behalf.
At the 2009 BET Awards, she told the audience, “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.”
Months later, she dedicated her performance of “Scream” to her brother at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. The network stated, “There was no one better than Janet to anchor it and send a really powerful message.”
Did you know that, on top of being an accomplished singer, songwriter, dancer, and actress, Janet Jackson is also a best-selling author?
She’s come a long way from the days when she used coffee enemas to purge “sad cells” from her body that she said stemmed from “my childhood, my teenage years, my adulthood.” She elaborated, saying, “I was very, very sad. Very down. Couldn’t get up sometimes. There were times when I felt very hopeless and helpless, and I felt like walls were kind of closing in on me.”
In February 2011, she released a self-help book, True You: A Journey to Finding and Loving Yourself, with co-author David Ritz, which takes fans inside Jackson’s struggles with body image issues and confidence — and includes fan mail. The book quickly topped the New York Times’ Best Sellers list. She shared that she hoped her message can inspire readers of all ages, saying, “I wish I had a book like this to read when I was a kid, maybe it would have helped me.”