I conducted this research by finding various journal articles that included both Janet’s background information, awards, and influences for being as successful as she is today. Her singing style, stage performance, and choreography have influenced pop and R&B artists worldwide and it was amazing to read about how many lives and careers she has touched. I researched her as a young childhood star and as a woman who has grown into a global icon. Also, I was able to research her role as a philanthropist and it allowed me to see how Janet Jackson is a well rounded artist who is loved by many.
Janet Jackson is a prominent figure in pop culture who has delivered non stop music and choreography for over thirty years. Jackson first began her career in music as an addition to her brothers’, the Jackson 5, show on CBS. In her early to late teens, she was a co-writer and background vocalist for her siblings. Once she realized her own potential, she shed her image as a childhood star and become the sex symbol that she is known as today. She as described as one of the most influential artists of the time and has one numerous awards for her achievements in pop culture. Janet Jackson is a legend who has made a name for herself that shall never be forgotten.
Janet Damita Jo Jackson was born on May 16, 1966 in Gary, Indiana to Joe and Katherine Jackson. As the youngest Jackson sibling out of ten children, Janet witnessed fame and fortune at the early age of two years old when her brothers, the Jackson 5, joined Motown Records. As Janet grows up under the glare of her brothers’ fame, she gains the knowledge needed to join the path to fame. By 1974, Janet was added to a family Vegas show put together by their father, Joe Jackson. This leads to the Jacksons becoming stars in their own CBS variety show and in June 1976, the premiere of “The Jacksons” gives Janet the exposure she needed. In 1977, she joins the cast of “Good Times” as Penny, the eleven year old abused neighbor, and she remains with the show until the shows ending in 1979. She follows “Good Times” with “A New Kind of Family” in 1980 and 1981, she was cast as Charlene Duprey on NBC’s hit sitcom “Diff’rent Strokes”. Other casting such as her role of Cleo in the hit musical drama “Fame” and “The Love Boat” came along as she advanced in her career.
Known as a child star, Janet’s image needed to be reconstructed and with the help of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, ex-Time members, to produce and promote a new album. In 1985, Janet made the decision to fire her father as manager and hired Joseph McClain.
Her new image consisted of a new unapologetically R&B driven sound and with the help of Paula Abdul, she begins her journey towards a sexier, raunchier appeal. Under the management of McClain, her first single “What Have You Done For Me Lately?” reflects the repressed frustrations with her past album. The single is released January 1986 and it reveals the shedding of her childhood image. The shy girl-next-door is now replaced with an edgy, assertive woman. “What Have You Done For Me Lately” is ranked as number for and it sets the stage for Janet’s third album. On February 4, 1986, “Control” is released. Jimmy Jam said, “With Control, we got an opportunity to make a whole album with her, without scrutiny, because no one was saying, ‘I can’t wait for the new Janet record” (Kimble, 2016). This LP was a statement of independence with the follow up of “When I Think Of You” releasing in July.This single became Janet’s number one hit at twenty years old. Because of this, she became the youngest solo chart-topper since Stevie Wonder. With her career in constant overdrive, the pain that Jackson was experiencing at this time paved the way for her next album. Her music was built around her lyrics and song ideas, allowing her to further explore her broadening sexuality. Janet’s exploration of depression, sexuality, loss, and growth created her album “The Velvet Rope” which was released October 7, 1997. “The Velvet Rope” was praised for its introspection; delving into intimacy, loss, abuse, perseverance, and sexual exploration.
