When a 20 year-old Janet Jackson declared, “This is a story about control …. Control of what I say. Control of what I do. And this time I’m going to do it my way” at the beginning of her 1986 breakthrough album Control it marked not just her coming of age, but also lit the torch paper for countless artists that have followed.
Today, 30 years later, Jackson’s influence can be seen and heard in everything from Rihanna’s provocative lyrics to BeyoncÃ©’s message of female emancipation to the cutting-edge sounds of alternative R& B acts like FKA Twigs, The Weeknd and Frank Ocean. For a generation of music fans, she — along with Madonna, Prince and her superstar brother Michael — provided the soundtrack to the late 1980s and 1990s, yet to modern audiences unaware of her trailblazing legacy of the infamous wardrobe malfunction during 2004’s Super Bowl halftime show — that Jackson is best known for.
That event and the hysterical media fallout cast a large shadow over the latter stages of her career, but as the title of Jackson’s eleventh and most recent No. 1 album, Unbreakable, attests wasn’t going away without a fight. “It was our mother, not our father, who gave us all that sharp edge of competition,” the youngest member of the Jackson clan told Rolling Stone magazine in 1993. “We were taught to win.”
Family and fame
Born in Gary, Indiana in 1966, the youngest of nine children, Janet Danita Jo Jackson was groomed for stardom from an early age — whether she liked it or not. Thrust onstage aged seven as part of the Jackson family variety show, the aspiring actress — who also harboured childhood dreams of being a lawyer and jockey — quickly graduated to TV roles in US sitcoms Good Times, Diff’rent Strokes and Fame.
At the behest of her domineering father Joe (also her manager), she signed her first record deal at the age of 15 and released her debut album a year later. It bombed. As did 1984’s sugar-coated follow-up Dream Street, produced by brothers Marlon and Michael. They would be the last records the singer would make according to someone else’s vision.
In response, she sacked Joe as her manager and teamed up with the little-known Minneapolis production duo of James Harris III, aka Jimmy Jam, and Terry Lewis for her make-or-break third album, the appositely-named Control. Containing the hit singles Nasty and What Have You Done For Me Lately — the latter inspired by the singer’s brief first marriage to R& B artist James DeBarge — the record went on to sell 14 million copies, with its ground breaking fusion of sassy pop hooks, synthesised R& B and sinuous funk grooves catapulting the then 20 year-old singer to stardom.
For the next 10 years, Janet Jackson barely put a foot wrong. 1989’s Rhythm Nation 1814 — an audacious work that addressed issues of poverty, race and drug abuse amid an innovative dance-pop setting — surpassed its predecessor both in sales and critical reception. Her first world tour in 1991 broke box office records and the same year she signed a $30 million deal with Virgin Records — then the largest ever recording contract in history (it was surpassed just a few weeks later by her brother Michael).
The first half of the Nineties also saw the singer make her feature film acting debut in Poetic Justice, while 1993’s multi-platinum fifth album Janet. saw Jackson shake off any last traces of her once squeaky clean persona in favour of raunchier image. The hits, starring film roles and sell-out tours continued throughout the remainder of the decade, but behind the scenes Jackson’s life was slowly unravelling. In 2000, the fiercely private artist announced her separation from second husband Rene Elizondo, who she had been with since the early 90s. Little did she know that bigger problems were around the corner.
The Superbowl incident
“A classless, crass and deplorable stunt” was how Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell described the now infamous ‘wardrobe malfunction’ that occurred during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show when Justin Timberlake accidentally exposed Jackson’s right breast in front of millions of TV viewers.
The hysterical fallout resulted in the singer being blacklisted from TV and radio stations throughout America, resulting in her Damita Jo album becoming her lowest selling record since 1984. Expensively assembled follow-up records 20 Y.O. and Discipline sold respectably, but lacked the spark and charisma of Jackson’s best material. Her brother’s death in 2009 brought the decade to a tragic end and for several years Jackson retreated from the limelight, seemingly destined to be forgotten as a relic from a bygone era.
Last year’s Unbreakable, which followed her 2012 marriage to Qatari billionaire and business magnate Wissam Al Mana, not only returned her to the top of the charts, but also brought about a long overdue critical reappraisal. Her comeback has not been without its share of problems, with entire European and American legs of her world tour postponed following surgery for an as-yet-unspecified health issue, but they are unlikely to have dented the artist’s famous resolve or indomitable spirit. “I lived through my mistakes,” sings the 49 year-old on Unbreakable’s title track. As she prepares to enter her fifth decade, Janet Jackson’s enduring popularity is testament to her continued reign as true pop royalty.
• Janet Jackson performs as part of the Dubai World Cup on Saturday, March 26. Her show will start at about 10pm and is open only to race-day ticket holders. Packages start at Dh450. Visit store.meydan.ae for more information
Source: art & life