Although success was a prominent element of Jackson’s life, she has also experienced moments of controversy. Jackson and Justin Timberlake began their collaboration on “And She Said” from his debut solo album, “Justified”. Following this, the National Football League announced that Janet would be headlining the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show and because MTV was hosting the show, Justin Timberlake would be her special guest. However, this highly anticipated show went awry when Justin rips her top, exposing her breast on national television on February 1, 2004. The backlash was swift and very severe for Janet and unfortunately, it led her career into a downward spiral. The FCC fined CBS and Viacom and the NFL declared that MTV would produce no more halftime shows, Federal indecency violations were raised and Jackson was effectively backlashed from CBS, Viacom and all subsidiaries and affiliates. The release of her single after the Super Bowl controversy was obscured and she was forced to issue an apology. Just days after her performance, it’s reported that over 200,000 viewers had contacted the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to complain about Jackson’s performance. Court documents later revealed that over 540,000 people filed complaints with the FCC about the incident, although that number was inflated by conservative and watchdog groups mass-calling the commission. FCC Chairman Michael Powell called Jackson’s incident “a classless, crass, and deplorable stunt” (Kreps, 2014). For months, Jackson attempted to rebuild her image but the incident continued to be labeled as “fleeting indecency”. Also, she was halted from appearing as a part of a tribute to Luther Vandross at the Grammys by CBS and even Lena Horne refused to participate in the ABC miniseries dedicated to her until Janet was replaced. It was not until January 2014 that former FCC chairman Michael Powell admits that the committee acted “unfairly” toward Janet Jackson following the incident. He tells ESPN that the FCC overreacted. “I personally thought that was really unfair. It all turned into being about her,” Powell said. “In reality, if you slow the thing down, it’s Justin ripping off her breastplate” (Kreps, 2014).
Jackson’s singing voice can be labeled as a sultry, soprano range. While her voice has been criticized for being “limited” or “too small for a big stage”, her vocal range has been the study for indie rock music, African studies, Gender studies, and musicology and she continues to be an influence for artists. Wendy Robinson of PopMatters said “the power of Janet Jackson’s voice does not lie in her pipes. She doesn’t blow, she whispers … Jackson’s confectionery vocals are masterfully complemented by gentle harmonies and balanced out by pulsing rhythms, so she’s never unpleasant to listen to” (Robinson, 2014). Her music has encompassed a wide range of genres and has been been described as a feminine twist to Prince’s music or even having a musical style similar to Marvin Gaye. Her lush, soulful ballads, and upbeat tunes have made her a mystery to critics and artists. Music critic David Ritz said, “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” (Ritz, 1998). In addition to this, Shayne Lee wrote that her music , “brand[ed] her as one of the most sexually stimulating vocalists of the 1990s” (Lee, 2010).
As one of the most awarded artists in history and a seller of over 100 million records, Jackson has received twelve American Music Awards, thirty-three Billboard awards, nine MTV Video Music Awards, and five Grammy awards. Her album “The Velvet Rope” was praised as one of the 90s best and it won the GLAAD award for its celebration of LGBTQ love and sexuality. In 1988, she won the Performer of The Year; Video/Recording Field at the American Cinema Awards. Outside of her musical achievements, Jackson has also won a total of nine titles from the Guinness Book of World Records, a reference book that compiles a list of world records, human achievements, and extremes of the natural world. The titles include Most Searched Person in Internet History, Largest Fine Ever Imposed on Broadcaster: Super Bowl incident, Largest Recording Contract, Most Expensive Short Film and Most Successful Siblings in History. Internationally, she has been nominated numerous times and won multiple awards for her influence. She been recognized by the MTV Japan Video Music Awards in which she received the Inspiration Award for her influence within music and video culture and she was nominated for Best Video of The Year and Best Female Video. She received eight nominations from the MTV Europe Music Awards and won the award for Best Female. In addition to her stellar achievements, Jackson has made a name for herself as a philanthropist. She has been active in giving to organizations and communities that vow to relieve social discouragements in youth. The ticket sales of her “Rhythm Nation 1814 Tour” was donated to educating programs like Cities in Schools, which works to prevent and minimize the academic drop-out rate (Varner, 2015). She has also channeled her support for AIDS relief research by donating to the foundation, amFAR. The proceeds from her 1997 recording “Together Again” went towards this research and she serves as the ambassador to urge the country to get tested for AIDS. She supports other charities such as the Lisa Lopes Foundation, NAACP, Naked Heart Foundation, Feeding America, and AIDS LIFE. In 2013, she supported UNICEF by providing assistance to the Sahel region of West and Central Africa suffering from severe malnutrition.
Jackson’s legacy does not just include music but her physical physique and fashion style has been adopted by many. She can be seen in a flurry of magazines covers such as King, Us Weekly, Vibe, and FHM. Even her post-baby physique has been praised by many fans and celebrities. Kim Kardashian, American reality television star and businesswoman, stated in a tweet, “Wait can we take a minute to appreciate @JanetJackson and how amazing she looks after JUST having a baby!!!!” (Hurd, 2017). Her impact on the way music videos are produced is also notable. Her choreography, gender neutral equality, and street dancing techniques paved the way for many artists such as Britney Spears, Lady Gaga Jennifer Lopez, and Beyonce. Lady Gaga stated that she was , “an unbelievable legend, and such a talent, somebody that I really, really look up to” (iTunes, 2009) and Beyonce declared, “I’ve learned so much from watching her over her career. She starts the trends and she taught me you have to reinvent yourself with every new album. She’s still herself, but she always has a new thing, a new hair color, a new look, a new type of album” (Christensen, 2001). Her thirty minute Rhythm Nation 1814 film reflected her ability to directly impact her viewers, giving her agency over areas not regularly dominated by other artists. Her politically driven album, “Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814”, allowed a cross-racial impact and touched the lives of the youth. “We have so little time to solve these problems,” she told journalist Ritz in a 1990 interview. “I want people to realize the urgency. I want to grab their attention. Music is my way of doing that.” Pop stars, she recognized, had unprecedented multimedia platforms—and she was determined to use hers to do more than simply entertain. “I wanted to reflect, not just react,” she said. “I re-listened to those artists who moved me most when I was younger … Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, Marvin Gaye. These were people who woke me up to the responsibility of music. They were beautiful singers and writers who felt for others. They understood suffering” (Vogel, 2014). Her ability to create concept albums would later be a theme for artists in the future such as Beyonce’s album, “Lemonade”.
It is difficult to imagine what the last thirty years of popular music would look and sound like without Janet Jackson. Her ever-changing was never calculated or intentional. It was an easy flowing transition as she matured from the sweet, youngest Jackson sibling that she was known as to the sexy, free woman that she has grown to be. While critics dismissed pop music as “empty”, she has made music that is personal, relatable, and fun. The word “iconic” gets overused, but it more than applies to this artist. She has contributed her time and support for numerous causes and has always made it her duty to advocate for those in need. Her legacy will never be forgotten and her sound could never be replaced or imitated. Janet Jackson has set the bar for pop culture and the many generations to come.
Biography.com Editors, “Janet Jackson Biography.com,” April 27, 2017, accessed October 2, 2017, https://www.biography.com/people/janet-jackson-9542443
Kimble, Julian, “Remembering ‘Control’ 30 Years Later: How Janet Jackson’s Third Album Cemented Her Icon Status,” February 4, 2016, accessed October 2, 2017, http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/hip-hop/6866860/janet-jackson-control-30-year-anniversary
Kreps, Daniel, “Nipple Ripples: 10 Years of Fallout From Janet Jackson’s Halftime Show,” RollingStone, January 30, 2014, accessed October 2, 2017, http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/nipple-ripples-10-years-of-fallout-from-janet-jacksons-halftime-show-20140130
Mendizabal, Amaya, “Janet Jackson’s ‘No Sleeep’ Becomes Her Longest-Running No. 1 on Adult R&B Songs”, billboard, September 29, 2015, accessed October 2, 2017, http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/chart-beat/6714515/janet-jackson-no-sleeep-longest-running-number-1-hot-rb-songs
Murphy, Keith, “Janet Jackson: Pop Music’s Most Disrespected Icon”, BET, April 11, accessed October 2, 2017, http://www.bet.com/music/2017/04/11/janet-jackson-divorce-opinion.html
The Washington Times, “Sultry songstress Lena Horne dies”, The Washington Times, May 10, 2010, accessed October 2, 2017, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/may/10/legendary-singer-lena-horne-dies/
Ratliff, Joseph, “First-Person Reflections on a Pop Career”, The New York Times, March 20, 2011, accessed October 2, 2017, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/21/arts/music/janet-jacksons-number-ones-at-radio-city-review.html
Vogel, Joseph, “The Nation That Janet Jackson Built,” The Atlantic, September 15, 2014, accessed October 2, 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2014/09/the-world-changing-aspirations-of-rhythm-nation-1814/380144/
Kori Michelle Barnes was born on March 24, 1998 in Norfolk, Virginia. She attended Indian River High School and after graduating, she decided to further her education at Spelman College. Currently, she is a second-year political science major and is active in numerous clubs such as the Spelhouse Pre-Law Society, LadyBuds, and the Spelman BluePrint. Her career goal is brand marketing and tv production and a long term goal of hers is to open a winery. In her spare time, she enjoys shopping, manicures, eating, pedicures, and spending time with her family and darling puppy, Nicki.
Copyright © 2017 Kori Barnes
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